Category Archives: Aviation

Planespotting: Shuttle Carrier Aircraft N911NA

Here is a picture I took yesterday at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft N911NA. © Reinhard Kargl 2012. Click to enlarge.

This is one of the two existing Shuttle Carrier Aircaft (SCA). This one is aircraft N911NA. The other SCA (N905NA) was spotted by a friend at Washington Dulles Airport the next morning, with Space Shuttle Discovery mounted on top. (Discovery is being delivered to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. N911NA is now officially retired at Dryden. It will be used as a “donor” for spare parts for SOFIA).

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Last year I became one of the first journalists to fly on a science mission aboard SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) developed and operated by by NASA and the German aerospace agency DLR.

In essence, SOFIA this is a giant, state-of-the-art infrared observatory packed into the aft fuselage of a highly modified Boeing 747SP. By making airborne observations high in the stratosphere, SOFIA’s instruments can gather light above 99% of our atmosphere’s water vapor. The flying observatory is now beginning to enter full scale scientific operations.

Our 10-hour long flight (dubbed Basic Science Flight 2) took off from U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. Most of our circuitous flight took place over the Pacific Ocean. After about 10 hours in the air, during which we reached altitudes of 43,000 feet, we returned safely to Palmdale.

The mission consisted of tests and observations on the GREAT instrument (the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies), which were successfully carried out.

It was a thrilling experience, and I was most impressed with the professional workmanship of the entire NASA crew. Keeping this highly complex, unique aircraft operational and flying in a reasonably safe manner is no easy task requiring much coordination and teamwork.

My detailed report was published in the January February 2012 issue of Gruner+Jahr’s popular German science magazine, P.M. Magazin. An excerpt (in German) can be read here. (The magazine will continue to be available online in both print and iPhone/iPad app editions).

Click the image below to see my photo album:



SOFIA on Wikipedia


DLR’s SOFIA Page (English)

DLR’s SOFIA Seiten (Deutsch)

Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI)

SOFIA Science Center (USRA Page)



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Must Have Been A Weather Balloon

Flying aboard SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) above Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale ….

… we spot a bunch of weather balloons.

(Click to enlarge).

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The Los Angeles Air Raid

The Battle of Los Angeles, also known as ‘The Great Los Angeles Air Raid’, is the name given by contemporary sources to the rumored enemy attack and subsequent anti-aircraft artillery barrage which took place from late February 24 to early February 25, 1942 over Los Angeles, California.

Read more details here.

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