Huge observatory plane startles residents

World's largest 'airborne observatory' lands at Moffett Field about 12:30 p.m. today

The world's largest airborne observatory plane, trailed by a fighter jet, startled residents and motorists in south Palo Alto and parts of Mountain View early this afternoon as it approached Moffett Field for a landing.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne observatory briefly visited NASA Ames Research Center, where it will someday be based after flight tests are completed.

Ames families and media representatives were invited to tour the plane during its brief non-public visit.

One witness said the big "747-type" plane flew in extremely low over south Palo Alto with the jet behind it, and people were stopping to stare up at them.

SOFIA is currently undergoing flight tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

SOFIA features a 98.4-inch diameter infrared telescope mounted in a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft. Flying at 41,000 to 45,000 feet, it will enable scientific observations that Earth-based telescopes cannot accomplish.

After flight tests are completed in about two years, SOFIA's science and mission operations will be managed by Ames, according to Michael Mewhinney of Ames public affairs office.

Jay Thorwaldson


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Posted by not funny
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 14, 2008 at 5:54 pm

COOL real science! Maybe will find out just how full of hot air Al Gore is really. And too bad in 2 years the boys at Google will have to give up their hanger.

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Posted by Trol-e
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 14, 2008 at 6:43 pm

I saw it and, sadly, thought for sure there was going to be an Earth-shattering kaboom in minutes. Either shot down by the fighter or crashed into something. Happy to see it was for good.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2008 at 8:30 am

You mean that huge noisy thing may be permanently based at Moffett; flying in and out at all times of the day and night. It's bad enough that low flying helicopters fly over my house many times a day.

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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 15, 2008 at 5:47 pm

I think I saw it at Moffett when I was driving by on 101 today - an odd large plane parked there certainly caught my it really loud?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 16, 2008 at 9:13 am

This plane was really loud, I was inside with noise and thought that there was a plane ready to crash.

What I don't understand is why it had to fly so low, why it needed a fighter escort and whether every time it flies will it have to be low and with an escort?

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Posted by JLS student
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm

I was outside having lunch at the time, and the plane scared the crap out of me. It was soooooooooooooooooooo awesome though...

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Posted by Jim McClennahan
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 17, 2008 at 5:02 pm

The residential areas and the predominant dislike for aircraft noise is another reason for the plane being operated in aircraft friendly Antelope Valley, Ca.
Not a fighter escort, It is a safety chase plane. The SOFIA is an experimental plane.
It is never coming to stay at Ames research Center. It has a permanent hangar in Palmdale.

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Posted by barry
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

This plane was really loud, I was inside with noise and thought that there was a plane ready to crash.

What I don't understand is why it had to fly so low, why it needed a fighter escort and whether every time it flies will it have to be low and with an escort?

Web Link

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Posted by Bill Abbott
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Moffett Field has been there, and had airplanes flying in and out, my entire life. I think they're cool, but not everyone does. I don't understand people who move close to an airport and then complain about it. Nobody made them move there. The airport isn't a secret, in fact, its extremely easy to see from highway 101.

Flights are hardly as regular today as when P-3s patrolled the coast during the Cold War. I lived under the approach path to Moffett from 1980 to 1996. The whirling propellers messed up my TV (antenna) reception, but I could live with it. And yes, as a matter of fact, I do take the possibility of floods and fires into account, along with airports, freeways, schools, etc, when I look for a place to live.

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Posted by Andy Howey
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2014 at 12:47 pm

@Bill Abbott -- there's a big difference in the noise from a P3 (or C-130) and a C-17 or C-5 (both of which fly into Moffett periodically) or this observatory plane. Jets make a lot more noise than prop-driven planes. I know this because I live in Sunnyvale, and my apartment is right under the flight path for approach into Moffett. I can say from personal experience that some of these planes fly much too low over residential areas, especially during early morning hours on the weekend. These things set off car alarms just from the vibrations of their noise.

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