Click logo for Home Page

C141Heaven: NASA C-141Information

Over the years NASA has had a lot to do with the C-141, and has used them for research in many areas. If you flew or did experiments on #714, it would be great to get some information or photos from you about the program.

Here's a note from Wally Stahl who was associated with 714 for many years.

December, 2005

A Story of One Airplane With Two Lives
AF C-141, Serial #6110, also known as the Lockheed L-300 registered as N4141A and later as NASA N714NA.

By W.G. 'Wally' Stahl

The first life had its beginning when the Air Force and “others” approved Lockheed procuring the 110th C-141 off the assembly line in order to demonstrate its capability as a commercial cargo carrier.

The purpose was to get enough commercial and possibly other government orders to extend the production line beyond the programmed 285 orders.

I hired in at Lockheed in 1963 at the beginning of the C-141 program as a licensed A & P mechanic on the flight test airplanes. At that time there were only two C-141's completed, one flyable and one in the hanger with plenty of engineering changes to be made. From the beginning, the C-141 was to be simultaneously FAA certified with the Air Force certification and there were mixed flight crews on some of the flight tests. The first eight units were programmed as flight test airplanes, each with different test programs. As they came down, I was appointed a supervisor initially relieving the other supervisors as this was a seven day a week , 24 hour a day operation. I was then given a crew of my own on the enviromental test airplane. I was happy when the production flight airplanes began coming down as I was interviewed by the Chief Flight Engineer and signed on as a production flight Flight Engineer. A full crew, two pilots, two FE's, and a navigator would spend the better part of a day checking, inspecting the complete airplane that maintenance had opened all engines, inspection plates, and panels, then engine runs and slow and fast taxi to check brakes, spoilers, etc.and writing up the discrepancies. Usually these would be worked off by morning and after checking them, we were ready for a four hour test flight, checking in flight door and ramp operation, plumbing for leaks, etc.

The Flight Engineer's other job in Production Flight was developing the study guides for each system and teaching the ground school to the Air Force instructors and early Flight crews.

As serial #6110 came down the assembly line, I was notified by the Chief Flight Engineer that I was being given the Project Flight Engineer's job on it, along with veteran pilot Gene Whitton as Project Pilot we were to follow it along and make sure it would be operated as an FAA certified airplane.

It was welcomed to the flight line in April 1966 with its white and red stripe Lockheed colors. It got plenty of visitors including Gene and I.

The first test flight was on May 4,1966 of four and one-half hours. The first cross country was on 5-23-66 to O'hare for a cargo symposium.

That was the beginning of 713 flight hours which ended on 7-3-1968.

In that period it visited 38 US airports including Hickam (some cities multiple times) and 31 foreign airports ( some multiple times). They included Canada, nine European cities, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and Iran.

These flights involved demonstrating short field landings and takeoffs, loading outsized cargo, paratroop drops and flight characteristics.

There were a couple of incidents that were interesting to say the least.

In 1967 during a Mid East conflict, Egypt had blocked the Suez Canal and all sea commerce had to go around the tip of Africa, adding many days for delivery. At this time, Iran was an ally of the US and they badly needed some new oil well machinery that was manufactured in Holland. This machinery was of a size and weight that no other aircraft was capable of transporting it from Amsterdam to Abadan, Iran.. Through the State Dept. we were approved to fly this equipment to them. I was given the weight and size (dimensions).It was a huge steel piece 29'x 9'x 8' high weight= 46,680 pounds.It was immediately obvious that sitting on two pallets and the rollers that it would not go in the pressure door opening.By doing some figuring we decided if we could come up with something thinner than the pallets, we could get it in. We knew it had to be strong and the only thing we came up with was to get a steel plate 3/8 inch thick just wide and long enough for the base of it and with holes for 25 thousand pound chains, it would go in.. We had them load it on the plate and rollers on the flat bed truck the same height as the ramp and back it up to the ramp.. As they got closer we saw that it was going to hit the little metal flag that shows the pressure door is locked in the up position so we had to remove that and it just went in. We winched it in to where it was over the wheels (center of gravity) and chained it down. There were other big crates that were loaded in front and back. The trip over was uneventful until after we landed and saw that they didn't have a flat bed vehicle to load it on. It was late in the day and they told us to go to the hotel and they would have the equipment the next morning. The next morning they had us open the back up and they began building a stack of what looked like railroad ties behind the ramp and they wanted us to unload it onto rollers on the stack and they would load it on a truck. Since we had no other option, I told the pilot to be ready to start up the two outboard engines when I gave him the word and taxi out away from the stack. Fortunately everything worked but it was a shaky operation.

