Boeing 747SP “SOFIA”

The Boeing 747SP was a 1970s response to a Pan Am request for an aircraft that could fly nonstop on the airline’s longest route from New York to Tehran. The 747SP is 47 feet shorter than a 747-100 and has a taller tail and horizontal stabilizer along with other design changes. These changes allowed the aircraft to fly higher and farther than the other airliners of the time.

The first 747SP was delivered to Pan Am in 1976. Eighteen total airlines flew 747SPs. It was also a popular luxury VIP aircraft for Middle Eastern heads of state. Only 45 747SPs were built due to its high operating cost and the introduction of newer long-range airliners.

This aircraft was delivered to Pan Am in 1977 and was christened “Clipper Lindbergh.” United Airlines purchased the aircraft from Pan Am in 1986 and flew it until they retired it in 1995.  In 1997 the aircraft was bought by NASA for a joint project with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The project named SOFIA, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, was an airborne infrared observatory that could fly above 99 percent of the infrared blocking atmosphere.

L-3 Communications in Waco, Texas was contracted to make the heavy modifications to the 747SP that were necessary to install a 20-ton, 8.9-foot-wide telescope and all the support equipment. SOFIA’s first flight was April 26, 2007, and was finally ready for full observations in 2014. Being a mobile observatory allowed SOFIA to conduct research from almost anywhere in the world. SOFIA flew around 100 flights a year primarily flying out Palmdale, California and Christchurch, New Zealand.

In November 2021 it was decided to cancel the SOFIA program due to the high operating cost. On December 13, 2022, SOFIA flew from Palmdale to Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ for display at the Pima Air & Space Museum.


195 ft. 8 in.


184 ft. 9 in.


65 ft. 10 in.


700,000 lbs (loaded)

Maximum Speed

642 MPH

Service Ceiling

45,100 ft.


7,650 miles


Four Pratt & Whitney JTD-7 turbofans with 50,000 pounds of thrust each


3 with 233 to 400 passengers
*Specifications for 747SP Airliner



National Aeronautics & Space Administration/German Aerospace Center, Armstrong Flight Research Center, Palmdale, California 2022

N747NA, N145UA, N5536PA

Serial Number

Pima Air & Space Museum

Creating unlimited horizons in aerospace education through the preservation and presentation of the history of flight.

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