Video by Senior Airman Marc Wilson, 179th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
What Does Mansfield, Ohio have to offer NASA?
179th Airlift Wing supports arrival of Super Guppy, Orion spacecraft
Story by Tech. Sgt. Joseph Harwood, 179th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
MANSFIELD, Ohio (11/27/19)
An unusually large crowd was gathered Nov. 24 as a C-130H Hercules approached Mansfield-Lahm Airport, home of the Ohio Air National Guard’s 179th Airlift Wing. This C-130 was carrying components for NASA, but it was not what the crowd was waiting to see.
Tailing moments behind this C-130 was the Super Guppy Turbine (N941NA). Anticipation was high as the Super Guppy landed, with precious cargo onboard. The aircraft is a spectacle in itself — some describe it as whale-like and others say it resembles an alien ship from a science fiction movie. All agree it’s something highly interesting to see in the air. Hundreds of people lined the fences to see the aviation marvel arrive. The Super Guppy’s stardom took a backseat to its cargo on this trip, as it transported the Orion space capsule.
The Orion space capsule was brought to Mansfield so it could then be transported on the ground the rest of the way to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, where it will undergo critical testing for several months. The Super Guppy’s successful landing at Mansfield-Lahm may be just one step on its journey, but an important one. The logistics of moving cargo of this size are planned out well in advance with multiple courses of action to consider.
So why would NASA choose Mansfield? Raymond G. Heineman, chief of NASA’s aircraft operations division, explained how Mansfield is critical to mission success for the next chapter of manned space flight.
“There’s no runway up there (at Plum Brook), so we looked around at some of those fields and even though some of them may have been adequate for the guppy, the road system didn’t support moving the vehicle over road, so that’s why Mansfield was chosen, not only the airport facilities but the roads that connect to Plum Brook.”
It’s not the closest airport to Plum Brook, but Mansfield-Lahm has a 9,000-by-150-foot runway — just what the whale of an aircraft needs, along with a team of trained Ohio Air National Guard members ready to assist in the unloading and safe transfer of this precious cargo. Mansfield-Lahm Airport is in a location with multiple outbound routes that can be slightly modified to accommodate the oversized cargo on its way to NASA’s Plum Brook Station.
In the years of advanced planning for the Super Guppy’s arrival, any 40-foot utility poles along the primary route were replaced with 50-foot poles to allow this journey to take place. The North-Central Ohio area is well known for its trucking routes, mostly rural and low in traffic otherwise, passing Norwalk, Ohio, a community so well-known for its trucking industry that its namesake high school’s mascot is a trucker. This logistically friendly environment is how and where one would want to move such critical cargo as this.
“It was integral to the success of the operation,” Heineman said. “Without the 179th’s support, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the mission. Honestly, the vehicle that we were carrying in the guppy maxed out the guppy’s performance, so there was no way we could carry anything else, so we needed some sort of airborne support, and the 179th was gracious enough and willing to help us, so without them we wouldn’t have been able to do it at all.”
The journey started with a flight originating out of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After landing in Ohio, the Orion capsule was unloaded with assistance of a group of 179th Airmen using a Tunner 60K aircraft cargo loader/transporter.
The Orion capsule was then transferred by crane to a 135-foot semi-truck, which a couple days later made the slow, careful six-hour trip up to Sandusky, one which would normally take about an hour in a car going the speed limit.
“Team Mansfield and our C-130H aircraft provided direct support to all aspects of NASA’s Super Guppy flight operations to Mansfield,” said Col. Todd Thomas, 179th Airlift Wing commander. “The Airmen of the (179th) Maintenance and Mission Support Groups guaranteed a successful mission for the Orion’s ultimate journey, to the moon.”
The 179th has a history of supporting NASA missions. Lunar module pilot Fred Haise, of the famed Apollo 13 mission, was a former member of the 179th Tactical Fighter Group. Almost 50 years later, the 179th is still providing support to the U.S. government agency responsible for science and technology related to the exploration of air and space.
One doesn’t have to possess the intelligence of a NASA scientist to see why Mansfield is a good choice. The 179th Airlift Wing has a world-class record with cargo transportation and the Mansfield-Lahm Airport’s specifications make it ideally suited for this mission. Should NASA continue to transport large cargo projects to Plum Brook Station for testing, the path has been blazed through Mansfield and the Airmen of the 179th Airlift Wing will always remain ready to assist their heavy airlifter guest known as the Super Guppy.
“We would work with the 179th again, without question,” Heineman said. “In fact, the vehicle we dropped off, the Orion capsule, will be done with its testing in (the spring) and we’re hoping the 179th can support us again in moving it back to the Kennedy Space Center.”