This scale model of a C-141 military transport shows how it was modified to hold a 91-cm infra-red telescope for astronomical research. The 41,000 to 45,000 foot operatijng altitude of this craft took the telescope to above 99 percent of the earth's absorbing atmosphere. Commissioned for research flights in 1975, this was the main aircraft used in the NASA Airborne Research Program based at the Ames Research Center in California. It was named the Kuiper Airborne Observatory in memory one of the pioneers of infra-red planetary astronomy, Gerald P. Kuiper of the University of Arizona. The observatory was in operation for about 25 years when it was taken out of service by NASA in 1998, and was eventually replaced by a 747.
Model donated to NASM by Lockheed-Georgia in 1976. It was on display in the "Exploring the Planets" gallery and was removed in 2001 when it was replaced by a model of the 747, dubbed "SOFIA," the successor to the Kuiper.
Gift of the Lockheed-Georgia Company