SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, in our hangar for heavy maintenance

The Flying Observatory

A universe of services for SOFIA

Unique maintenance at the highest level

Special guests require special treatment – this is especially true for one of the most valuable aircraft in the world. SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is the world's only airborne observatory. The aircraft type alone – a Boeing 747SP – is something of a stellar object, since only a few of these are still in operation today. But SOFIA is more than an aircraft. It is first and foremost a flying laboratory with equipment that makes the airplane unique both from the technological and structural point of view. SOFIA exemplifies a galaxy of technical services that allows this aircraft to fulfill its special mission reliably until 2034.

After a complete overhaul (D-check) in 2014 and a scheduled heavy check in 2017, SOFIA is currently back visiting our hangars in Hamburg again for another scheduled heavy check (C-check). Heinz Hammes, Project Manager SOFIA, at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) shares his impression on the co-operation with us.

NASA's SOFIA undergoing heavy maintenance at Lufthansa Technik
SOFIA's engines were removed for base maintenance
SOFIA's 4 by 6 meter door opens during flight to make observations

weight of SOFIA's telescope


diameter of
the mirror

flight hours

accumulated to date by the 747SP

Testimonial Heinz Hammes

Attention to detail and mutual respect

"The extensive experience with Boeing 747SP aircraft was decisive for us when we chose Lufthansa Technik as maintenance provider for SOFIA's maintenance visit. After the checks in 2014 and 2017, we were glad to return the aircraft to the capable hands of Lufthansa Technik as we were extremely impressed with the high quality of work and expertise of their staff. They managed to meet the special needs of the NASA/DLR partnership by providing integrated observatory maintenance on our uniquely modified and highly specialized 747SP.

The special circumstances this year require cooperation and increased flexibility from all parties involved. We are convinced that we are in the right place for the tasks ahead.

“I like to watch professionals at work. At Lufthansa Technik, there is a lot to see.”

Heinz Hammes, German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Lufthansa Technik gathers all areas of expertise in one environment, making sure people can come together and work on a common project. This is unique. Maintaining this type of aircraft system is not easy. The only way to get through such a layover – with a number of challenges involving a multitude of planned and unplanned technical issues – is to have the right environment. It requires a high level of collaboration and mutual respect for the different roles and responsibilities to be able to work through the problems in the most efficient way possible.  Our experience with Lufthansa Technik is that work is done with a great level of attention to detail: From management to engineering, a group of skilled craftsmen is in charge in every area of work. They all work together to make this observatory operational and to improve its reliability."


Heinz Hammes
German Aerospace Center

Heinz Hammes, German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Heinz studied systems safety engineering and joined the DLR Space Administration early in his career. Since 1998, he has been working mainly on the SOFIA project and led the mechanical integration of the telescope in the aircraft in the United States. He was involved in the testing of the telescope and of the aircraft and in all major observatory milestones as well. He has been Project Manager for SOFIA at DLR since June 2016.


Reaching for the stars

A 2.7-meter reflecting telescope inside a highly modified Boeing 747SP, SOFIA operates at altitudes of up to 14 kilometers. SOFIA performs astronomical observations in the infrared and submillimetre wavelengths, high above the interference of Earth's atmosphere, where water vapor in the troposphere hinders observations in the infrared. With about 160 astronomy flights a year, SOFIA's scientific objective is to understand the development of galaxies and the formation and evolution of stars and planetary systems from interstellar clouds of gas and dust.

SOFIA is a joint project operated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart maintains the SOFIA telescope on behalf of DLR, while the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) runs the SOFIA Science Mission Operations Center on behalf of NASA.


Some features of SOFIA:

  • Special electronic systems
  • Flight altitudes of up to 14 kilometers
  • A 4- by 6-meter door in the fuselage opens for observations

Your personal contact

Wieland Timm, Head of Sales VIP & Special Mission Aircraft

Wieland Timm

Head of Sales VIP & Special Aircraft

Lufthansa Technik AG

Hamburg, Germany