NASA's Super Guppy has two-week stay at Tinker

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- They were welcomed back and welcomed home. Although a quick trip, it proved invaluable for NASA and DynCorp International aircraft mechanic Bob Coyne.

Over the past two weeks ending today, a team of NASA engineers, four contracted mechanics and one supervisor camped out in a Tinker hangar. Using base equipment, they inspected the main landing gear on the B-377 SG/SGT-4 Super Guppy. Mr. Coyne, a former AWACS aircraft mechanic who now works on the Super Guppy, spent the two weeks with his family in Oklahoma City.

"Tinker is very good to us. We've used the depot for programmed depot maintenance before and now they're gracious enough to let us use the hangar," said Rick Hull, NASA project pilot for the Super Guppy and former chief of aviation safety at Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It's a healthy and professional relationship."

NASA obtained the Super Guppy in 1997 from the European Space Agency to transport International Space Station parts from their manufacturers to launch sites in anticipation of orbiting them into space.

The Super Guppy is primarily pieced together from three different aircraft. The odd-looking aircraft, which pops open like an Easter egg just behind the cockpit, is fashioned from the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, and the Allison Engine Company's 501D-22C turboprop engine. It also has parts from the Boeing B-52D Stratofortress and the Boeing 707, a commercial jet liner that is comparable to the KC-135 Stratotanker.

A main landing-gear and drag-brace inspection is required every four calendar years to ensure nothing has cracked. Because the Super Guppy is extremely sensitive to wind, the aircraft needs to be inspected indoors. Yet, NASA doesn't have a hangar for the plane. Due to financial constraints, NASA worked an arrangement with Tinker to inspect the aircraft here, but have their own mechanics perform the work.

"The inspection has gone well. There are no major discrepancies as far as getting it done and everything," Mr. Coyne said.

Although there had been talk about the team venturing to Tinker for several months, they only received the final go-ahead the night before the trip. But, that was fine with Mr. Coyne.

In early January 2009, the former airframe and powerplant aircraft mechanic retired from Tinker. A week later, he hired on to work the Guppy. When he relocated to El Paso, Texas, where the Super Guppy is housed, his wife and family stayed here.
"It's a blessing in disguise to get to come up here and spend time as a full-time husband, dad and grandpa," Mr. Coyne said.

Since being back at his old stomping ground, Mr. Coyne said the experience is surreal.
"It's different but exciting," he said. "I've seen a lot of old faces and I went to the E-3 Sentry maintenance side and saw some old friends there. And, having familiarization has really helped us out with where to go."