Being in the presence of a cool lady, a 747SP named the Clipper Lindbergh

I have arrived here in Palmdale, CA. This is a new place forme, so it has a share of expectations. Palmdale, just 50 miles north-east-ishof Los Angeles is home to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility or DAOF, forshort.  Upon arrival, I learned that NASADryden Flight Research Center itself is about another 40 minute drive away, sotime permitting, I’d like to check out that sister center.

I’ve rendezvoused with two colleagues from Cornell andIthaca College who have both flown on SOFIA and also have put in so many hoursto make the FORCAST instrument a success. They are eager to get back tooperations & science observations again. I’ve also met two graduate students, one who has flown already andanother, just as green-as-me, this being his first time to Palmdale andchecking out the *Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy* forhimself.

 Today marks a specialoccasion for me to see SOFIA in all her shiny-white-paint with an organized crewgetting her ready for this week of line operations, or line ops. The reality isintense. One can read about things on the internet or in papers, but toactually see the physical metal,glimpse at her sleek curves, observe the crews keeping her safe and airworthy,is something else. And that’s just the outside.

The scienceinstrument FORCAST, a mid-infrared instrument, is already installed and had itslatest cryogen fill this morning.

Tonight, line operations are scheduled from 11pm-5am and Ican share what I learn.  Until then,pieces of the complex set of what goes into operating a facility such as SOFIA,are slowly coming into place.

For now, I just cannot help staring at this amazing beauty.

SOFIA at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility getting ready for a weight and balance test

747SP, the SP means “Special Performance.” 

Author: Kimberly Ennico

Dr Kimberly Ennico Smith is a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. Trained with a PhD in astrophysics, with an emphasis on astronomical instrumentation, Kimberly serves several NASA missions in a mission or instrument scientist role. At present she is Deputy Project Scientist New Horizons Pluto Fly-by Mission; Instrument Scientist Regolith & Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System; and Instrument Scientist Mid-Infrared Spectroscopy Mode for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) FORCAST Instrument. She is also Principal Investigator for a small-sat collapsible telescope design and is actively working to mature low-cost, quick turn-around suborbital and balloon payloads that deliver focused science measurements and promote broader hands-on experience.