A Toast to the 'Clipper Lindbergh'
The Boeing 747SP used by NASA for its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), now registered as N747NA, has a distinguished history. It was originally acquired by Pan American World Airways and was delivered in May of 1977. The "SP" designates that this is a special short-body version of the 747, designed for longer flights than the original -100 series of the Boeing 747.
Although Pan Am typically named its aircraft after famous clipper ships, they gave this aircraft a special name - the Clipper Lindbergh - in honor of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh's widow, Ann Morrow Lindbergh, personally christened the aircraft, then registered as N536PA, and officially placed it into service on May 6th, 1977-the 50th anniversary of his history-making first solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927.
Powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A turbofan engines, each putting out over 46,000 pounds of thrust, the 184-foot long plane has a cruise speed of 525 knots (nearly Mach 0.88) and a range of over 7,500 miles, carrying 276 passengers.
In February of 1986, United Airlines purchased the plane, and reregistered it as N145UA. United removed it from active service in December 1995, and it was purchased by NASA in 1997. The aircraft was substantially modified for its new role as a flying astronomical observatory by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems of Waco, Texas. To ensure proper modification, a dismantled section from another 747SP was used as a full-size mock-up.
On April 26, 2007, SOFIA again flew the skies over Waco, Texas during its first test flight; it was subsequently flown to Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base for continued flight testing, and was rededicated on May 21, 2007, by Erik Lindbergh - a grandson of Charles Lindbergh - on the 80th anniversary of his historic transatlantic flight.
As part of the 2007 rededication, several beverages were used to make the cocktail splashed over the nose of Clipper Lindbergh.
SOFIA is being developed as a world-class observatory complementing the Hubble Space Telescope. The observatory, which features a German-built 98.4-inch (2.5 meter) diameter infrared telescope weighing 20 metric tons.