Aero Spacelines Super Guppy Graces Oshkosh


Photos by John Freedman, Anne Taylor and Ken Kula, story by Ken Kula

2023’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh presented a pair of much-modified giants which have Boeing roots. The Dreamlifter is a modified B-747, but the older of the two – the Super Guppy – has a fuselage that dates back to World War II. Let’s talk about the Super Guppy…

The military’s Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter was designed around the general layout of the B-29 and B-50 bombers. The civilian B-377 Stratocruiser was developed from the bomber design too. From these two transport/airliner aircraft, a total of eight “Guppy” aircraft were built. For those people lucky enough to be at AirVenture in 2023, you got to see the last flying example in the world.

Pregnant Guppy – NASA Photo

The Guppy project began in 1960 when Jack Conroy and Lee Mansdorf put a plan together in California. The so-called “Pregnant Guppy” took shape with its foundation of a retired Boeing 377 Stratocruiser aircraft, with a large hollow structure atop of the fuselage. Powered by four Pratt and Whitney piston engines, the aircraft featured a removable tail assembly to load cargo. The aircraft was marketed to NASA for carrying outsized rocket structures across the United States via the air, instead of on waterways on a barge. The company formed for this venture was named Aero Spacelines.

In 1963, the Pregnant Guppy began flying NASA cargo, from Baltimore Maryland’s Martin Company’s plant to Cape Canaveral, Florida. The aircraft was used for a decade, then stored and eventually scrapped by 1980. Parts were used in building the last Super Guppy airframe.



Another version of the family was the Mini Guppy, of which two were built. Again, parts of B-377 Stratocruiser airliner airframes were used, but a new fuselage with a hinged tail to allow cargo loading. First flight was in 1967. One Mini Guppy was piston powered, while the Mini Guppy Turbine featured Allison 501 turboprop engines. Unfortunately the Mini Guppy Turbine suffered a fatal crash while on a test flight in 1970. The piston powered Mini Guppy soldiered on until retiring to the Tillamook Air Museum in 1995.


Super Guppy with Pratt and Whitney engines

The third Guppy version is the Super Guppy. A total of five were built, one powered by Pratt and Whitney turboprop engines, the other four by Allison turboprops. The Super Guppy’s first flight occurred in 1965. NASA retired one to the AMARC boneyard (with the Pratt and Whitney engines), while four were used by the Airbus company to shuttle fuselage parts around Europe.


After being retired by Airbus, as the newer Airbus Beluga transports replaced them, three airframes went to museums while one returned to the U.S. and became N941NA; it is the sole Super Guppy still active and airworthy.


NASA’s Super Guppy is used sparingly, but with no end in sight due to the usefulness of its immense cabin. The version differs from previously-mentioned versions by having front-loading capabilities with huge clamshell doors.


Here are a series of photos from some of our photographers who attended AirVenture Oshkosh last year, enjoy!

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 35 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

You may also like...