Connie Woods grew up thinking her dad was some kind of a rock star.
Everywhere Galen Hull went, crowds craned their collective necks to get a glimpse of the Oklahoma native and his plane.
“I thought he was famous because there were so many people asking questions and taking pictures,” said Woods, a Roseburg resident.
Hull, now 82 and a resident of Rose Haven Nursing Center, was the flight engineer for the maiden Aug. 31, 1965, flight of the Super Guppy, a product of Aero Spacelines that was touted as the world’s largest plane.
Ten more test flights over a two-week period followed to prove to the Federal Aviation Administration the Super Guppy was air-worthy.
Hull and fellow crew members, pilots Jack Pedesky and P.G. Smith and systems engineer Ercel Oliver, flew initially for two hours from Van Nuys, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb where the plane was crafted, to Mojave, north of Lancaster. The flight time is recorded in pencil on a flight log Hull still has in his records.
The crowds on both ends were enormous, which didn’t surprise Hull, the last surviving member of the flight crew.
“It was something they hadn’t seen before. We hadn’t either,” Hull said, chuckling. “Everywhere we went, we had crowds of people come out.”
Crafted from the fuselages of four Boeing 377 Stratocruisers, the Super Guppy was a larger version of the company’s Pregnant Guppy. Five Super Guppies were built over the years in two variations. Only one remains in service, still used by NASA.
The larger aircraft was designed to transport by air the 40-foot-tall third stage of the Saturn rockets in the Apollo space program, as opposed to taking a 15-day barge voyage from California to Florida through the Panama Canal.
Less than four years after that initial flight, the Super Guppy — built for $1.2 million, $8.8 million in today’s dollars, and financed completely through private investment — carried the Apollo 11 lunar module that later took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. The Super Guppy, with a top speed of about 265 mph, served NASA until 1991.
Known as a Very Pregnant Guppy during production, the Super Guppy was slightly bigger than a blimp, standing as high as a five-story building and measuring 141 feet long. The cargo department featured an inside diameter of 28 feet and had nearly 50,000 cubic feet of space, five times the capacity of other transports of the day.
The plane was loaded by swinging the nose assembly open 110 degrees, allowing cargo to be slid in through the opening.
No cargo was loaded on those first runs. The flights — at an altitude of less than 10,000 feet, so the cabin did not require pressurization — tested the aircraft and helped sell NASA on the oversized plane.
The flight log shows subsequent flights around the Mojave Desert and to Tulsa, Okla., and from Oklahoma City to Houston — where Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad, who would be the third person to walk on the moon, wished the crew good luck. Other stops were made in Denver and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where top Air Force brass looked over the Guppy. The final flight shown in Hull’s log was a three-hour trip on Sept. 17, 1965, from Andrews to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., home of the Marshall Space Flight Center.
The Tillamook Air Museum museum has a smaller version of the Super Guppy, the Mini Guppy, used from 1988 to 1995 by Erickson Air Crane, a Central Point company that employs helicopters to log and fight fires. The Guppy fascinates visitors, museum volunteer Logan Schieno said.
“The Guppy is a magnificent plane,” Schieno said.
Hull grew up in Pitcher, Okla. As a boy he played baseball with Mickey Mantle, whose hometown, Commerce, was five miles down the road. Hull was a U.S. Air Force flight engineer instructor with the 1707th Air Transport Wing, based at Tinker Air Force Base outside Oklahoma City, when he was picked to be on the Super Guppy’s initial crew.
Hull spent 20 years in the Air Force, serving during the Korean and Vietnam wars and retiring in 1971. He moved to Douglas County after finishing his service, following his parents and other relatives who came here earlier.
Hull laughs when he thinks back on the Guppy’s initial flights. Many observers wondered whether it could take off and stay in the air. The plane operated smoothly and required less attention than many of the more conventional planes he worked on.
“It was good that everything worked,” he said. “We never had a bit of trouble.”
When the original Super Guppy Hull flew in retired in 1991, a younger Guppy took its place ferrying space shuttles and space station parts to Florida. The original Super Guppy Hull is on loan to the Pima Air Museum in Tuscon, Ariz.
Hull said he’s proud of his service in the military and with his involvement in the Super Guppy’s initial flights.
“He talks about it all the time,” granddaughter Melissa Schweitzer said.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at email@example.com.