Sunday 2 October 2022

End of an Era: NASA's SOFIA Boeing 747 has taken its last ever flight

NASA BOEING 747SP N747NA (MSN 21441)

On Wednesday, the 28th of September, at 20:43 local time (03:18 UTC), a Boeing 747SP, registration N747NA, owned by NASA and modified to carry a reflecting telescope for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), operated its last flight ever. The flight, which departed from Palmdale Airport's (PMD/KPMD) runway 25, lasted seven hours and fifty-eight minutes, after flying around the North Pacific Ocean. The aircraft landed back on runway 07 at 4.41am.

End of an era

Eight years ago, NASA and its partners at the German Space Agency at the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) fully launched the SOFIA mission, which is a 2.7-meter telescope set up on a modified Boeing 747SP. This telescope was used to observe the infrared universe and monitor events such as the formation of new stars and solar systems.

The SOFIA mission began development in 1996. It had its first flight in 2010 but achieved full operational capability in 2014. Between 2014 and 2019, SOFIA completed its five-year prime mission and was then awarded a three-year extension. During this time, it held observations of the Moon, planets, stars, and more and assisted in the discovery of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon in 2020.

SOFIA had a very interesting 2022. The 44-year-old aircraft operated 143 flights, according to data from NASA deployed the ‘Queen of the Skies’ on flights mainly from Palmdale but also in Santiago de Chile (SCL) and Christchurch (CHC), New Zealand. SOFIA visited Christchurch New Zealand in June 2019 from memory and recently from the 18th of June 2022 to the 11th of August 2022.

When it visited Santiago de Chile, it was SOFIA’s first and only mission in South America. For a span of two weeks, the telescope was deployed in Chile to observe celestial objects that can only be seen from Southern Hemisphere latitudes.

The History of the 747
SOFIA started her life as a passenger aircraft for Pan Am.

On the 06/05/1977 she was delivered to Pan Am as N536PA 
On the 13/02/1986 she then went to United Airlines as N145UA 
On the 20/10/1997 she ended up with NASA as N747NA

Aircraft Details:
Owner / Operator: NASA
Aircraft: Boeing 747SP-21
Registration: N747NA
Serial Number: 21441
Engines: 4 x PW JT9D-7A
First Flew 25/04/1977
Age: 45 Yrs. 6 Mts

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