Is it a UFO? No it’s Super Guppy!

Looking up at the sky you might see an unusual object flying by that grabs your attention. It’s definitely a plane. No, wait, it looks like the top half of that plane was ballooned out somehow, creating a craft that looks like it couldn’t even fly! But it is flying! How is that possible? That is the impression I had when I saw NASA’s Super Guppy flying over Hangar 1 in Moffett Field, California.

The half-plane, half-zeppelin looking aircraft was engineered to be able to carry large and cumbersome cargo to and from different NASA centers and other science facilities around the country. On this trip, the Super Guppy was carrying the heat shield for NASA’s next crew capsule, Orion, which arrived for testing at NASA’s Ames Research Center (Tu, E., 7 January 2016).

The Super Guppy Has Been Around for a While Now

NASA has had a version of the Super Guppy since the early 1960s. Aero Spacelines of California designed the first version in 1962 specifically for NASA operations. It was used to carry cargo for Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and many other NASA missions (NASA, n.d.). The current version of the craft has a cargo area that is 25 feet wide by 25 feet tall. Compare that with an average passenger jet that is only 18.5 feet wide by 17.25 feet tall, which includes the passenger and luggage compartments (Airbus, n.d.)! Super Guppy’s unique design includes a hinged nose that allows cargo to be loaded in and out directly from the front of the cargo area. No finicky fold-down cargo doors on this craft! When not being used by NASA, the Super Guppy is available to other organizations to ship their large cargo. This unique approach to management of the aircraft helps off-set the cost of operations.

The Super Guppy is a sight to be seen. So, the next time you see something weird in the sky, ask yourself: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It may just be Super Guppy!



By Maria Chambers
NASA Ames Research Center