Aero Spacelines 377SG Super Guppy


A little known fact regarding the significant role that the 377PG and 377SG played in Kennedy's dream of getting to the moon by the end of the 1960's. NASA was given top priority to meet this deadline. The Pregnant Guppy's first flight was on September 19, 1962, a little over a year after Kennedy's famous "to the moon by the end of the decade" speech.

The Pregnant Guppy was so successful that ASI built a second larger Guppy for larger, heavier loads. The 377SG Super Guppy flew for the first time just short of three years after the Pregnant Guppy on August 31, 1965. .
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Without the Guppys, the only other way to get the Apollo rocket stages from Califorinia to Florida was on a slow boat through the Panama Canal. The Guppys cut not just days, but weeks and months out of the schedules. Without the Guppys, we never would have made it to the moon by `69! Of course, this success was also it's downfall. Once the Apollo and Skylab programs were done, dwindling public interest in the space program forced cutbacks in funding. In an attempt to keep the company afloat, Aero Spacelines had to look for commercial applications for the Guppy.
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The stated cruise speed for the Super Guppy was 265 MPH carrying a 40,000 lb. payload. As seen in the fuselage cross section, ASI design engineers took the original Guppy concept as far as was practically possible with the 8 ft. wide floor mated to a 25 ft. diameter cargo compartment. The constant section of the fuselage measures 30 ft. long. The overall length of the cargo compartment is over 94 ft. ASI retained the pallet rails for loading cargo originally used on the Pregnant Guppy.

The red seen in this drawing is Rubilith which was used by the original graphic artist. Rubilith shows up on the printer's plate as black.
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This is what Clipper Constitution N1038V (c/n 15938) looked like when it was delivered to Pan American on September 29, 1949. Later it was renamed Clipper Hotspur and retrofitted as Super Stratocruiser in 1954. Clipper Hotspur was stored at New York until being traded to Boeing in 1960, then sold to Mansdorf who sold it to Aero Spacelines.
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Parts of Boeing's YC-97J 25-2693 ( c/n 16724) Turbo-Stratocruiser, B-377s N406Q ( c/n 15945) and N408Q ( c/n 15944) were used in the construction of the Super Guppy. The majority of the parts including the wings with engines, cockpit and forward fuselage section of the YC-97J were used in the construction of the Super Guppy, but enough of N1038V was used to enable ASI to use the Stratocruiser's "N" number for registration purposes.
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Boeing converted two C-97s for the USAF as flying testbeds for the then forthcomig Douglas C-133, replacing the Pratt & Whitney 4-row, 28 cylinder R4360 radials; rated at 3500 ESHP, with the new Pratt & Whitney T-34P7 Turboprops; rated at 5500-6000 ESHP each, depending on the source cited.

Conroy knew it was imperative for the new Guppy, originally dubbed B-377VPG (Very Pregnant Guppy) to use the more efficient and powerful turboprops. Jack also knew the that the C-97J Turbo-Stratocruisers were headed for retirement, and hoped to get the airframes as salvage and acquire the engines on a low cost lease.
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During the spring of 1965, the NASA Office of the Administrator made overtures to the Air Force, stressing the national interest, "We defintely feel that it would be in the public interest and advantageous to the government if these engines were made available. We would appreciate it if you would approve the proposed lease." Conroy finally got his engines, and acceptance tests on the now officially named B-377SG Super Guppy began before the year was out.
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The Super Guppy was not built in stages like the Pregnant Guppy, but was modified from the beginning into the the finished airframe with the new upper fuselage section replacing the original C-97's as a load-bearing structure. The cargo would be loaded from the front, making a swing nose the most practical method of loading. Other refinements over the Pregnant Guppy included cockpit pressurazation allowing it cruise at 285 mph, at altitudes up to 25,000 ft to avoid bad weather.

Jack Conroy is seen here giving Werner Von Braun a tour of the Super Guppy under construction at the Aero Spacelines facilities at Van Nuys Airport in California.
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The fuselage cargo section diameter was increased from the Pregnant Guppy's 19 ft. to 25 ft. for the Super Guppy. The fuselage was stretched even longer. The Super Guppy design called for a 18 ft. section added to the rear of the fuselage and a 8 ft. section inserted in front of the wing, bringing it's overall length to just over 141 ft.

The Super Guppy is seen here on it's initial test flight on August 31, 1965 taking off from Van Nuys Airport, California. Notice the contrails coming off the propeller tips due to the humidity in the air.
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The empennage was also extensively reworked with a 58 inch lower section and a 48 inch upper section added to the vertical stabilizer with a larger dorsal fin, and 48 inch extentions added to the horizontal stabilizer tips increased stablity in flight.
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On September 25, 1965 in the clear, blue skies over the Mojave Desert, disaster struck! There was a tremendous bang and a jolting, violent shudder as the huge cargo aircraft hit 275 mph after starting the dive at 10,000 feet. It felt as if a bomb had exploded in the nose section above our cockpit. The Guppy began to shake violently. Midair collision, I thought-the worst of all aviation disasters!

