End of an era: NASA’s SOFIA Boeing 747 has completed its final flight

NASA's Boeing 747 carrying a telescope.
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At approximately 20:45 local time (Thursday 03:18 UTC) on Wednesday, September 28, the Boeing 747SP, registration N747NA, owned by NASA and modified to become a reflecting telescope for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). carry, performed its last flight. The flight lasted seven hours and 58 minutes, departed from Palmdale Airport (PMD) and flew around the North Pacific.

end of an era

Eight years ago, NASA and its partners at the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) fully launched the SOFIA mission, a 2.7-meter telescope based on a modified Boeing 747SP. This telescope was used to observe the infrared universe and to monitor events such as the formation of new stars and solar systems.


The SOFIA mission began development in 1996. It had its maiden flight in 2010, but reached full operational capability in 2014. Between 2014 and 2019, SOFIA completed its five-year main mission and was then extended for a further three years. During that time, it made observations of the moon, planets, stars and more, and helped discover water on the moon’s sunlit surface in 2020.

SOFIA has been a unique aircraft for years, flying around the world and collecting scientific data to understand the universe. The aircraft was maintained and operated by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. Unfortunately, NASA announced the end of SOFIA earlier this year after a report concluded that the mission’s scientific productivity does not justify its operational costs.

Simple Flying spoke to Paul Hertz, senior adviser to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, former director of the Astrophysics Division and former SOFIA program scientist. He said,

“SOFIA has given us some of the best insights into star-forming regions and how material accumulates to form brand new stars. A key area of ​​this is measuring magnetic fields in star-forming regions, which are the The important role magnetic fields play in directing material toward these brand new stars is something we’ve never seen in the universe before.

“SOFIA also observed water on the moon’s sunlit side, which was both new and surprising. In addition, SOFIA has given us really exciting maps of some active galaxies with supermassive black holes inside. So Sofia was a very successful mission, operated in science mode for over eight years, was fully operational, and produced some really important scientific results.

SOFIA was a unique aircraft. Photo: NASA/SOFIA/Waynne Williams.

The last flights

SOFIA had a very interesting 2022. The 44-year-old aircraft made 143 flights, according to NASA used the “Queen of the Skies” mainly on flights from Palmdale, but also in Santiago de Chile (SCL) and Christchurch (CHC), New Zealand.

The visit to Santiago de Chile was SOFIA’s first and only mission to South America. For two weeks, the telescope was deployed in Chile to observe celestial objects that can only be seen from latitudes in the southern hemisphere.

In June SOFIA flew to New Zealand. The 747 was to remain there for more than a month and complete several scientific flights. However, the 747SP suffered storm damage on July 18. During the storm, high winds caused the stairway outside the aircraft to shift, damaging the front of the aircraft.

After this incident, SOFIA returned home to Palmdale and stayed in California, where she operated several flights. NASA has thanked hundreds of people in the United States and Germany who have contributed to the SOFIA mission throughout its lifetime. Additionally, “In the future, the data from SOFIA will be available in NASA’s public archives for astronomers worldwide,” NASA included a statement earlier this year when announcing the end of the mission.

Have you ever seen SOFIA yourself? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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