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Originally published June 16, 2012 at 5:22 PM | Page modified June 17, 2012 at 5:08 PM

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Astronaut helping transport NASA trainer to area is Seattle native

Astronaut Greg Johnson, a West Seattle native, will be in the cockpit of the NASA Super Guppy that is bringing part of NASA's Full Fuselage Trainer to Boeing Field.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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No one who knows West Seattle-bred astronaut Greg Johnson will be surprised to learn he'll be in the cockpit of the NASA Super Guppy bringing a chunk of space-travel history to Seattle this month.

"I never met an airplane I didn't like," said Johnson, 57, who traces his fascination with flight to a visit to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when he was about 10.

He can't remember if that trip was to see someone off or welcome someone home. But he'll never forget the sight of sleek Boeing jetliners disappearing into the sky.

"I thought that looked like a pretty fun job."

More than 10,300 flight hours later, Johnson still flies for the fun of it.

He's been a test pilot, a flight instructor, even an instructor of flight instructors.

He worked his way through the University of Washington by flying Kenmore Air float planes to the San Juan Islands, and he had more than one passenger ask if he really was old enough to fly a plane.

In the Navy and Naval Reserve, he flew a variety of military jets and made more than 500 landings on aircraft carriers, swooping out of the sky toward what first appears as a tiny postage stamp on the ocean's surface.

And in 2009, Johnson piloted the shuttle Atlantis on the last of five missions to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope, extending its life by several years. In the 13-day mission, Atlantis traveled more than 5.2 million miles in 197 Earth orbits.

On a visit to Seattle a few months after that spaceflight, Johnson had a day proclaimed in his honor, put predictions in a time capsule to be opened in 50 years, and said that, from space, Earth appears fragile — something people should take care of.

For the Super Guppy trip, Johnson will be first officer, assisting aircraft commander Richard Clark. Among those waiting to greet Johnson at Boeing Field will be his father and stepmother, Raleigh and Patsy Johnson, of Mukilteo.

Greg Johnson, now deputy chief of aircraft operations at the Johnson Space Center, has passed his passion to the next generation: The elder of his two sons, Navy Lt. Scott Johnson, 34, of China Lake, Calif., is a test pilot.

For someone who has flown fighter jets at more than 1,200 mph, a trip in the Super Guppy, at less than a quarter of that speed, might seem ho-hum.

But Johnson said the unusual aircraft comes with challenges of its own, such as a tendency to get blown sideways or turn nose-first into the wind as it comes in for a landing.

The aircraft's low speed, and windows that extend below the pilots' waist level, help make flying it fun, Johnson said.

"You get a really good view of the area you're flying over," he said. "It's a great way to see the country."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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