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SOFIA Completes Initial Flight Test Segment
SOFIA 747SP lifts off with its infrared observatory. NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, lifted off from Edwards Air Force Base at mid-day Thursday, Oct. 11, on the first in a series of flight tests intended to verify the flight performance of the highly modified Boeing 747SP to its design capability. NASA photo / Tony Landis

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center completed the initial segment of the first phase of flight testing of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, on Nov. 15. The five flights confirmed the structural integrity and performance of the modified Boeing 747SP that carries SOFIA's 17-metric-ton infrared telescope. The tests expanded the flight envelope in the areas of flutter, structural loads, handling qualities and system validation with the telescope's external cavity door closed.

The aircraft flew at light, medium and maximum fuel configurations for about 30 hours during the flights, at speeds up to Mach .90 and altitudes up to 42,000 feet.

Two additional flights in the first phase are planned for mid-December. These flights, again with the telescope cavity door closed, will focus on the in-flight activation of the telescope assembly.

Flights were conducted in restricted test airspace just north of Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. The current tests, along with future tests with the telescope cavity door open, are intended to verify that the unique airborne observatory is ready to perform its future astronomical science mission.

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Alan Brown
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center