Space | 26. April 2017 | posted by Heinz-Theo Hammes

Double anniversary for SOFIA

SOFIA Take%2doff
Credit: NASA
SOFIA during take-off for the Functional Check Flight on 26 April 2007

The coming week will bring two occasions to celebrate with SOFIA. Just yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the virgin flight by SOFIA's 'flying base' on 25 April 1977: operating under the registration N536PA, the Boeing 747 SP flew for the former airline PAN AM, mainly on long-haul routes to Asia or South America. There are images of the aircraft in its original livery and a detailed history of the 21441-306 airframe.

And it was 10 years ago today, on 26 April 2007, that the Boeing took off for the first time with the SOFIA observatory on board, following extensive modification of the aircraft and the installation of a telescope and door system.##markend##

This maiden flight – or more precisely the Functional Check Flight – was performed largely to examine all of the aircraft's relevant safety functions: engines, landing flaps, tail plane and other features. The short flight over central Texas was smooth. After their return, the flight crew under chief pilot Gordon Fullerton reported a few anomalies. This marked the start of SOFIA's prolonged period of flight testing. But the project was still a long way from putting the concept of an airborne observatory into practice. The first scientific observation flight did not took place until 26 May 2010, when researchers used the FORCAST instrument to observe the planet Saturn and to report 'first light'.

SOFIA and the Lindberghs

The first owner, PAN AM, put the aircraft into service in 1977. Anne Spencer Morrow, widow of Charles Lindbergh, christened it the 'Clipper Lindbergh' to mark the 50th anniversary of her husband's historic Atlantic crossing. SOFIA continues to fly under this name. NASA repeated the christening after completing the modifications and the maiden flight. Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh, unveiled a plaque and again gave the aircraft its name – this time to mark the 80th anniversary of his grandfather's Atlantic crossing.

Credit: NASA
Naming ceremony with Erik Lindbergh

About the author

Heinz Hammes studied safety engineering and has worked at the DLR Space Administration for more than 25 years. Hammes is currently seconded to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and is supervising the maintenance of SOFIA. to authorpage