At the end of January, I finished a day of flying just after noon in El Paso, TX. After checking into the hotel and changing into civvies, my partner (Captain Ray) and I walked Eastward along the road that runs along El Paso Airport’s southern boundary to see if we could get a closer look at an Aero Spacelines Super Guppy that we’d seen sitting on the airport for a while.
While we understood the Super Guppy to be owned and operated by NASA, what we didn’t know is that El Paso Airport is home to a forward operating location of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The center is responsible for several things, including the maintenance and operation of the Super Guppy and the Gulfstream 2 Shuttle Training Aircraft, as well as servicing and upgrades of NASA’s fleet of T-38 aircraft.
We basically walked up to the facility and knocked on the door, since there’s no “visitor’s entrance” or anything of the sort. Fortunately, we were greated by a friendly employee of the maintenance facility who was only too happy to give us a look around when we told him who we were and who we worked for. Had we been just a day earlier, we would have had a chance to meet the crew of STS-133, who were there doing some final training in the STA for their upcoming mission.
The tour included quite a few interesting things. We got to sit at a big wooden picnic table in the hangar on which all the shuttle astronauts had signed their names.
We had the opportunity to check out the inside of the STA’s cockpit, which is essentially split in half with one side being the Shuttle Commander’s station and the other being a standard G-2′s cockpit.
They let me take a real close look at the cockpit of an Astronaut’s T-38.
And, of course, they gave the two of us the grand tour of the Aero Spacelines B-337SGT Super Guppy. This was a really special deal, since there are so few of these in the world.
I won’t bore you with specifics about the Super Guppy (you can find those on the links above), but I will say that it is WAY bigger inside than it looks from the outside! Muse be cool to fly something where you not only have to worry about the center-of-gravity fore and aft, but the center-of-gravity up and down, too!
Thanks to Bob Coyne and everyone else at NASA JSC El Paso for taking the time to give me and Captain Ray the grand tour of your facility!