John M. Conroy, developer of the Guppy family, with NASA's Werner von Braun, during construction of the Super Guppy at Van Nuys Airport, Calif.



right wing. We asked how we looked. They replied, "Difficult to tell as we can't get too close yet, but pieces are flapping and still coming off the thing." When the DC-9 was finally able to make a visual sweep of our tail, they gave us our first encouraging report. "The tail appears to be intact with no apparent damage." It was then we made our decision to try to save the Guppy. Our major concern was whether or not the tail section would be able to stand the severe buffeting and vibration long enough to get us down. Loss of the tail would cause the aircraft to tumble and would make bailout impossible. We maintained airspeed at 175 mph and now began a shallow descent toward Edwards for a landing attempt on the adjacent Rogers Dry Lake bed. Since Edwards is the major flight-test center in the world. the fifteen-mile-long lake bed is an ideal landing area for experimental craft and airplanes in trouble. The DC-9 stayed in formation with us through the descent, providing skilled eyes to keep us posted on any changes that might occur. Only once did they comment about the gaping hole in our nose. Their consoling words were, "That kind of thing could spoil your whole day!" "Edwards Tower, Thirty-eight Victor, ten miles north at 4,000 feet. Request landing on the dry lake." "Roger, Thirty-eight Victor. Land to the south. Crash equipment is positioned and standing by." The approach to the dry lake was long and flat, and we didn't use any wing flaps. The landing gear was to to be lowered just before touchdown, and if she pitched up or down, or if a miscalculation were made, we would belly her in on the hard-baked sand. As we crossed the threshold of the lake at 260 feet, the DC-9 crew radioed, "Thirty-eight Victor, no gear yet." "Roger, gear coming down." The touchdown was
reassuringly smooth. We let the Guppy roll out to a dead stop on the long lake bed. There were six huge sighs of relief. The absolute silence of the desert was a serenade in blessed contrast to seventeen terrifying and almost endless minutes of near-disaster. Within five weeks, the Guppy's upper superstructure had been re- designed and rebuilt at Edwards AFB. Joe Walker, who later was killed when his F-104 collided in midair with the XB-70, made her final acceptance flight tests for NASA. The Super Guppy has now logged more than one million miles. She and her little sister, the "Pregnant Guppy," have carried a billion dollars worth of space equipment for NASA, and undoubtedly helped to speed up the US timetable for conquest of the moon. The Super Guppy's most precious cargo was the lunar-excursion module Eagle and the command ship Columbia flown by Apollo-11 Astronauts Neil Armstrong, "Buzz" Aldrin, and Mike Collins in their moon-landing mission of July 1969. From inauspicious beginnings, great things often grow. For seventeen very long minutes on September 25, 1965, the Super Guppy's future looked uncertain, indeed. But who could now say that she is not -quite literally-a great airplane?
P. G. Smith retired from the Air Force in 1965 as a lieutenant colonel. During his twenty two years of active duty as a pilot, test pilot, and operations officer, he accumulated 12,000 hours flying time in many types of aircraft. He is now Vice President for Marketing and Assistant to the President of Conroy Aircraft Corp., Goleta, Calif.

Reprinted From AIR FORCE Magazine April 1971
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