NASA today successfully completed the first of several planned checkout test flights of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft.

The flight took place in Waco, Texas, to observe the low-speed and low- altitude handling performance of the aircraft. NASA research pilot and astronaut Gordon Fullerton led the crew making the historic first flight.

“Today’s first flight of SOFIA is a major milestone for the program and I want to thank the entire SOFIA team for all of its hard work over the years in making this first flight a success,” said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

The tests are required prior to the aircraft’s ferry flight to its home base at NASA’s Dryden Research Center, Edwards, Calif., tentatively scheduled for late May or early June. Once the aircraft arrives at Dryden, further development and a series of flight tests will take place leading up to science observations scheduled for 2009 or 2010.

Prior to this first successful flight, the airplane underwent major modifications at L-3 Communications Integrated Systems in Waco, Texas. To enable the 45,000-pound infrared telescope to scan the skies, the 747SP was modified by cutting a 16-foot tall opening in the aft fuselage, and equipping it with a sliding door. By flying at altitudes above 40,000 feet, this special 747SP will rise above most atmospheric water vapor to give the 98.4-inch (2.5 meter) diameter infrared telescope clear access to collect infrared images from space. The telescope can be positioned anywhere in the skies, unlike ground-based telescopes, and between science missions it can be serviced and reconfigured as needed to accomplish world-class astronomy.

SOFIA will study the universe in the infrared spectrum. SOFIA also will be used to develop observational techniques, new instrumentation, and to educate young scientists and teachers in the discipline of infrared astronomy.

SOFIA is a joint international effort by NASA and DLR, the German Aerospace Center. The aircraft will be based at Dryden. SOFIA’s science center is located at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The entire effort is supported by Universities Space Research Association (USRA), a non- profit group of universities created in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the Deutsche SOFIA Institute (DSI), Stuttgart, Germany.

For more information about SOFIA, visit

For more information about NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and its research projects, visit: on the Internet.

PHOTO EDITORS: Publication-quality photos of SOFIA’s first flight are available for downloading at