Meet the Guppy and the Largest Aircraft in the World
It is the ugliest, yet most useful plane in NASA's fleet. Though it looks more like a massive fish than an aircraft, the Guppy is used to ship immensely large parts all across the world.
The reason why NASA requires such a large plane
Before any satellite id launched into space, it has already flown many times- likely inside the Super Guppy. The Super Guppy plays an integral role in transporting critical components for many of NASA's missions. It was President Kennedy who announced NASA's ambitious plan to reach the moon before 1970. However, the only way of transporting the Apollo rocket stages from California to Florida was to ship parts by agonizingly slow boats which made the journey through the Panama Canal.
The ships add months onto the missions with travel time alone. NASA went to Aero Spacelines to find an aircraft worthy of transporting thousands of kilograms in one trip. The answer came in 1962 with the plans of the Guppy, a plane which once held one of the largest payload capacities in the world. The Guppy fleet is made up of multiple aircraft including the Pregnant Guppy 377PG and Super Guppy 377SGT-F. Since the first flight in 1965, the aircraft has since flown over three million kilometers in support of NASA's Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs carrying immensely massive yet incredibly delicate components and specialized equipment. Without the Guppy, NASA would have never been able to send astronauts to the moon by 1969!
Still in use after 55 years
To this day, NASA consistently relies on the Guppy to transport large components bound for the International Space Station or other new outer-worldly projects. Though the first Guppy's have since been retired, NASA's improved Super Guppy (377SGT-F) continues to fly parts all around the world. When not in use by NASA, the Guppy is even used by other industries to ship other massive components.
The Super Guppy has since been used to transport the Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The module will be launched aboard the world's largest rocket ever built: NASA’s Space Launch System. The first test flight is scheduled later in 2018. During the mission, Orion will travel thousands of kilometers beyond the moon.
The Guppy's extra-wide cargo bay allows it to transport military jet aircraft with wingspans of 7.6-meters. The following video shows NASA loading two T-38A Talon jets into the cargo bay of the Guppy.
Features of the Super Guppy
Having a ridiculous sized plane that resembles a whale is surprisingly useful despite its comical appearance. The Guppy has a maximum payload of 24,000 Kg. While its capacity was once one of the largest of its time, it is significantly less than the payload of the Antonov-225 Mriya with a capacity of 240,000 Kg. The difference which sets the Guppy apart is its enormous cargo bay. The Guppy features a fuselage height of nearly 8 meters with a similar width of 8 meters as well. The Mriya cargo hold's height and width measure just 4.4 meters and 6.4 meters respectively.
Though the Super Guppy is outdated, its nearly perfect track record has proven its worth. Though it is now used by the public, the Guppy once transported most of the Apollo and ISS components and continues to be used be the preferred plane of transport for NASA.
The World's Largest Cargo Planes in the sky
Since the Guppy first debuted in 1965, many other planes have been developed to carry incredibly heavy loads. Since the 60's, there has been an ongoing battle between rival aircraft manufacturers to construct a plane with the largest payload. The following aircraft are the World's largest.
The Antonov 225 Mriya
An-225 carrying the Space Shuttle Buran [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
The current world record for cargo capacity is owed to the An-225 with a huge capacity of 240,000 Kg. The An-225 currently holds 240 including transporting the heaviest cargo weighing in at 253 tons. The An-22 also holds the world record for longest cargo at 42.1 meters long. Though, since its construction in 1988, it remains the only aircraft of its kind. One of the An-22's most dignifying moments was when NASA used it to transport the Buran space shuttle.
Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy
C-M5 Super Galaxy [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
The Lockheed C-M5 Super Galaxy is the US Air Force's largest strategic air lifter. The C-5M has an impressive maximum payload of 130,000 kg which can be carried at Mach 0.77. The C-5M is the US Airforce's most reliable super-sized transporter which has been in use since 1970.
NASA's shuttle carrier aircraft
[Image Source: NASA]
NASA owns multiple heavily modified Boeing 747 aircraft which were once used to transport the space shuttles. The planes feature extended horizontal stabilizers with extended verticle tip fins which provide extra stability while carrying the shuttle. To carry the aircraft the frame and wings were also modified to bear the excess weight on the center of the fuselage.
The Airbus Beluga
The Airbus Beluga features one of the most voluminous cargos of any civil or military aircraft in the sky today. There are currently five Airbus Baluga's in operation around the world. Airbus uses the huge planes to transport fuselage and wing sections across many European production sites. However, the public also uses the transporters to carry a variety of components. In the past, the Beluga was used to transport a 17.6-metre-long x 6.5-metre-diameter chemical tank weighing 39 metric tons and to transport a large French masterpiece painting. The Beluga can carry a maximum payload of 47,000 kg over a nautical range of 1,600 km.
Beluga XL concept [Image Source: Airbus]
Similar to the Guppy, the Beluga is the preferred transport plane for many private space corporations. The Beluga has even been used to transport large components of the International Space Station as well. The Beluga also features a heating module designed to control the temperature of the fuselage. The plane's flexibility enables it to transport temperature-sensitive equipment.
Airbus plans on releasing a new Beluga which is 6-meters longer and 1-meter wider than the Beluga SL. The plane will be used to transport larger sections and a heavier payload. Airbus recently announced the plans earlier in December. Although, at this point no further information is available.
Since the Wright brothers first flight in 1903, the aviation industry has undergone a massive technological overhaul. Planes are now designed to be faster and more efficient than ever. Though, some planes have been engineered to carry incredible payloads- and resemble sea creatures. The massive transportation aircraft have made it easier than ever to ship impeccably large components all around the globe.