10 Amazing Facts about NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Facts about NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
Facts about NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

NASA’s space shuttle Discovery took its last flight on April 17, 2012, riding on the back of a modified 747 jet from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Washington, D.C., where it will go on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

NASA flew two modified Boeing 747 jetliners, originally manufactured for commercial use, as Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. One is a 747-123 model, while the other was designated a 747-100SR-46 model. The two aircraft were identical in performance as Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA).

The 747 series of aircraft are four-engine intercontinental-range, swept-wing “jumbo jets” that entered commercial service in 1969.

The SCAs were used to ferry space shuttle orbiters from landing sites back to the launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center and also to and from other locations too distant for the orbiters to be delivered by ground transportation. The orbiters were placed atop the SCAs by Mate-Demate Devices, large gantry-like structures that hoisted the orbiters off the ground for post-flight servicing and then mated them with the SCAs for ferry flights.


Here are the amazing Facts about NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

1) NASA uses two modified Boeing 747 jet-liners, originally manufactured for commercial use, as Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA)

  • The first Aircraft N905NA was a Boeing 747-100 bought from American Airlines in 1974
  • The 2nd Aircraft N911NA was a Boeing 747SR bought from Japan Airlines in 1988

2) It took a crew of 170 personnel an entire week just to get SCA and Space shuttle ready for flight

Space shuttle getting ready for flight

3) It was first used in 1991 to ferry the new shuttle Endeavour to the Kennedy space center

4) The SCAs were planned to be equipped with Aerial Refueling capabilities but because there was no need for it, the upgrade was dropped

5) In December 2012, Boeing used the SCA to transport phantom ray UCAV

 SCA to transport phantom ray UCAV

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6) In 1983 the SCA flew enterprise on a European tour. It then went to the Paris airshow

7) Features that distinguish the two SCAs from standard 747 jetliners are:

  • Three struts with associated interior structural strengthening protrude from the top of the fuselage (two aft, one forward) on which the orbiter is attached.
  • Two additional vertical stabilizers, one on each end of the standard horizontal stabilizer, to enhance directional stability.
  • Removal of all interior furnishings and equipment aft of the forward No. 1 doors.
  • Instrumentation used by SCA flight crews and engineers to monitor orbiter electrical loads during the ferry flights and also during pre- and post-ferry flight operations



8) The 747  SCAs series of aircraft are four-engine intercontinental-range, swept-wing “jumbo jets”

9) The two SCAs were owned and under the operational control of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston.

10) Dimensions Of  NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

  • Wingspan: 195 ft. 8 in.
  • Length: 231 ft. 10 in.
  • Height: Top of the vertical stabilizer, 63 ft. 5 in. To top of the cockpit area, 32 ft. 1 in.
  • Vertical tip fins on horizontal stabilizers: 20 ft. 10 in. high, 9 ft. 7 in. long.
  • Weight: Basic weight, NASA 905, 318,053 lb;. NASA 911, 323,034 lb
  • Maximum gross taxi weight: 713,000 lb
  • The Maximum Gross brake release weight: 710,000 lb
  • Maximum gross landing weight: 600,000 lb

Performance Of  NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

  • Airspeed limits with, and without an orbiter: 250 knots or Mach 0.6
  • Altitude: Typical cruise with orbiter, 13,000-15,000 ft; typical cruise unmated, 24,000-26,000 ft. The minimum temperature at altitude 15 degrees (F) (-9 degrees C)
  • Range: Typical mated, 1000 nautical miles (with reserves); maximum unmated, 5500 nautical miles
  • Fuel Capacity: 47,210 gallons (316,307 lb) jet fuel
  • Crew: Two pilots and one flight engineer; additional flight engineer when carrying shuttle.


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