Among the warbirds, homebuilts and aircraft displays will be the NASA Super Guppy, a unique cargo plane filled with a full-size test article of the Orion space capsule.
The Super Guppy will be parked on Boeing Plaza Monday through Wednesday during AirVenture. The unique cargo plane was made to carry large spaceship parts to different locations. The specialized aircraft has a huge cargo area, measuring 25 feet in diameter and 111 feet long. It was designed to carry items that would not fit in any other cargo aircraft. The Super Guppy has been used in test campaigns at Marshall and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA: Aerial photo of Orion being offloaded
The aircraft is being used to transport parts for the Orion structure, playing an integral role in the goal to bring people to the moon again, and eventually to Mars. Transporting oversized cargo is a problem for various industries, with the physical limitations of structures like tunnels, narrow roads, low bridges and power lines making overland shipment problematic. The Super Guppy offers another solution for transporting impressively large cargo, with impressive capabilities.
NASA reports that there are aircraft that can carry more weight than the Super Guppy, but few come close to the vast internal dimensions. The aircraft has a hinged nose, opening at a 110-degree angle and allowing full frontal cargo loading. The control lock and disconnect system at the fuselage break allows the nose to open and close without disrupting the flight or engine control rigging.
The Super Guppy allows for fewer shipping and handling fixtures and a minimum of ground support equipment. There is a system of rails in the cargo compartment that can be used with Super Guppy pallets or fixtures designed for specific cargo. There are rollers mounted in the rail to allow the pallets or fixtures to be moved by an electric winch mounted under the cargo floor and automatic hydraulic loc pins are in the rail to secure the pallet for flight.
The original airframe is from a Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter, in service in 1953. The original airframe had 8,090 hours and was transferred to NASA on Oct. 23, 1997. It has a total length of 143 feet and 10 inches with a wingspan of 156 feet and three inches. It is capable of holding a useful load of 45,000 lbs and has a max takeoff weight of 170,000 lbs.
The first Guppy aircraft was introduced in 1961 by Aero Spaceline Industries. It was built from a modified KC-97 Stratotanker and called the Pregnant Guppy. It had the largest cargo compartment of any aircraft ever built, at 19’ in diameter. The Pregnant Guppy was designed to carry the second stage of a Saturn rocket for the Apollo program. This modified plane allowed NASA to deliver cargo in 18 hours as opposed to 18 to 25 days on a barge.
A larger version, the Super Guppy, was built in 1965, operating under ASI until it was purchased by NASA. The original Super Guppy flew over three million miles for NASA’s Apollo, Gemini, Skylab and the International Space Station programs. The original had over 32 years of service, providing an integral role in man’s journey to space.
The Super Guppy Turbine is the last generation of the Guppy made out of four. The newer model can upgrade more reliably with Allison T-56 turboprops. NASA acquired this Super Guppy from Airbus in 1997 after it retired its fleet of A300 to museums.
The impressive cargo plane is among the NASA highlights in Oshkosh this year, including looks at the Apollo and Artemis programs and multiple forums. The activities will be centered at its pavilion in Aviation Gateway Park, northwest of the FAA control tower on the event grounds.
NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft will transport the underlying structure of Orion from New Orleans to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Monday’s Theater in the Woods will feature “NASA – The Next Bold Step” to look at the Apollo and Artemis programs, from the first steps on the moon to the next journey. It will include NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana; Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke; Gerry Griffin and Rick Weiss from the Apollo program; and Dr. John Blevins, Alex Kanelakos and Dr. Ryan Watkins from the Artemis program.
Tuesday afternoon, Forum Pavilion 7 “Artemis Audience Astronauts” will cover the new space mission, Wednesday morning Forum Pavilion 8 “Preparing to Fly X-59” will feature NASA research test pilot David “Nils” Larson and the preparations for the first flight of NASA’s X-59 supersonic demonstrator aircraft. Thursday morning, Pavilion 8 “NASA Wicked Aeronautics Innovation” will focus on the Convergent Aeronautics Solutions project and explore opportunities aviation has to better American society.
The Super Guppy will be a highlight of the Boeing Plaza, showing a different side of aviation and representing the ways aircraft can provide an innovative solution and how the sky is not the only limit. The cargo aircraft that assisted in the original space race is back to help a new age of space exploration and is ready to be seen at AirVenture.