For aircraft enthusiasts: The Super Guppy

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by Blazer, Dec 14, 2014.

  1. Blazer


    Nov 27, 2003
    The Netherlands
    Rogue luthier employed at Knooren Handcrafted bass guitars
    It must be the most outrageous looking plane ever but given its track record it also must be one of the most important planes ever.

    But let me start with why it came to be in the first place. Back in the late fifties with the space race picking up speed, the people by Nasa found out that they needed a transport to get the oversized parts for their carrier rockets from the North American (later Rockwell and now Lockheed-Martin) plant to Cape Kennedy where they were to be assembled. To transport them by road or ship would take too long and there was no cargo plane big enough to move the said parts by air.

    Enter this man.
    John M. Conroy was a former air force pilot who saw NASA's dilemma and decided to come up with a solution. He also saw that airlines all over the USA were getting rid of their piston powered airliners in favor of jet powered airliners such as the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8.

    Knowing that those redundant airliners could still be of use, Conroy founded "Aero spacelines" bought up a whole fleet of planes of the type he thought would be perfect for conversion into the cargo planes the NASA needed. His choice fell on the Boeing B-377 "Stratocruiser"
    A derivative of the B-29 bomber, the 377 was for its day one of the most advanced planes around, it had a so called "double bubble" fuselage which meant that passengers and cargo could be transported separately but also that more of them could be carried in less space bring the cost of flying down.

    Conroy decided that if you could enlarge the upper bubble of the "double bubble" you could easily transport the large but relatively light rocket components in there and leave the lower bubble intact for structural strength.
    A rare photograph of the 377 in the process of being modified
    After the modifications to the aircraft were completed, Conroy presented it to the NASA where one official remarked that the resulting plane looked "Like a pregnant Guppy"
    But even with everybody's reservations, (The official at Van Nuys Airport where Conroy operated even called out the emergency services when he got Conroy's flight plan for the Pregnant Guppy's maiden flight to be on high alert since he expected it never to be able to even get in the air.) the Pregnant Guppy took to the air without incident and despite being slower than a normal 377, due to drag from the increased girth of the fuselage, flew perfectly normal.

    The Pregnant Guppy soon proved its value since it cut the delivery time from the parts at the factory to Cape Kennedy from three weeks to a single day, for a cost of 16.00 dollars a mile.
    This picture collage shows how the Pregnant Guppy was loaded, by taking the plane completely in two.

    But it became clear that while the pregnant Guppy was a success, only one plane wouldn't be enough, so Conroy got the order for a more advanced version, with more load capacity. Again modifying the 377 airframe he came up with the Super Guppy.
    This comparison shows the difference in size with the Pregnant Guppy and the original 377 stratocruiser. In addition to the fuselage modifications, the Super Guppy used Pratt & Whitney T-34-P-7 turboprop engines for increased power and range, and modified wing and tail surfaces. It could carry a load of 54,000 pounds (24,494 kg) and cruise at 300 mph (480 km/h).

    But the biggest difference between the Pregnant Guppy and the Super Guppy however was the fact that it had a hinge able nose, making loading the plane easier.
    A Super Guppy loading two Northrop T-38 talon trainers, showing to good effect the hinge able nose.

    Another derivative was the "Mini Guppy" which was similar to the "pregnant guppy" but with a stretched upper compartment and a hinge able tail, two were built which were operated by Ericson Air crane.

    A Mini guppy loaded, showing to good effect the hinge able tail.

    But while the Super Guppy was proving its worth with the NASA, at the beginning of the seventies in Europe, the newly founded Airbus was faced with a problem.

    Airbus was started when the main airliner builders in Europe (Dassault-Breguet and Nord in France, Hawker Siddelley in the UK, Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in Germany and Fokker in the Netherlands, decided to work together at producing an airliner which could compete with the hugely popular Boeing 737 and Douglas DC-9. It was decided that each plant would make assigned parts after which they would be assembled in Toulouse France. The result was the Airbus A-300.

    But with the plants being spaced so far apart, getting the parts to the assembly line in Toulouse proved to be a time consuming, not to mention expensive hassle. So in a twist of beautiful Irony, they started using Super Guppies, Made originally by their biggest competitor: Boeing.
    Airbus operated a fleet of five Super guppies which at the height of their service flew 5 flights A DAY.

