Cool video shows NASA DC-8 doing low pass over San Francisco Bay during its final flight

Cool video shows NASA DC-8 doing low pass over San Francisco Bay during its final flight

By Dario Leone
May 20 2024
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Low pass over San Francisco Bay

NASA specially modified Douglas DC-8 airliner has made its final flight in some style after 37 years of sterling service operating a huge range of specialist research missions.

On May 15, 2024, the DC-8 (registration N817NA) flew at low altitude from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, to an airfield near Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, where it will be used to train future aircraft technicians at the college’s Aircraft Maintenance Technology Program.

The airliner, that completed its final NASA mission on Apr. 1, 2024 assumed its especially low cruising altitude of just 3,500ft for the start of its final farewell flight after having left Edwards AFB at around 10:00 AM local time, Aerotime Hub reported.

During its farewell flight the DC-8 final flyover around South Bay near San Jose, California, and some spectacular low passes over the runway at Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California, the location of NASA’s Ames Research Center, saluting the teams it has worked with over almost four decades of service with National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

After it bid farewell to NASA employees in Silicon Valley, the DC-8 headed north for a scenic flyby around iconic San Francisco Bay (as the video below shows) before climbing to a cruising altitude of 21,000ft and heading eastwards to Idaho. N817NA made its last-ever landing at Pocatello Regional Airport (PIH), shortly after 14:00 local time.


NASA’s DC-8-72 is a four-engine jet transport aircraft that has been highly modified to support the Agency’s Airborne Science mission. The aircraft, built in 1969 and acquired by NASA in 1985, is 157 feet long with a 148-foot wingspan. With a range of 5,400 nautical miles (6,200 statute miles), the aircraft can fly at altitudes from 1,000 to 42,000 feet for up to 12 hours, although most science missions average 6 to 10 hours. The airliner can carry 30,000 pounds of scientific instruments and equipment and can seat up to 45 researchers and flight crew.

The DC-8 incorporates a suite of sensors and data systems and provides services that can be tailored to specific missions or instruments. The DC-8 also has Iridium and Inmarsat satellite communications capability. Two Iridium-based communications systems (one for flight crew communications and one for science team communications), a multichannel system for upload of meteorological data, chat messaging, limited data telemetry, and live Web page updates are available.

Flying science laboratory

NASA operated a highly modified Douglas DC-8 jetliner as a flying science laboratory. The aircraft was based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703 in Palmdale, California and was used to collect data for experiments in support of projects serving the world’s scientific community. Federal, state, academic, and foreign researchers were among those who use NASA’s DC-8.

Data gathered with the aircraft at flight altitude, and by remote sensing, have been used for studies in archaeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, atmospheric chemistry, cryospheric science, soil science, and biology.

Four types of missions were flown with the DC-8: sensor development, satellite sensor verification, space vehicle launch or re-entry telemetry data retrieval and optical tracking, and other research studies of Earth’s surface and atmosphere.

Photo credit: NASA / Tony Landis

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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