May 27, 2024

NASA Aircraft: The 55-year-old Douglas DC-8 will be retired after the Asian mission

She once flew for Alitalia and Braniff, then became a science pilot. Now NASA's Douglas DC-8 has completed its final mission.

Commercial passenger aircraft, business and private jets, cargo aircraft, military aircraft, gliders, and private jets – all are available in fairly large quantities. On the other hand, aircraft that take off exclusively on scientific missions are very rare.

One of these rare aircraft was retired in 2022: a Boeing 747 SP named Sophia, which was converted into a flying observatory. The plane, now 47 years old, which had a large telescope on board, found its home at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona. Now another scientific aircraft is finally ending its service.

The first operator was Alitalia

The US Federal Aeronautics and Space Administration's Douglas DC-8, or NASA for short, will be retired. On April 1, the 55-year-old plane, registered N817NA, returned to Palmdale, California, after completing its final mission to survey air quality in Asia. The pilots and cabin crew were welcomed with a ceremonial water salute. The plane will be taken out of service in May.

“As the world’s largest aeronautics laboratory, the DC-8 has been in use since 1987,” NASA says. The four-jet aircraft was acquired by the authority in 1985. Before that, it was owned by Quiet Nacelle as well as Braniff International Airways and the original operator Alitalia, with registration number I-DIWK. NASA then modified the plane significantly.

He was also stationed once in Greenland

Data collected by the DC-8 have been used in studies in archaeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, atmospheric chemistry, cryospheric sciences, soil sciences, and biology.

The Douglas DC-8 was also used to test prototype satellite instruments. Scientists use them to develop ideas in instrument technology, test new instruments, and modify them based on flight results. The aircraft also participated in the study of polar ice and was stationed in Greenland.

They will be used in future training

N817NA, which also had other license plates in NASA service, will find its new home at Idaho State University. There it will be used to train future aircraft technicians.

The DC-8's farewell and replacement with the Boeing 777-200 has been announced since the beginning of 2023 – although there is no specific date at that time. And now it's really time. But at least the plane has had more than a year of operational life since then.

The first supersonic passenger plane

The Douglas DC-8 was manufactured from 1958 to 1972. A total of 556 low-wing examples were built. In 1961, one of the planes became the first passenger plane in the world to reach supersonic speed during a test flight.