Description of SUPER GUPPY
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The Super Guppy is a civil cargo aircraft built in the United States by Aero Spacelines in the 1960s. It can carry about 77 tons of large equipment, especially space hardware.
NASA commissioned the first models because it needed to carry components and entire stages of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo project. Transporting the rocket by ship was indeed causing rust problems.
The construction of the Guppies
Aero Spacelines decided to build “Pregnant Guppies” using old Boeing 377 Stratocruisers. However, they were too small and another aircraft was needed to transport the parts to the Cape Canaveral (Florida) launch base.
The current Super Guppy was built on the basis of a Boeing KC-97 and underwent many modifications; turboprops replaced the piston engines, the wings were lengthened and the fuselage reinforced. Unlike the Pregnant Guppy, the pressurization was kept in the cockpit to fly at higher altitudes.
The aircraft entered service in 1966 and was purchased by NASA in 1979.
Five units were produced. Aero Spacelines launched in parallel the production of the Mini Guppy, intended for the transport of oversized cargo, and the Super Guppy Turbine. The latter was built to meet the demand of Unexcelled Corporation, which purchased Aero Spacelines in 1967.
A rapid evolution
The Super Guppy became, over the years, more and more difficult to maintain. Its main defect was that it was necessary to open its nose manually and to dismantle electrical cables during loading. This was a long and laborious operation. The freight aircraft was also built on the basis of a much older plane and thus some spare parts are no longer produced today. It also had an old-fashioned cockpit with needle instruments.
In the 1970s, Aero Spacelines experienced financial difficulties and traded with Airbus.
In 1996, the Super Guppies were replaced by five Beluga aircrafts, more modern and quicker to unload. They then became museum pieces in different countries. One aircraft was entrusted to the Toulouse Old Wings collection, and three others were exhibited in the United States (Tucson), Germany (Hamburg) and Great Britain (Bruntingthorpe). The latest model is still operated by NASA.