NASA is to retire its Douglas DC-8 airborne laborotory aircraft with a more modern type, in sad news to fans of vintage aircraft.
The US space agency has operated its DC-8-72 N871NA since February 1986, but a combination of age and the need for more efficient and technologically advanced type has meant time is now being called on the aircraft.
Its replacement will be a Boeing 777-200ER, which was recently purchased for $30 million.
This aircraft is not new, having previously flown for Japan Airlines between 2003 and 2020. It was recently retired to Victorville, CA, where it was targeted by NASA.
As one of the last flying DC-8 aircraft anywhere in the world, N871NA was originally built in 1969, flying for Alitalia (as I-DIWK) and then Braniff International (as N801BN) from 1979 until 1986. It is therefore over 53 years old and very much at the end of its useful life.
Its future is not known yet, however the recently-retired Boeing 747SP ‘Sofia’ was sent to preservation at the Pima Air & Space Museum, so there is hope for this aircraft.
Only a few DC-8s remain in service now, mostly with cargo operators in Africa.
Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian aid organisation, also operates one example which is often seen in areas of humanitarian need.