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NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory arrives in New Zealand

written by australianaviation.com.au | August 10, 2016

NASA Douglas DC-8-72 at Christchurch Airport on August 9 2016. (Zane Rae)
NASA Douglas DC-8’s approaches Christchurch Airport on August 9. (Zane Rae)

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s McDonnell Douglas DC-8 flying laboratory has arrived in New Zealand as part of its Atmospheric Tomography (ATom) airborne science mission.

The aircraft, a modified DC-8-72 equipped with scientific instruments, landed in Christchurch on Tuesday afternoon from Pago Pago. It was expected to depart for Punta Arenas on August 13.

ATom aims to study pollution in the lower atmosphere and its effects in the creation of greenhouse gases, NASA said on July 22.

“This mission specifically goes after the core aspect of the models, which is the models’ ability to predict changes in ozone and methane based on human pollution,” ATom deputy principal investigator Michael Prather said in a statement.

The aircraft, registration N817NA, left NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Palmdale facility in California on July 28. The current 26-day mission will include visits to the tropics, North Pole, Antartica, South America and Greenland, NASA said.


More broadly, the plan was for ATom to “crisscross the globe over the next four years to gather a diverse selection of data”, with the focus on remote areas such as vast stretches of ocean, “where unique chemical processes could disproportionately produce greenhouse gases”.

Further, Prather said the range of data collected over the oceans would be representative of the entire planet.

“The parcels of air over the Pacific are a whole range of chemical reactivity,” he said.

NASA Douglas DC-8-72 at the Armstrong Flight Research Centre at Palmdale, California. (NASA/Ken Ulbrich)
NASA’s DC-8 at the Armstrong Flight Research Center at Palmdale, California. (NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

The DC-8 is the second NASA aircraft to have come to New Zealand in recent times.

NASA’s Boeing 747SP, N747NA, named SOFIA for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, was based at the National Science Foundation’s US Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch Airport for eight weeks studying star formations and other celestial objects.

The aircraft-based observatory, which features a 100in diameter telescope, is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Centre.

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Comments (2)

  • Mike Borgelt


    Given we have Lockheed Martin F-16s and Boeing F-15s isn’t it a Boeing DC-8?

  • David P


    It might have been a Boeing DC-8 if it had been built after the merger…
    A DC3 is still a Douglas DC-3 to me… 🙂

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