NASA's Super Guppy aircraft, with the Full Fuselage Trainer on board, touched down at Boeing Field Saturday. Although delivering the crew compartment of the space-shuttle replica to the Museum of Flight is the ultimate reason for voyage, the Guppy's bulbous appearance stole the show.
Watching the chained and shrouded space shuttle mock-up being slowly moved toward its permanent home at the Museum of Flight Saturday, astronaut Greg Johnson was thinking how much he’ll miss it.
“It’s like watching a kid go off to college,” said Johnson, a West Seattle native. “You hate to see them go, but you know they’re going to do great things.”
Johnson, deputy chief of aircraft operations at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, knows the Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) inside and out. It helped prepare him for his 2009 mission aboard the Shuttle Atlantis, as it helped astronauts on each of the shuttle program’s 135 missions.
This weekend, Johnson’s role was different. He was second in command of NASA’s Super Guppy cargo plane that completed a 3-½-day journey from Houston to deliver the crew compartment of the FFT to Seattle.
Most Read Local Stories
- Missing Lummi Nation woman found alive, aunt says
- Washington state analyzed two COVID scenarios for fall. One is much worse than the other
- Wondering why society went off-kilter during the pandemic? It was all predicted in this book
- King County head of homelessness may be an 'impossible' job, but Marc Dones is optimistic
- Coronavirus daily news updates, September 24: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
And even though it was the FFT that triggered the mission, it was — for Saturday, at least — the Super Guppy that stole the show.
As the plane’s bulging form came into view in the cloudy sky north of Boeing Field, Johnson’s dad and stepmom, Raleigh and Patsy Johnson, of Mukilteo, were among the more than 1,000 people watching outside the Museum of Flight.
“It’s EEE-NORM-OUS,” said Patsy Johnson, accenting each syllable. She had seen pictures of the Super Guppy and had heard her stepson describe it, but seeing it in person was something else entirely.
It’s an experience that museum visitors still can have. The Super Guppy is open for viewing Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Visitors can also see the unwrapped FFT section, which was moved across East Marginal Way by a 60K Tunner, an Air Force cargo loader, to the museum’s $12 million Charles Simonyi Space Gallery.
The turboprop Super Guppy is 143 feet long, but what sets it apart is its girth: It can carry objects up to 25 feet in diameter.
It’s the last plane of its kind still flying. The Guppy aircraft date back to the early 1960s, when a company called Aero Spacelines converted a few Boeing Stratocruisers into supersize cargo planes — essentially flying aluminum canisters.
“It’s cool. I didn’t know it would be hollow,” said 8-year-old Evan Bissett, of Des Moines, as the Super Guppy’s nose section swung away. Evan was slightly disappointed it didn’t have a full shuttle inside — just the trainer’s 28-foot-long crew compartment.
Evan had a good view along a fence line with his parents, Paul and Molly, and his 5-year-old triplet brothers, Ryan, Kyle and John. The Bissetts are Museum of Flight members and frequent visitors.
“What’s great,” Molly Bissett said, “is that the boys will remember this and they can tell their kids they saw it unloaded.”
In a welcome ceremony, Gov. Chris Gregoire acknowledged Seattle’s museum didn’t get an actual retired space shuttle. Those went to museums in New York, Los Angeles, Florida and the Washington, D.C., area. Still, Gregoire said she expects acquisition of the trainer to have far-reaching benefits.
“We want the aerospace leaders of tomorrow to be inspired right here,” Gregoire said. Former governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry were also on hand Saturday
The Museum of Flight is paying NASA $2 million to deliver the FFT, which agency administrator Charles Bolden awarded to the museum last year.
Chris Mailander, the museum’s director of exhibits, envisions a display completed by the end of September that will have patrons enter near one end of the cargo bay and exit the other, with interpretive material to see and experience along the way.
Access to the trainer’s crew compartment, which is more difficult to enter and move around in, is likely to be restricted to occasional guided tours.
Jack Broo: 206-464-2222 or email@example.com