First test flight completed
L-3 Communications announced today that NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), completed its first test flight following extensive aircraft modification and telescope integration at the company’s L-3 Integrated Systems (L-3 IS) Waco, Texas facility.
Pilot Gordon Fullerton’s NASA crew for the first flight of SOFIA included copilot Bill Brockett, flight engineer Larry LaRose, and flight test engineer Marty Trout. L-3’s flight test analyst Don Stonebrook was also a crewmember.
N747NA (c/n: 21441 ) SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP extensively modified to carry a 45,000-pound (20 metric ton), 98.4-inch (2.5-meter) diameter infrared telescope assembly provided by the German Aerospace Center, DLR. SOFIA will fly at altitudes up to 45,000 feet (13.7 km) – above more than 99 percent of the Earth’s water vapor – to capture infrared images and spectra not possible by even the largest ground-based telescopes.
We are thrilled that SOFIA has taken to the air and congratulate L-3 on their accomplishment. We look forward to the day when SOFIA will become a world-class astronomical research facility
“We are thrilled that SOFIA has taken to the air and congratulate L-3 on their accomplishment. We look forward to the day when SOFIA will become a world-class astronomical research facility.” said Dr. Frederick A. Tarantino, president of Universities Space Research Association (USRA), SOFIA’s science and mission operations contractor.
The program was awarded by NASA in 1996 to a combined U.S. and German team that includes L-3 and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). The first metal on the aircraft was cut by L-3 in 2000, as installation began on a reinforced, pressurized bulkhead that helped create a cavity in the rear of the aircraft where the telescope assembly was later installed. In addition to the aircraft structural modifications and the telescope assembly installation, major aircraft activities included:
- Installation of an approximately 16-foot (more than 4.5-meters) tall cavity door designed to open in flight to permit telescope observations;
- Installation of a complex liquid-nitrogen cooling system used to pre-cool the telescope cavity to match thermal conditions when the cavity door is opened at altitude;
- Performance of heavy depot-level maintenance and service bulletin incorporation on the 747SP, which flew in commercial service from 1977 to 1995.
Source: Sofia Science Center