FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- The Super Guppy landed at Fort Campbell Army Airfield, Dec. 11, to refuel on a cross-country mission.
The mission of the crew aboard the NASA aircraft was to transport a 30-foot, 10,000-pound composite, multi-bay box from Long Beach, California, to Langley Research Center in Virginia. Along for the ride was the "Mighty Planes" television crew, filming an entire episode on the aircraft set to air in 2016.
NASA's Super Guppy looks much like its name and is an oversized cargo aircraft. A successor to the Pregnant Guppy, only a handful of such planes have been built since its introduction in the 1960s. The Super Guppy that landed at Fort Campbell is the only one currently in service as a transport aircraft. It is what "Mighty Planes" sound recordist Michael Kennedy, who landed with the crew, calls a "Frankenplane."
"It's got parts from all kinds of different planes," he said. "It's just really, really neat."
The Super Guppy Turbine is assembled from various aircrafts in order to serve its purpose, including a Boeing 377.
"It'll be an hourlong program," Kennedy said. "We're … [filming] all the takeoffs and landings and all the cool things that the Guppy does -- loading the payload, unloading the payload that they have on board there."
The large piece of cargo onboard the aircraft represents "a cross-section of a futuristic hybrid wing body aircraft fuselage," and it part of NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project, according to an email from NASA Langley Research Center Media Relations Specialist Kathy Barnstorff.
NASA maintains the Super Guppy. Kennedy called the NASA crew knowledgeable professionals, who are there to give viewers an inside look into the aircraft. Jon Myrick, senior loadmaster, joined the Super Guppy crew about five years ago. He previously served in the U.S. military as a C-17 loadmaster stationed at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. Myrick is joined by pilots, flight engineers and maintainers, all who have a specific job to do.
"I'd say that the entire crew's very detail-oriented, very thorough," he said. "We're a cast of characters, but we all understand our roles and responsibilities and we're dedicated to the mission."
While this particular mission is a partnership with Boeing, Myrick said "the Super Guppy mission historically has been one to support NASA programs, such as the space station and the shuttle." The Super Guppy is unique not only in its shape and size, but in the way that it opens. The aircraft's hinged nose opens more than 200 degrees, allowing cargo to be loading from the front instead of the side.
The Super Guppy, based out of NASA's Johnson Space Center, can carry a maximum payload of more than 26 tons. The crew conducts about five to seven missions in a typical year, Myrick said. All take months of careful planning to achieve. Being around the aircraft so often can make one become complacent, Myrick said, but it encourages him to see how much interest the Super Guppy garners throughout the world.
"Aviation enthusiasts love talking about the Guppy," he said. "They show up everywhere that we go. It's wonderful to have that notoriety, perhaps because the Guppy is a novelty, and I would hope that it's because the Super Guppy's mission is so important to our space program as a whole."
The Super Guppy was met on the runway by Hawthorne Services, Inc. refuelers -- the contractor who performs fuel services operations and maintenance at Fort Campbell Army Airfield. The Hawthorne Services team worked quickly to pump some 2,677 gallons of fuel into the thirsty Super Guppy.
"Our trucks, they've got a max capacity of 250 gallons a minute," said Chris Shoemaker, a refueler with Hawthorne Services. "Generally, they're only going to pump about 200 -- so you're looking at about an estimate of 15 minutes [to refuel]."
While the Super Guppy may be bigger than a typical aircraft, Hawthorne Services refueler Erwin Robinson explained it is no different when it comes to his job.
"It's all the same -- you connect to that aircraft just like you would some of the helicopters," he said. "It's very simple -- just connect, pump the fuel and shut it off."
"Mighty Planes" airs in the U.S. on the Smithsonian Channel. The show has featured aircrafts ranging from the C-17 Globemaster III to a C-5M Super Galaxy. The "Mighty Planes" production crew accompanied the Super Guppy during the flight from California to Virginia. The plane stopped at Fort Campbell for less than an hour for refueling and routine maintenance checks.
"It's really great to have them here," Myrick said, of the "Mighty Planes" staff. "We're just hoping for a finished product that demonstrates the professionalism of the NASA Super Guppy crew."