F E A T U R E
THE PLANE THAT WON THE
SPACE RACE Jack Conroy, Clay Lacy & The Guppy by Margy bloom
THE SCENE: Early Spring, late afternoon at the Sky Trails restaurant, next to Van Nuys Airport. The year is 1961 and Space Fever has come to Southern California. A group of pilots and friends of pilots are seated at a table, laughing and arguing about NASA’s attempts to move equipment around the country as they built vehicles to carry man into outer space and on to the moon.
The problem: Logistics NASA had an army of scientists and engineers inventing the impossible every day. And American politicians had figured out how to slice up NASA’s budget allocations, so that nearly every state had a piece of the Space Race action. That meant thousands of small and huge…hardworking and delicate, yet-to-beinvented components would have to come together perfectly and on schedule, from NASA contractors and sub-contractors all over the country. “I came across the ideas that NASA was considering for transporting the S-IV stage of Saturn I, and boy, they were lulus. They were talking about putting it in a glider and towing it behind a C-130.”
The biggest piece of all, the S-IV stage of the Saturn I subassembly, was being built by Douglas Aircraft in Huntington Beach, California, with no practical way to transport it to Cape Canaveral, Florida for assembly and launch.
The solution: TBD MEANWHILE, BACK AT SKY TRAILS: Jack Conroy was laughing with the other pilots, his blue eyes sparkling, his mouth flashing the famous mischievous Irish grin. The 42 year-old ex-B-17 pilot, ex-POW and, now, Air National Guard C-97 pilot was a regular at Sky Trails when he wasn’t flying. In addition to his ANG shifts, he also flew freelance for several “non-sched” airlines and had been in the process of starting a cargo airline. But on this afternoon, he listened to the conversations around him, then picked up a cocktail napkin and a ballpoint pen. And with the precision he’d learned during the brief months he’d attended engineering school many years before, he drew an airplane that had never been built, to carry a rocket that had never been launched, to take man to a place nobody had ever been before. Jack Conroy had just sketched the airplane m ayGuppy. /june 2010 that would become the Pregnant
“Jack Conroy was one of the closest friends of my life. He had a lot of big ideas, and he had one really big hit – the Guppy.” Clay Lacy