NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) flew for the first time on 26 April mounted in a heavily modified Boeing 747SP, following almost seven years of conversion work at L-3 Integrated Systems in Waco, Texas. The ex-United Airlines owned 747SP is fitted with a 4.9m (16ft)-tall cavity door to carry a 20t (45,000lb), 2.5m-diameter infrared telescope assembly provided by German aerospace centre DLR. Cruising at altitudes over 45,000ft, Sofia is intended to provide scientists with a platform from which to capture IR imagery and spectra that are not possible to produce using the largest ground-based telescopes. Following initial flight clearance work at Waco, the 747SP is expected to move in the next few weeks to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, California, where it will complete flight tests, culminating with observatory/telescope classification tests that are scheduled to start in 2009.

Sofia 747SP

Source: Flight International