The only flying example of a very special, “experimental” airplane is on display at Boeing Plaza and we had the opportunity to tour it on Tuesday. It is the only currently flying Super Guppy Turbine (SGT), operated under NASA (whose mission is specified to be research and development) airworthiness authority and is far from a “Standard” category aircraft. No passengers allowed on this aircraft.
The enormous cargo hauler is 143’-10” long, has a wingspan of 156’-3”, and the height to the tip of the tail is 48’-6”. It sports four Allison T56–A-14 turboprop engines (as used in the C-130) and four Hamilton Standard 54H60-123 Hydromatic propellers (also as used on C-130s). The nose gear duplicated what is used on the Boeing 707, except mounted in reverse. The mains are borrowed from the B-52. The fuselage shares roots with the KC-997 Stratofreighter. It is clearly a Frankenstein design, which puts it close to the heart of homebuilders.
The plane requires three crew members; a pilot, co-pilot, and a flight engineer. The crew are all civilian NASA employees, although most of the cockpit crew are former military. Transition training into the SGT is done in-house by designated NASA instructor pilots. There is no “fly-by-wire” capacity and the panel is mostly round gages, updated in 2014 by mostly adding supplemental iPads using a popular mobile flight application. There is also an old, portable Garmin 696 for the flight engineer.
The crew expects to fly about 200 hours this year. While night and IFR capable (and current), most Guppy flights are day VFR. Recent missions have included transporting Artemis heat shields, taking a Command Service Module from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to Mansfield, Ohio, and moving a multipurpose logistic module from KSC to Ellington Field in Houston. When not flying missions, the Guppy is based at the El Paso (Texas) airport.
Like everything “space” or NASA, the SGT has a strong fan base. One fan site, allaboutguppys.com, has a treasure trove of information on the Super Guppy and earlier models of the Guppy. This week, an SGT fan dropped by to deliver homemade cookies cut and iced to look like the plane now on display. I wonder how many other planes here at Oshkosh engender such adulation from strangers?
If you are here at AirVenture, be sure to join the SGT fan club, wait in a fast moving line, climb the steps, and see its vast interior before end of day on Wednesday. It will fly out soon after the field opens on Thursday.