Aero Spacelines 377MG Mini-Guppy


The 377MG Mini-Guppy was the first of the new generation of Guppys that was built using an entirely new fuselage to connect the existing Stratocruiser sections. Gone was the modified Stratocruiser's limitation of an 8 ft. wide floor. By designing a new fuselage, ASI was able to create the first "wide-body" Guppy, with a 13 ft. wide cargo floor and a maximum inside diameter of 18 ft. with the constant section measuring just over 73 ft. long.
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Engineers at Aero Spacelines retained the C-97's original powerplants, the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Majors. The Mini-Guppy's empty weight is 85,000 lbs. carrying a maximum payload of 41,120 lbs. (strange number-DS), making the maximum take-off gross weight of 147,000 lbs while having a maximum landing weight of 130,000 lbs. The 377MG's wingspan is 156 ft. 3 in. and is 132 ft. 10 in. long. The fuselage is over 27 ft. high and the tail is a bit more than 38 ft. tall.
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The Aero Spacelines 377MG Mini-Guppy began life as Boeing B-377 N1037V (c/n 15967), and delivered as Pan American Airways Clipper Fleetwings N1037V. Pan American took delivery September 8, 1949. It was traded back to Boeing in 1960, sold to Mansdorf, then to Aero Spacelines in 1963. After the purchase by Unexcelled, Inc. Aero Spacelines moved it's base of operations to Santa Barbara, California.
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This is a reprint of an article Mini Guppy Begins Certification Testing written by George S. Hunter which appeared in the July 3, 1967 issue of AVIATION WEEK & SPACE TECHNOLOGY. It's got good technical details on the Mini Guppy with many new pictures not seen in over 30 years!
(Click on the imagel to read the article Mini Guppy Begins Certification Testing )

Aero Spacelines converted the N1037V into the Mini-Guppy using parts from B-377 ( c/n 15967). Seen in this picture, the belly pan and cockpit section is about all that remains of the original C-97 fuselage which has also been stretched at this point. The final piece of the upper fuselage has been cut away, and is being lifted out of the way. Note in this picture the method of jigging the fuselage, accurate but simple.
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The bulkheads and new floor are being framed up in this picture. The jig for aligning the tail is as basic as the rest of the methods used by ASI. This is a very graphic example of how the second generation of Guppys were built. Notice the temporary shelter erected around the fuselage giving modest protection from the elements.
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Seen here during construction of the fuselage. Note the use of rope and C-clamps to hold the bulkheads in alignment prior to attaching the stringers.
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The Mini-Guppy is seen here being towed to the paint shop for the application of the final paint job on the last sections of bare fuselage.
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The first flight as 377MG Mini-Guppy N1037V, christened "Spirit of Santa Barbara", was on May 24, 1967. This Guppy featured a swing tail for loading cargo.
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Only two days later on May 26, the Mini-Guppy was used for it's first cargo flight, flying a Budd Company Skylounge across the Atlantic to the 1967 Paris Airshow. While in France, the Mini-Guppy was flown south to Toulouse for a demonstration for Aerospatiale officials who were considering using this type of an aircraft in the future production of planned airliners.
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Although the 377MG's interior dimensions at 14 ft. high and 18 ft. wide made the Mini-Guppy too small for Aerospatiale to use, the demonstration did set some minds to thinking about the possibilities of using this type of transport in the future.
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Publicity flyers were sent out to prospective customers promoting the use of the Mini-Guppy in airlifting boats rather than by usual methods, either by truck or railroad. Seen here is the "Echo", the largest ferry boat ever airlifted (at the time).
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In this picture, note the addition of the wing fairing. This was needed to smooth the airflow around the tail surfaces. Without it, the propwash tended to flow up the flat side of the fuselage causing tail buffeting.
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After falling on hard times, the Mini Guppy was sold to American Jet Industries in 1974. It was then sold to Aero Union in 1980. Erickson Air Crane bought it in 1988. This picture was taken shortly after Erickson bought it as it still is registered as N422AU. The "AU" stands for Aero Union. You can still see the shiny "ION" on the upper forward fuselage.
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Ron Jones sent in this photo essay about his experience with the Mini Guppy while it was still being operated by Erickson Air Crane during the early 1990's. Ron and his brother were at the Muscle Shoals airport when they learned the Mini Guppy was given clearance to land. Their curiousity got the better of them, and we're glad it did! Ron has finally helped answer the question, "What did Erickson use the Mini Guppy for?" Hauling the "Hulk", of course!
(Click on the image for Hauling the "Hulk")

Jack Erickson used the Mini Guppy for a number of years until retiring it to the Erickson Collection at Tillamook Naval Air Station Museum in 1995 as seen in these pictures. The "Mini" still continues to amaze and inspire visitors to this day.

In 1996 the Mini Guppy was rotated 180 degrees and moved a bit further away from the blimp hanger after a strong gust of wind "weather-vaned" the Guppy's nose into the wind. The wind also "weather-vaned" the Guppy's wing into the concrete pillar of the hanger.

The damage was isolated to the left wing's leading edge near the tip. The museum has no plans as of yet to repair the damage as seen in the picture on the right. They have considered opening up the interior of the Mini Guppy for display, but the logistics of this still need to be worked out.
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In this photo essay, Robert Baetke was given rare access to the Mini Guppy by the Tillamook Naval Air Station Musem curators. To celebrate the event, Robert and a friend hired a local air service to fly them to Tillamook in a Stintson. Once at Tillamook, they toured the Mini and shot the photos we present here. The Mini's interior is in excellent condition and appears as if they simply flew it in, parked it and closed the doors. It's nice to see that it's been preserved so well. Our thanks to Robert and the Tillamook Naval Air Station Musem for their help.
(Click on the image for A Rare Tour of the Mini Guppy)
The Mini Guppy is now being used by the Tillamook Naval Air Station Musem to advertise it's existence. The "Erickson Air Crane" name has been removed on the starboard side of the fuselage and has been replaced with "Tillamook Air Museum." We can't think of a better way to draw attention to the museum. The right side still retains the original Erickson company name. Also added since the Mini Guppy was moved is seen in the third photo is what appears to be either 4x4s or 6x6 inch planks set into concrete and braced for support. We don't think it will be blowing around now.
Thanks to Silver Hanrahan for sending us these photos.
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A Star is Born! Actually the Mini has been the only Guppy to be featured in a major motion picture. 1992's "Universal Soldier" starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren has the Mini Guppy in a small but significant role in the opening scenes of the movie delivering the transport carrying the universal soldiers among whom are Van Damme and Lundgren.

In this clip notice the skill of the pilot as he performs a forward slip to landing for the cameras (no easy task with a Guppy!). He touches the left main first followed by the nosewheel and right main. We edited some of the non-Guppy shots out of the original scene giving it the slightly choppy audio you will hear. We're presenting this video in the original letterbox format because we felt it was worth the extra download time to be able to enjoy the Mini Guppy as it was meant to be seen... Big!
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Copyright © 2006 Daren Savage
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