This is a reprint of an article written by Lt. Col. P.G. Smith USAF (Ret.) which was published in the April 1971 issue of AIR FORCE Magazine. Super Guppy Illustration is by Gordon Phillips.
(Click on Link above to go to the 5 page article.)
This photo comes to us courtesy of Al Muller, USAF, Ret. who was taking part in a flight test of a C-130. He recently uncovered this, the first color photo of the SG's fuselage cave-in we have seen, after promising the crew of N941 a copy and decided to share it with us, too. Thanks Al!
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Once the Super Guppy had proved it's flying ability, NASA wanted to press the 377SG into service in early 1966. John C. Goodrum, Chief of MSFC's Project Logistics Office, felt that the Super Guppy's utility was so important, that it should be considered operational for "critical cargoes" on a "limited basis" as soon as possible.Note in this picture the contrails coming off the propellors caused by the moisture in the air.
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In March, 1966 Goodrum again urged operational service based on NASA's own test pilots judgement that the aircraft was satisfactory for transport duties. He advised NASA Headquarters that MSFC planned "immediate utilization" of the Guppy to transport a Saturn Instrument Unit, manufactured by IBM in Huntsville.
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Within a week, by special arrangement with the FAA, the Super Guppy landed in Huntsville, and flew the IU to the Douglas plant in Huntington Beach, California, for systems testing with an S-IVB stage. Before the end of the month, the 377SG made a return trip, delivering a S-IVB test stage to MSFC.
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Shortly after take-off one day in 1967, the crew flying the Super Guppy heard an ominous noise coming from the rear of the cockpit. After making a hasty landing, while preparing to unload the S-IVB stage, they found a gap of almost a foot wide in the nose/fuselage joint resulting in a partial redesign in the hinge latching mechanism.
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This promotional flyer was printed during Aero Spacelines' heyday. It promotes the virtues of the Super Guppy, but also contains interesting facts regarding the direction ASI was heading as a company, and the intended uses for the Guppy fleet which at first was to total six aircraft. Three built (the Mini Guppy had recently become commercially available), and three planned.

The new improved Super Guppy was going to be utilized ferrying Douglas DC-10 fuselage sections from San Diego, California and wing section from Toronto to Douglas' final assembly plant in Long Beach, California. It also was intended to carry Lockheed L-1011 wing sections from Nashville, Tennessee to the Lockheed final assembly plant in Palmdale, California.
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This picture was taken of the 377SG while on static display at Edwards AFB in 1978. From this angle it is easier to see the shortened inboard propellers and added wing center section. Another not very apparent difference between the original and later Super Guppys is the lack of wing fairing on the original Super Guppy. It was not needed because the shape of the fuselage kept the propwash from flowing up the fuselage side, a feature of the later flat-sided Super Guppys.
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By the time this picture was taken, on April 28, 1981, NASA owned the Super Guppy, now renumbered N940. Before NASA would agree to purchase the SG, they insisted on being able to inspect the aluminum skin which necessitated removing the paint. The SG is seen in the early NASA paint scheme with the entire fuselage painted white with a blue stripe.

Also seen behind the SG is the Space Shuttle Columbia being unloaded from the NASA 747 carrier after completing it's first mission. Columbia is being returned to KSC to prepare it for it's next flight.
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Seen here are all of the mission stickers the Guppy wore proudly. On the left (port) side of the aircraft were all of the Shuttle missions as seen in the first photo. The second photo shows the right (starboard) side which sported stickers from all of the rest of the missions the Super Guppy carried loads for. Note the ever present fire bottle in the last photo.
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This is the NASA Super Guppy as it stands today. All wrapped for storage at Pima AFB in Arizona. For the purpose of scale, note the T-34 in the foreground under the Super Guppy's wing. The Super Guppy line of aircraft all had a larger internal volume than the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy! The Galaxy does though, have a greater lifting capacity in terms of weight.
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These pictures show better detail of the effort taken to preserve the 377SG. Note the tape sealing all joints. Even on the landing gear doors. The nacelles and entire propeller assembly are also wrapped. NASA did consider bringing the 377SG back into service for use ferrying components for the International Space Station Program. The problem they encountered was the shortage of available parts to maintain it's propellers.
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Seen here is the damage caused to the Super Guppy's rudder and gust lock during a particularly strong desert wind storm. In the first picture the most obvious damage is to the top of the rudder. Notice the the kink. It's not known at this time exactly how the damage could be caused to the top of the rudder and have it stay attached. The less apparent damage is seen in a close up of the gust lock. In the last picture in this series, notice the rudder, missing aileron and dust devil in the background heading towards the Guppy.
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Rough first week. The Super Guppy was accidentally damaged by one of the workers (a new guy, been there about a week) who ran into the SG with a forklift and destroyed the left aileron and some of the wing. The museum is in the process of repairing the damage and will put a new aileron on. All work is being done by FAA certified mechanics (as seen in the third picture) even though NASA has no plans to ever fly this plane again. These pictures were taken in late May 1999. The repairs should be completed by time you read this.
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These ungainly looking aircraft performed their duties week after week flying multi-million dollar cargoes between NASA facilities, contractor plants, and the launch site at Cape Kennedy. In addition to rocket stages and engines, many other pieces of vital equipment was carried. As the Skylab orbital workshop program progressed in the late sixties and early seventies, the Guppys ferried components such as the Multiple Docking Adapter, the Apollo Telescope Mount and other Skylab workshop hardware.

Of note, the 377SG Super Guppy had a most unique manner of taking off. Notice in the video the as the Super Guppy attains flying speed, it lifts off the main landing gear first, then the nosewheel! It was the only Guppy to exibit this characteristic.
(YouTube video)

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Copyright © 2006 Daren Savage
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