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December 7, 2012

NASA’s Super Guppy: Air and space power working together

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by Tech. Sgt. Christine Jones
4th Combat Camera Squadron
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“Able to carry satellites and rockets in a single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a guppy?!?”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Super Guppy, designated as 377SG-201, spent the night at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., Nov. 27, awaiting cargo that called for its versatile airlift capability. The incredible aircraft, specifically designed to transport oversized cargo, was tasked with transporting  a large metal ring. The ring of tooling will be used by the fabrication folks to create the heat shield for the Orion rocket.

“Like a cupcake tin is used to form the cupcakes, this tooling is used to form the heat shield, which ensures all the critical dimensions are the same each and every time,” said Stuart Williams, NASA’s lead engineer on the project.

“It looks funny, plus it’s an aircraft we don’t normally work with,” said Sgt. Augustine Corona, load team supervisor, 452nd Aerial Port Support Flight. “I was in charge of the entire cargo loading process and ensured everyone was safe. I had to stay on my game and not be distracted by the sight of this amazing airplane.” Corona’s primary duty at March ARB is assisting forward-deploying Marines. Supporting the Super Guppy mission was definitely something new for him and his crew.

The potential, historical impact of the Super Guppy’s mission and loading its special cargo provided a first-time training opportunity for many of the March Airmen. “We had some young Airmen out here that have never seen an airplane like this,” said Tech. Sgt. Corona.

The massive, tadpole-shaped aircraft is not only one-of-a-kind in appearance, but also in the operation of its cargo door. A disconnect system at the fuselage break allows the nose to open 110 degrees without interfering with the flight controls. Most Air Force aircraft load from the rear, so this was an unusual experience for Team March Airmen.

“Before yesterday, I’d never heard of the Super Guppy and now I know that it’s the only one out of five still in operation,” said Staff Sgt. Vanessa Reed, a broadcast journalist who documented loading of the Super Guppy with 4th Combat Camera Squadron. “The components it’s picking up are part of the most advanced space craft to date, it really feels like I just witnessed history.”

This aerospace wonder has a super-sized cargo area that is 25 feet in diameter and 111 feet long. In comparison, a C-17 Globemaster III cargo compartment is 18 feet in diameter and only 88 feet long. Its specialized ability to transport oversized, oddly shaped cargo puts it in a class by itself — no other plane in the world can match its uniqueness.

In the past, the NASA aircraft proved its one-of-a-kind capabilities when tasked to transport cargo such as a pair of Navy T-38s; spacecraft parts and tools; and even a V-22 Osprey, with its tail intact. In addition, the Super Guppy has been credited with transporting Saturn Rockets and International Space Station modules.

This aerospace propulsion superhero’s Southern California visit facilitated a rare training opportunity between Air Force, NASA, and aerospace corporations.




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