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What Does Mansfield Have to Offer NASA?

  • Published
  • By Story by Tech. Sgt. Joseph Harwood
  • 179th Airlift Wing

An unusually large crowd was gathered as the C-130H Hercules approached Mansfield-Lahm Airport, Ohio, home of the Ohio Air National Guard’s 179th Airlift Wing. This flight was a supporting role to NASA, and the C-130 cargo bay was hauling items for NASA, but not what the crowd was waiting to see. Tailing moments behind this C-130, was the Super Guppy (N941NA). Anticipation was high as NASA’s Super Guppy landed at Mansfield-Lahm Airport, Ohio, Nov. 24, with precious cargo onboard. The aircraft is a spectacle in itself, some describe it as whale-like and others say it resembles an alien ship from a science fiction movie. All agree it’s something highly interesting to see in the air. Hundreds of people lined the fences to see the aviation marvel landing. The Super Guppy’s stardom takes a backseat to its cargo on this trip, as it transports the Orion space capsule. The Orion space capsule is considered a major step forward in human space travel, any progress the program makes draws international attention.

The Orion space capsule is currently in route to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, where it will undergo critical testing for several months. The Super Guppy’s successful landing in Mansfield-Lahm may be just a stepping stone on its journey, but an important one. The logistics of moving cargo of this size are thought out well in advance. So why would NASA choose Mansfield?

Raymond G. Heineman, NASA’s Chief of Aircraft Operations Division, explained why Mansfield was chosen and how it was critical to mission success.

“There’s no runway up there [Plum Brook Station] so we looked around at some of those fields and even though some of them may have been adequate for the guppy, the road system didn’t support moving the vehicle over road, so that’s why Mansfield was chosen, not only the airport facilities but the roads that connect to Plum Brook.”

It’s not the closest airport to Plum Brook, but Mansfield-Lahm has a 9000 foot ×150 foot runway – just what the whale of an aircraft needs, along with a team of Ohio Air National Guard members willing and ready to assist in the unloading and safe storage of this historical cargo. Furthermore, Mansfield-Lahm Airport is in a location with routes out of it that could be slightly modified to accommodate the oversized cargo on the way to NASA’s Plum Brook Station.

In the years of advanced planning for this, any 40 foot utility poles along the way were replaced with 50 foot poles to allow this journey to take place. The area is well known for its trucking routes, mostly rural and low in traffic otherwise, passing Norwalk, Ohio, a community so well known for its trucking industry that its high school mascot is a trucker. This is how and where you want to move cargo like this.

“It was integral to the success of the operation,” said Heineman, “Without the 179th support we wouldn’t have been able to complete the mission honestly, the vehicle that we were carrying in the guppy maxed out the guppy’s performance. So there was no way we could carry anything else, so we needed some sort of airborne support, and the 179th was gracious enough and willing to help us so without them we wouldn’t have been able to do it at all.”

The journey started with a flight originating out of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After landing in Ohio, the Orion capsule was unloaded with assistance of airmen using a 60k loader.

The Orion capsule was then transferred by crane to a 135 foot semi-truck which will spend the night at the 179th Airlift Wing’s C-130H Hercules hangar in preparation for what will be a slow and carefully moving six-hour trip up to Sandusky. The trip would take close to an hour by car moving at the speed limit.
The last leg of this journey will take place today, Tuesday, November 26, 2019.

“Team Mansfield and our C-130H aircraft provided direct support to all aspects of NASA’s Super Guppy flight operations to Mansfield." said Col. Todd Thomas, 179th Airlift Wing commander, "The Airmen of the Maintenance and Mission Support Groups guaranteed a successful mission for the Orion’s ultimate journey to the moon.”

The 179th has a history of supporting NASA missions. Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise, of the famed Apollo 13 mission, was a former member of the 179th Tactical Fighter Group. Almost fifty years later, the 179th is still providing support to lunar missions.

You don’t have to be as smart everyone at NASA to see why Mansfield is a good choice. The 179th Airlift Wing has a really good record with cargo transportation and Mansfield Lahm Airport is literally built for this. Should NASA continue to transport large cargo projects to Plum Brook Station, the path has been blazed through Mansfield and the Airmen of the 179th Airlift Wing will always remain ready to assist the other heavy airlifter known as the Super Guppy.

“We would work with the 179th again, without question,” Heineman added, “In fact, the vehicle we dropped off, the Orion capsule, will be done with its testing in April and we’re hoping the 179th can support us again in moving it back to the Kennedy Space Center.”

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