What Is NASA's Super Guppy? Watch As Strange Aircraft Lands in Arizona

NASA's Super Guppy aircraft landed in Arizona on Thursday in footage that has been viewed widely on Twitter.

The large cargo plane touched down at the Mesa Gateway Airport, though it is not clear why the plane was there or what it was carrying.

The Super Guppy is known for its strange shape, characterized by a bulbous fuselage that makes it appear top-heavy. A video of it landing can be seen below.

Wow! Watch as @NASA's Super Guppy aircraft landed at Mesa @gatewayairport this afternoon: https://t.co/UZhn5D3qNJ #NASA pic.twitter.com/Oz6SFfqoJ4

— ABC15 Arizona (@abc15) March 4, 2021

NASA has used the Super Guppy for decades as a means of transporting large cargo that would be otherwise difficult to move across the country.

The plane has transported spacecraft parts and even other aircraft within its large cargo bay, which is 111ft long, 25ft wide, and 25ft high. It is capable of taking off while carrying 170,000lbs of weight, is powered by four turbine engines with propellers, and has a cruising speed of 250 miles per hour. The vehicle can fly to a height of 25,000 feet.

NASA started using the first Guppy aircraft in the 60s to quickly transport large rocket parts. Before the Guppy, rocket parts had to be shipped by boat in a lengthy journey through the Gulf of Mexico or Panama Canal, which took up valuable time.

Aero Spaceline Industries, based in California, introduced the first Guppy model—the Pregnant Guppy—in 1961. Built from a modified Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker, it was specifically designed to be able to carry the huge second stage of a Saturn rocket for NASA's Apollo program, which took humans to the Moon 51 years ago.

"To say that this amazing aircraft helped America win the space race would be an understatement," NASA states in its history of the Guppy on its website.

The Super Guppy followed in 1965, which NASA bought and operated for over three decades. It helped transport parts for the Apollo, Gemini, and International Space Station missions.

The last model ever built was the Super Guppy Turbine (SGT), which featured more reliable engines than previous models. Only four were made, and French airliner giant Airbus purchased them all so that it could transport its aircraft sections around Europe.

Airbus eventually retired all four SGTs in 1997, but NASA, eager to replace its old Super Guppy, was able to acquire one in a three-way deal with Airbus and the European Space Agency (ESA) that year.

Herb Baker, a former manager for the operations support office at NASA's Johnson Space Center, was part of the team behind the deal.

He said on Twitter: "ESA negotiated the price and paid cash to Airbus, and NASA gave ESA 450kg of payload upmass on Shuttle flights."

NASA still operates its single SGT today—the same one that landed in Arizona.

Super Guppy at an airport
NASA’s Super Guppy cargo transport aircraft taxis in to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703 ramp in 2019. The aircraft is the only one of its type NASA continues to operate today. Ken Ulbrich/NASA