Why Was NASA’s Super Guppy Flying To Ohio?

NASA’s bulbous Super Guppy landed at Mansfield Lahm Airport on the weekend with an interesting piece of cargo onboard. The aircraft was carrying the Orion space capsule which was en route to NASA’s Plum Brook Station at Sandusky.

Super Guppy was carrying the Orion space capsule to Ohio for testing. Photo: NASA.

The Super Guppy (N941NA) touched down at Mansfield Lahm mid-afternoon yesterday, Sunday, November 24, 2019. It’s not the closest airport to Plum Brook, but Mansfield Lahm has a 9,000 x 150-foot runway – just what the big outsized aircraft needs.

Yesterday’s flight originated at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After landing in Ohio, the Orion capsule was transferred to a 135 foot truck for the six-hour trip up to Sandusky. That journey will take place today, Monday, November 25, 2019.

An aircraft that looks like it’s out of a cult movie

Aero Spacelines developed the Super Guppy from the C-97J Turbo Stratocruiser back in the 1960s. The last of its kind is now exclusively operated by NASA. The 44-meter long aircraft has a wingspan of 48 meters and a height of 15 meters. Powered by four Allison 501-D22C turboprops, the aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight of 77 tonnes. It can lumber along at a stately 463 km/hr and has a range of 1,734 nautical miles.

Super Guppy swallows NASA X-38 crew return vehicle with room for more. Photo: NASA.

There’s a story that when the aircraft made its inaugural flight in 1962, there was a lot of concern that the plane wouldn’t get off the ground. Police and fire engines were on standby. But it got airborne and arguably the world’s ugliest plane has been in business ever since. By volume, its cargo carrying capacity is unsurpassed, exceeding even that of the C-5 Galaxy.

But space fans hoping to get a glimpse of the Orion capsule as it travels up to Plum Brook are set to be disappointed. The capsule, which is a part of the Artemis I test flight around the moon,  is well wrapped up in a protective transportation covering.

What’s happening at Plum Brook?

Once at Plum Brook, the Orion capsule will undergo several months of testing at the facility’s thermal vacuum chamber. The chamber replicates the outer space environment. In a statement, NASA spokesperson Jan Witty said;

“The spacecraft is coming to Plum Brook for a space environment testing in preparation for Artemis I which is set to launch in 2020.

“The tests will confirm the spacecraft’s systems perform as designed while ensuring safe operation for the crew during future Artemis missions – both on the ground and inflight.

“We like to say, ‘We test what we fly,’ and that is exactly what we are going to accomplish during the upcoming Artemis environmental test.”

Super Guppy carrying NASA’s T-38 trainers. Photo: NASA.

NASA has a long relationship with the Super Guppy. The aircraft transformed the long and laborious process of transporting rockets and parts between the east and west coasts of the USA. Initially skeptical about the plane, NASA officials were soon won over and the Super Guppy played a big role in getting the first man on the moon in 1969.

With Artemis I an uncrewed forerunner to a planned manned mission to the moon, the Super Guppy may be playing that role once again.