Astronomers whose programs are being executed on SOFIA flights are invited to participate in the flights. Their presence is not required for the execution of the programs and only a limited number of seats are available per flight. Here, we provide some general information for these astronomers. Detailed instructions for the participation will be sent out individually, prior to the flight series.

Invitation Process

After the SMO director approves the Flight Plans for a given Science Flight Series (nominally 5-7 weeks before the first flight in the series, depending on the instrument), SOFIA User Support, in consultation with the Instrument Scientist for the series, invites those Guest Observers (GOs) with observations in the series to participate in the flights. Nominally, three seats are reserved on each flight for GOs wishing to participate in the flights.

SOFIA observations are planned and executed in queue/service-mode, meaning that the SMO staff will execute them on behalf of the GOs. It can be useful both for the GO and SMO team to have members of the GO team present, but GO participation is not required, and will not affect the priority of the observations. Only very limited modifications to the planned observations are possible, or allowed, in flight.

The SOFIA program does not provide dedicated funds to support GO participation in the observing flights. However, the GO may use his/her SOFIA grant to pay for such travel.

Who can fly?

Only the proposal PI or co-Is are allowed to fly as “GO flyers” (invited as part of the observations). Anyone not explicitly included as a co-I in the proposal, that the PI wants to nominate to fly (such as graduate students), must be directly associated with the program, such as intending to work on the data analysis. For such personnel, the program PI must submit, via e-mail, a written justification to the SOFIA AD for Science Operations for that person’s participation.


GOs wishing to participate (or who wish to send/nominate their co-Is etc.) should respond to the invitation from SOFIA User Support as soon as possible, such that the required paperwork can be accomplished. The GO flyer will need to complete and submit:

  • Airborne Science Flight Participation Form (User Support will act as “Sponsor”)
  • Information for medical clearance to the Johnson Space Center (URL and instructions are sent out on an individual basis)
  • Badging information, to allow a AFRC B703 visitor’s badge to be issued

SOFIA User Support will distribute details and submittal information for these documents to invited GOs. Please note that for non-US citizen (or green-card holders), badging requests require a minimum of four weeks to process.

The GO flyer should contact and stay in touch with the series Instrument Scientist to ensure that he/she is aware of any modifications or updates to plans and schedules. If in doubt, please contact the SOFIA help desk.

Travel to NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) Building 703 (B703)

The SOFIA airplane is normally stationed (when not on deployment) at the AFRC B703 facility at the Palmdale Regional Airport (NOT at the civilian entrance to the airport – see Google map below)

Palmdale map

The most common way to get to AFRC B703 is to fly in to Burbank (BUR - “Bob Hope Burbank Airport”) and drive a rental car from there. The best driving route is via Interstate 5 (“Golden State Fwy”) and Freeway 14 (Antelope Valley Fwy), exiting on “Avenue P” (Rancho Vista Blvd) in Palmdale. B703 is located about 5 miles east on Avenue P (intersection marked on map with red circle). The drive from Burbank is about 1h, outside rush hour. The drive time (outside of rush hour) from LAX is about 2h.

(Left) On Avenue P, coming up on the exit to the AFRC B703 facility; (Right) Exit to AFRC B703

(Left) On Avenue P, coming up on the exit to the AFRC B703 facility (red circle on the map above); (Right) Exit to AFRC B703

AFRC Building 703 with parking lot in the foreground plus security guard building and entrance

Left: The AFRC Building 703, with its parking lot in the foreground. The low building in front of the hangar (Right) is the security guard building and entrance, where badges are issued.

It is possible to reach Palmdale via train on Metrolink , but the number of departures is limited and Palmdale Metrolink station is located 4.2 miles (6.8 km) from B703. There is no bus or shuttle service to B703.



SOFIA does not provide lodging, but Palmdale has a number of hotels and motels to choose from, depending on preferences and constraints. A standard web-search will allow the GO flyer to find suitable lodging matching his/her budget and preferences.

Food and Drink
There is no food service at B703, or on the plane. The SOFIA project provides bottled water and coffee/tea in flight (including non-dairy creamer), as well as a refrigerator for personal food and drink. A microwave oven is available on those flights where radio-frequency interference with the science instrument is not an issue (primarily GREAT flights).

For “night lunches” many on the SOFIA team rely on the “Subway” shop on Avenue P (see map). That shop also sells single serving milk bottles, for those who prefer that to the creamer provided. For snacks, there is, for instance, a “Trader Joe’s” off of Avenue P, just west of Fwy 14 and an Albertsons grocery store on Elizabeth Lake Rd.

Only closed (capped) drinking containers are allowed on the plane. Coffee mugs are not provided. GO flyers should bring their own travel mugs and make sure they have screw-on lids with snap-on drinking covers. This means that: paper or (thin) plastic cups (e.g. from coffee shops or fast-food restaurants) with snap-on lids are not acceptable. Generally, drinking vessels must be “spill proof” if dropped on the floor, etc.


Because of access restrictions in the facility, even US citizens will only get “escorted access” to B703, with few exceptions. Any GO flyer/visitor should verify from the SOFIA staff that they have unescorted access privileges before moving around the facility on their own. Please also note that escorting foreign nationals on NASA facilities requires a special “Authorized Foreign National Escort” badge. Even staff/visitors with NASA hard-badges may not be allowed to escort other visitors. Therefore, do not assume that e.g. instrument team member are allowed to grant access to the facility.

The SOFIA operations center at AFRC B703 has very limited scientist staff, most of who will be on night-schedule during Science Flight Series. Office space at B703 is also very limited and visitor offices can – usually – not be provided.

Because of these limitations we request that – unless by explicit agreement with the SOFIA staff otherwise - on the first flight day, GO flyers plan on arriving at B703 only in time for the required Egress training, allowing an additional 30 minutes to complete the badging process at the guard offices. On subsequent days, GO flyers should plan to arrive no earlier than in time for the mission briefing. However, GO flyers must make sure that they are on time for their Egress training and for the Mission Briefs and ready to go to the plane shortly after the latter. Note that there is usually not enough time between the Mission Briefing and the flight departure to e.g. return to the GO’s hotel or to go purchase night-lunch.

In flight

The SOFIA safety techs, as well as the Science and Operations staff will assist with the practicalities of flying on SOFIA, but here are a few specific tips to think about, before embarking:

  • B703 dress code is long pants only. No shorts, skirts or dresses are permitted. While it is a “shirt-sleeve environment”, SOFIA can be cold, particularly towards the end of the flights. Warm clothes and shoes are recommended. Flat shoes (no heels) with full coverage (no open toes) are required on board.
  • It can be noisy on board. Earplugs are available in the first aid cabinet, or the GO flyers can choose to wear the provided headsets.
  • Depending on whose observations are in the flight plan, a given GO flyer might not be welcome to stay at the science console the full flight (please be considerate and check with the Instrument Scientist about when you should, and should not, be watching the data taking and on-the-fly reduction results).
  • The “First Class” seats are available for reading, working or sleeping. There are seats in the upstairs cabin, but the Mission Director should be consulted for permission to use those.

Post Flight

We strongly urge GO flyers to not plan on driving to Burbank/LAX – or anywhere except the hotel – directly after the flight. Fwy 14 can be “tricky” with traffic and odd lane structures. Do plan on getting some sleep before returning home.