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The catalyst for that growth came from the civic minded German scientists from Pennemunde and their families, who were immediately accepted by Huntsville natives; so much so, that the city became known for a time as “Pennemunde South.” Just 5 years after their arrival, the first group of 109 Germans became American citizens and the growth and importance of the city continued throughout the Saturn program. Then John Kennedy decided to put a man on the moon before 1970 and the pressure was on von Braun and his scientists to deliver the payload.

» Barges and BB guns The space program was growing quickly, but NASA was still mired in logistical issues, transporting delicate space-bound materiel on barges, through the Mississippi and Tennessee Valley river systems. But barge transport was sometimes dangerous. Mysterious, shrouded objects floating on barges between the grassy banks of the Mississippi at 8 miles per hour made easy targets for kids with a good aim and a .22.

Who knew?: Little Johnny and his Brand New Shotgun could jeopardize the whole Apollo program. Clearly, a faster, safer way had to be found to transport parts. That meant air travel. But no airplane existed that could accommodate the girth of the S-IV stage. And NASA had a mandate: “No new airplanes!”

FULL CIRCLE: SKY TRAILS RESTAURANT. VNY. 1962. “I came across an article in a magazine, which depicted the different concepts that had been proposed to NASA for flying large pieces of hardware. All of the proposals for the Saturn rocket, particularly flying the second state, seemed unfeasible.” Lee [Mansdorf] came up with the idea of modifying a Stratocruiser to carry these outsized space vehicle parts, and I completed the final design.” Jack Conroy

» Jack Conroy’s just-in-time idea that changed history

To appreciate the Guppies, you have to appreciate what they were made of: the last, biggest, most luxurious 4-engine piston-driven airplane ever built by Boeing: the C-97/Stratocruiser.

In 1960, Boeing Stratocruisers were being sold for scrap, for about $75,000 apiece – or $19 per pound. Jack Conroy and investor Lee Mansdorf bought 27.

Born on the cusp of the jet age, the Boeing Stratocruisers evolved from the WWII-era, B-29 long-range heavy bomber. (Enola Gay, the plane that delivered the first atomic bomb to Japan was a B-29). Presaging the 747 by 20 years, the Stratocruiser was designed with a lower deck cocktail lounge accessed by a circular staircase. At night, the lounge was bathed in the bright blue glow of the 4 Pratt & Whitney 3,500 hp Wasp Major engines just outside the windows. Glamour!


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