The Boeing 747SP Special Performance N747SP is a join operation between NASA and DLR the German Space agency and the aircraft is named SOFIA as the aircraft is an airborne “Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy” platform.
The former Pan Am then United 747SP underwent major modifications in the early 2000s which included the addition of a large opening barn door on the rear port side of the fuselage to allow for a high powered telescope to deployed at altitude for observations of distant galaxies in outer space with minimal interference from the distortions of the earth’s lower atmospheric conditions.
The aircraft is certified for flight at altitudes up to 41,000 feet and the long range endurance of the specially modified Boeing 747SP is such that the aircraft is mission capable to any point on the planet.
Although the project started as far back as 1998, the aircraft modification and construction of the special telescope and its complex lens systems took some years of construction and refinement. On April 26, 2007, the maiden flight of the modified aircraft took place at Waco, Texas with continuing flight testing being conducted at Edwards AFB.
Today, the NASA Boeing 747SP SOPHIA is based at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research facility at Palmdale, California. This 37 minute film is a compilation of interesting PR films produced by NASA to highlight this amazing aircraft, and the interesting stories and factoids surrounding her amazing operation.