    But after nearly two decades ferrying the parts from the plants to the assembly line in Toulouse, it became clear that the Super Guppy wasn't big enough for Airbus' ever increasing (in size mostly) line up of airliners and with the widebody 340 entering production it became clear that they needed a bigger plane.

    Enter the Airbus "super transporter" better known as the "Beluga"
    The Beluga has twice the loading capacity of the Super Guppy and thanks to its loading door, also saves time getting into the air.
    Because with the Guppy, hinging the nose open meant, disconnecting all the flight and electrical systems, meaning they had to be reconnected and calibrated before the plane was able to take off. The Beluga doesn't need to have all of that done.

    But even the Beluga is proving to be too small since the mighty A-380 entered production. And again in a wonderful sense of Irony it is Boeing who are coming up with a possible solution here.

    Meanwhile, the Super Guppies have all ended up in museums and one example still flies, being employed by the NASA, the people who it was created for in the first place.

    So lets say thanks to Jack Conroy's vision, seeing as how it changed air travel and space exploration.
  2. Pentatonic

    Pentatonic Guest

    Jan 4, 2014
    San Francisco
    Great writeup, thanks!
  3. Thanks Blazer for posting.
    Funny thing. NASA had the Guppy on display this last week in Long Beach, CA. I flew over the airport and could check it out from 2000 feet above. One's first instinct when seeing the Guppy is that thing could never get off the ground. Some might say it is an ugly plane. But from an engineering point of view others may say it is quite beautiful. BTW, the Discovery Channel is filming a documentary about the Guppy so that is why the plane was in Long Beach.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2014
  4. MJ5150

    MJ5150 Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2001
    Olympia, WA
    Cool stuff.

  5. Blazer


    Nov 27, 2003
    The Netherlands
    Rogue luthier employed at Knooren Handcrafted bass guitars
    I should point out a very important difference between the Guppy and transport planes such as the mighty Antonov 124 Condor.

    The Guppy was designed for big size, low density cargo, which are big but not heavy, planes like Condor are designed for loads that are big size, high density cargo, oversized AND heavy.

    in this clip a Guppy transports parts of a Space Shuttle fuselage but they have been stripped, so they don't weigh as much.
  6. Cool stuff man!!
  7. mpdd

    mpdd neoconceptualist

    Mar 24, 2010
    awesome, now i'm thinking about how to build the fuselage for my next art studio
  8. TBird1958

    TBird1958 As a matter of fact....I am your Queen! Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2008
    Seattle Washington
    Endorsing Artist Mike Lull T Bass pickups
    As always a great post Blazer!
    Thank you.

    I'm old enough to have flow on a 377 once when I was very young, from Seattle to Spokane, Wa, it was a loud flight we landed on a very snowy runway in bright sunshine - I see Guppies pretty often on the flight line at Boeing Field always an awesome sight.
  9. bmc


    Nov 15, 2003
    Don't forget the one off CL44 Guppy.


    I heard an interesting story about the machines he built up for Airbus. When Airbus needed a solution to bringing large components to Toulouse for assembly, they contacted Conroy. The story goes that Jack Conroy went to Boeing and told the then president, that they could stop Airbus in their tracks if Boeing bought his Guppy's, to which the president said, "Airbus is not a threat."

    I don't know where I heard or read it, but it makes me chuckle a little.
  10. This is what I love about TBOT. Thank you Blazer.

  11. From one aircraft enthusiast to another: BLOODY BRILLIANT!
  12. Angelee Conroy

    Angelee Conroy Guest

    Feb 14, 2015
    Thank you for your post. It is great to see the recognition for his vision in aviation. Of course, I don't think enough good things can be said about Jack Conroy. :)
    The Conroy Virtus was another vision. Conceptually, it was way ahead of its time, but a similar concept is flying today.
  13. Interesting concept. But with a wingspan of 450 feet it would be somewhat impracticable to taxi around. In comparison, a B-747 has a wingspan of 196 feet and the A380 is 262 feet.
  14. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    Cool fun stuff, thanks for posting.