Tinker’s role in race to space
By Greg L. Davis, 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 19, 2019
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 launch which cumulated in the moon landing July 20, 1969. Tinker’s role in making history centers on our expertise in supporting heavy lift aircraft.
As the race to space heated up and rocket designs became increasingly larger, heavier and more complex they quickly outgrew the ability of standard military and commercial aircraft designed to transport cargo. Due to the pressing need to move outsized items from the manufacturer’s facility to assembly and launch locations, NASA had to come up with a solution and do it quickly. The solution was two-fold: produce rockets in sections and create an aircraft with enough cargo capacity to carry these items. The result was a variant of the Boeing C-97/B-377 Stratocruiser known as the B-377 “Pregnant Guppy.”
Tinker’s role with the Pregnant Guppy centers around the base’s engine and maintenance work on the C-97 which was the primary heavy cargo aircraft at the time. Aero Spacelines Inc. converted a small number of aircraft using former airline B-377s and surplus C-97s, but after purchase by NASA there was a need for routine and operational maintenance and that was done here.
During the years following the Apollo program the need for support to NASA and the Pregnant Guppy never waned. Tinker continues to do overhauls, inspections, refurbishment, corrosion control and paint of the aircraft. The last example flying, N941NA, which is now designated B-377SGT for “Super Guppy Transport” has four T56 turboprop engines, the same engines which power the P-3 Orion and provided added power and reliability over the original radial engines of the C-97. The Super Guppy Transport is expected to return to Tinker for periodic depot-level maintenance in the next few years.