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Super Guppy Turbine: Transporting Cargo That No Other Plane Could

February 18, 2021

With just four ever built, and one of them headed for scrapping, MotoArt was thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to preserve the very first Super Guppy Turbine made. Aided by the South Wales Aviation Museum, they were able to obtain the fuselage of this very special aircraft and offer an Aero Spacelines Super Guppy PlaneTag. Read more about it then add one to your collection today.

Airbus Super Guppy Turbine PlaneTags

Photo used by permission from Malcolm Nason 

What is the Super Guppy?

The Super Guppy was a supersized, wide-bodied aircraft, capable of transporting oversized cargo. It, and its predecessor the Pregnant Guppy, were born from necessity. NASA needed to get large components and its Saturn rockets for the Apollo program from California to Cape Canaveral, Florida. These oversized items could not be transported by train or truck. Shipping them by way of the Panama Canal was the only solution, but an inadequate one. It took almost three weeks by sea, with the hopes that the precious cargo would arrive safely.

 

The Pregnant Guppy

 

NASA Pregnant Guppy

S-IVB-500S/T being loaded into Pregnant Guppy

It was crucial to the space program to find a better solution. Two enterprising gentlemen, Jack Conroy a former USAF pilot, and Lee Mansdorf, an aircraft broker and entrepreneur, created Aero Spacelines and began conceiving a novel solution - a cargo aircraft large enough to transport these oversized loads. As they had a number of Boeing 337 Stratocruisers, they had the idea to lengthen the Stratocruiser fuselage, then build a new larger one around it, creating a new silhouette in the aviation world. The Pregnant Guppy was born. Its first test flight came in September 1962 and it was ready to make its first NASA cargo flight in 1963.

 

The Super Guppy

Aero Spacelines began building an even bigger aircraft soon after, one that could carry a Saturn V rocket. The first SG was built from the fuselage of a C-97J Turbo Stratocruiser, the military version of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. The fuselage was lengthened to 141 feet and ballooned out to a maximum inside diameter of 25 feet. It used Pratt & Whitney T-34-P-7WA turboprop engines.

This feat of engineering has a cargo area that is 25 feet wide and 111 feet long, with a usable volume of 39,000 cubic feet of storage. Its oversized cargo is easily loaded because its hinged front nose opens 110 degrees. The nose itself has a control lock and disconnect system to allow it to be opened and closed without disrupting the engine control rigging.

 

Super Guppy Turbine

 

Rather than relying on the fuselage of a Stratocruiser, the Super Guppy Turbine fuselage was mainly constructed from scratch, which allowed the floor of the cargo compartment to be widened and lengthened. Only the cockpit, wings, tail and main landing gear from the Boeing 377 were used. The nose was from a Boeing 707, which was rotated and dropped the front of the aircraft for a level cargo bay floor and easier loading. It used Allison 501-D22C turboprops and was now able to carry a max load of 52,500 pounds. It also had a pressurized cabin, allowing the crew to fly at a higher altitude.

 

Airbus Industrie Super Guppy

  Airbus Super Guppy Turbine

 

Not only were the Guppies critical to NASA’s success in the Apollo program, but the Super Guppy was just as important to the Airbus A300. Airbus had been created to compete with American airplane manufacturers such as Boeing, Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas. Five European countries came together to create a wide-body aircraft, with decentralized production plants throughout Europe. They needed a way to transport the large parts to the final assembly plant in Toulouse, France and the answer was the Super Guppy Turbine. They used two Aero Specialities SGTs; later Airbus bought the right to produce two additional SGTs. Eventually, they were replaced by the Airbus Beluga. The Beluga can carry twice as much cargo by weight and owes much to its predecessor.

 

Airbus Beluga

List of Super Guppies

The SG may be an oversized aircraft but its family is rather small. Just a handful of Super Guppies ever existed. They are:

    Super Guppy
    • N940NS is on display at Pima Air & Space Museum
    Super Guppy Turbine
    • F-BTGV (formerly N211AS), serial number 0001, was once on display at the British Aviation Heritage Centre in the UK. It was broken up in December 2020. The cockpit is being restored by South Wales Aviation Museum. MotoArt has preserved its fuselage as PlaneTags.
    • F-BPPA (formerly N212AS), serial number 0002, is displayed at Musée Aeronautique Aeroscopia near the Airbus facility, Toulouse–Blagnac Airport, France.
    • F-GDSG, serial number 0003, is on display at the Airbus facility at Hamburg Finkenwerder Airport, Germany.
    • N941NA (formerly F-GEAI), serial number 0004, remains in service as a transport aircraft with NASA. It is based at the El Paso Forward Operating Location at the El Paso International Airport, in El Paso, Texas, US.

     

    SGT

       

      MotoArt’s Super Guppy

      SGT

      MotoArt owner Dave Hall is always asked where he finds incredible and rare aircraft, such as the Super Guppy or SR-71 or Titan II. He and the team are surrounded by retired commercial planes of different sizes, colors and airlines while they work at the Mojave or Victorville boneyards. The rarer birds, especially military planes, don’t just drop out of the sky. Some have come from long time connections, or new friends such as the Soplata family. But many times they come from an aviation non profit group or museum, such as Pima Air & Space Museum or South Wales Aviation Museum (SWAM).

       

      Super Guppy PlaneTags

       

      “Pima had generously donated Super Guppy material to us quite some time ago so we had been planning a project for a while,” says Hall. “When we were recently approached by South Wales Aviation Museum about the first Super Guppy Turbine, we knew that time had come.”

       

      F-BTGV PlaneTags

       

      While the Pima Super Guppy material has been reserved for another purpose, the decision to offer a SGT PlaneTag made from F-BTGV was a no brainer. “The SGT was an incredible aircraft, built to do something that no other cargo plane was capable of. People, including us at MotoArt, have such an affection for it. We are thrilled to be a part of keeping the memory of the Guppy and its role in the Space Race alive for everyone to enjoy,” says Hall.

       

      Guppy Fuselage Skin

       

      With the help of SWAM, who are restoring the SGT cockpit, MotoArt was able to save the fuselage material from being scrapped, and preserve it for creating PlaneTags.

       

      Super Guppy Turbine plane tags

       

      Super Guppy aviation tags

      Super Guppy PlaneTags

       

      Super Guppy PlaneTags

      Ready to hold a piece of an SGT in your hand? You don’t have to wait much longer as they are ready to ship today. They are numbered to 10,000 so fans of the Guppy program can certainly get one. They are available in red, blue, yellow, color combinations and gray. They are incredibly beautiful and sure to be appreciated by collectors. They will also make a wonderful gift for aviation enthusiasts and aerospace fans.

       

       

       

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