On November 9th, 2015 we learned about

Super Guppy is NASA’s puffy plane for moving spacecraft parts

NASA launches spacecraft from Florida, but they don’t build them there. This creates some tricky logistical issues, since even though these vehicles can travel billions of miles, they’re not so great at the short trips close to Earth. To assist with transporting these hulking machines, a new hulking machine was created, affectionately called the Super Guppy.

The Super Guppy was created in 1965 along side four sibling aircraft. The enormous cargo planes were built from heavily modified Boeing 377 Stratocruisers, a plane developed for the American military in the 1940s. While the Stratocruisers were large, the Guppies took things to a whole other level, extending the length of the plane to 141 feet and most strikingly reshaping the fuselage into a bulbous and accordingly spacious shape. The swollen-looking cargo space provides a maximum internal diameter of 25 feet across, a space fully accessible thanks to the hinged nose of the plane, opening at an angle of 200° when loading the plane.

Cosmic cargo

While the other Super Guppies have been put to pasture, NASA still uses their plane from 1965 for delivery space-bound cargo. The plane is still a turbo-prop, but newer modifications have helped it keep up with modern demands, such as a special cradle to carry parts of the International Space Station (ISS). Even today, the plane is moving parts for the upcoming Orion spacecraft from Ohio to Florida.

Super but not superlative

While still relevant, the Super Guppy isn’t quite the record-setting cargo plane its name and legacy might suggest. It’s well equipped to handle long, bulky objects, but there are obviously limitations to consider. Many rockets are too long to fit in the plane assembled, and so they were transported in pieces. Even then the Saturn V rockets were mostly shipped by barge, being too large for a Guppy to handle. For a more relatable reference point, paleontology’s “school bus” unit of measurement would allow for around four buses in plane at once. If one was really pressed to move more metal at once, the newer Dreamlifter is large enough to carry a Super Guppy if the wings were clipped off, even accounting for the Guppy’s 101,000 pound body when empty.

My first-grader asked: Could the Super Guppy carry a blue whale?

While the whale’s 100 foot body would fit in the cargo area, the hefty mammal would easily exceed the 26 ton limit for the Guppy to carry at a whopping 134 tons. Just as with the Saturn V’s barges, it’s easier to float in the water than in the air.


Source: Aero Spacelines Super Guppy, Wikipedia

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