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NASA Super Guppy arrives at 179th

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

An unusually large crowd was gathered as a C-130H Hercules approached Mansfield-Lahm Airport, home of the Ohio Air National Guard’s 179th Airlift Wing. This flight on Nov. 24 was a supporting role to NASA and the C-130 cargo bay was hauling items for NASA, but that’s not what the crowd was waiting to see. Tailing moments behind the 179th AW’s C-130 was the Super Guppy, holding 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 that it’s something 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 for moving cargo of this size is 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 the unit's role was critical to mission success.

“There’s no runway up there [Plum Brook Station] so we looked around at air fields," Heineman. "Even though some of them may have been adequate for the Guppy, the road system didn’t support moving the vehicle over road. That’s why Mansfield was chosen, Not only for 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 Airmen willing and ready to assist in the unloading and safe storage of this historical cargo.

“It was integral to the success of the operation,” said Heineman, “Without the 179th's support, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the mission. The vehicle that we were carrying in the Guppy maxed out the Guppy’s performance. There was no way we could carry anything else. We needed some sort of airborne support, and the 179th was gracious enough and willing to help us. 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 from 179th AW Airmen using a 60k loader. The Orion capsule was then transferred by crane to a 135 foot semi-truck that stayed overnight in the 179th AW’s hangar. The following day, the semi-truck began its slow-moving, six-hour journey to Sandusky, a trip that usually takes an hour by car driving at the speed limit.

“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 AW 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 50 years later, the 179th is still providing support for lunar missions.

Should NASA continue to transport large cargo projects to Plum Brook Station, the path has been blazed by 179th AW Airmen who remain always ready to assist NASA and 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.”