When it comes to aircraft (the kind that returns back once it takes off), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US is known mostly for its Space Shuttle, the Boeing 747 that used to carry it around on its back, and its flying, infrared telescope SOFIA. However, there is more to the NASA fleet than that.
Not only stars in the sky
We follow NASA’s flying telescope quite closely here at Simple Flying. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is currently conducting a series of research flights out of Cologne, Germany. Its scientists are trying to figure out how stars transform galaxies and where cosmic rays in the Milky Way come from.
However, the Boeing 747SP, known as the SOFIA, is not the only aircraft in NASA’s current fleet. The agency operates a long list of both piloted and uncrewed vehicles. Some have been, and still are, used for transport and training, but most of NASA’s aircraft operate missions in support of science.
The Aero Spacelines Super Guppy
NASA still operates an Aero Spacelines Super Guppy. Registered as N941NA, it is currently based in El Paso, Texas. The aircraft measures more than 48 feet to the top of its tail and has a wingspan of more than 156 feet. The quad-turboprop’s nose is hinged and opens 110 degrees to take in cargo.
Constructed by California-based Aero Spacelines Industries, the first version of the Guppy aircraft made its test-flights as early as 1962. Called the Pregnant Guppy, it was built in response to the space-race era’s needs to transport large pieces of rockets and other related equipment.
NASA’s first Super Guppy was built in 1965. During its 32 years of service, the aircraft flew over three million miles in support of NASA’s Apollo, Gemini, Skylab, and International Space Station programs. However, the one it currently operates comes by way of Airbus.