Another amusing incident was on a Demo for a freight airline out of JFK to Frankfurt and then to Zurich to load a large milling machine. It was late when we got there and decided to stay overnight. The German supervisor for the airline in Europe was to get help loading the milling machine but told him to wait until morning. We gave him the key to the plane so he could get everything ready to load and told him to not try to load it without me being there. There was a lot of snow on the ramp where we parked and it was still snowing. The next morning we went over and the German was waiting for us. I went in to start up the APU to get the pressure door open and nearly s**t myself as the milling machine was loaded on a pallet on the bare floor,no rollers. I called the pilots to come take a look and we asked the German how they loaded it as there were no skid marks on the floor. He said he couldn't find the rollers so he had his crew get some buckets and piled up snow on the cargo floor and ramp and slid the machine in to where he figured it would be near the center of gravity. He had cleaned the snow out and dried the floor so you couldn't tell it. We chained it down and and took off wondering how they were going to unload it in New York.

By July of 1968 it became apparent that there was not enough interest in commercial use of the C-141 so after 704 flight hours it was put to rest on the ramp on July 3, 1968. Our maintenance crew periodically checked it over hoping someone could use a practically new Airplane.

Word came from Marketing in late 1970 that NASA was looking for a large four engine plane to install a large telescope to do high altitude astronomy.They got word of our C-141 and sent a crew to look it over and began negotiating for it. Needless to say, they got a good deal. Lockheed brought it up to date and put the NASA paint job on it Our flight crew did a complete inspection and pre-flight and flew a four hour test flight on

01/31/1972. We flew an acceptance flight with a NASA crew on 02/02/72 with the Chief of NASA Flight Operations, George Cooper and it was turned over to NASA. We flew with a NASA crew to Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California on 02/03/72. We did a number of training flights with the NASA pilots and on 07/31/72 ferried it to Lockheed Aircraft Services in Ontario, CA for major modifications to install the telescope hardware and support equipment. This included building a cavity inside the fuselage that would withstand the aircraft pressurization as the telescope would be exposed to the outside atmosphere. This modification was completed the latter part of March 1973 and after a thorough inspection and ground runs checking pressurization and all systems, we flew test flights on 4/6 and 4/11 and ferried it back to Moffett on 4/25/73. These were the last entries in the original log book and showed a total of 791 hours on the aircraft.

During the modification period, the Chief Pilot at NASA requested that I come out and give his pilots that would be flying the C-141 a couple of weeks of ground school so I made up a plan and since they didn't have a Flight Engineer, they picked one of their mechanics to be in the class. I conducted this class in March and at some point prior to going to Ontario to check out the mods, the Chief Pilot George Cooper who had attended the ground school, called me in and inquired if I would be interested in the Flight Engineer's job at NASA. It didn't take me long to say yes. The paper work was started and on July 30, 1973 I departed Lockheed and joined NASA Flight Operations.

The last six months of 1973 were utilized in telescope equipment installation and check out, and training flights of only 52 hours.

This aircraft began to arise to it's new life in 1974 when it began to do serious high altitude astronomy as the Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory. These flights were normally scheduled for eight hours. We carried a fuel load of 105,000 # which allowed us to reach flt level 370 and as we burned off we stepped up until we reached 410 and maintained it.The astronomers desired to reach as high an altitude as possible to minimize the water vapor in the atmosphere. On a few occasions we operated at 45,000.

Our heavy maintenance and major checks were accomplished at Travis AFB and our Crew Chief, Lloyd Domeier had a good working relationship with their people, so we got great service. Lloyd was an excellent Crew Chief and always went the extra mile to get us off on time as we had to be at a particular point on time for the astronomers to begin their science.

We normally were scheduled for three flights a week (always at night) and I had checked out the mechanic as a Flight Engineer and we were flying every other flight. As time went on the astronomers were getting approval to do astronomy out of Hickam and that led to not only many more flights back but flights out of Pago Pago, New Zealand to study Halley's comet, Guam and Yakota for total eclipses and Australia. We even under flew an early shuttle reentry out of Honolulu to measure the under wing tile temperatures using the infared telescope. On another occasion we tracked a missile launch out of Vandenberg.

Finally, after 21 years this magnificent machine was permanently laid to rest in 1995. I had retired in 1988 after 15 of the most rewarding years of my life.As well as my many experiences with the C-141, I had checked out early on NASA's Convair 990 and made many trips off base to India, Alaska, Norway, Europe, Mexico, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil and Guatemala , and to put the icing on the cake, NASA had procured a DC-8 in 1986 and had it modified and ready for science in 1987 and my last deployment was a trip to Punta Arenas, Chile checking out the hole in the Ozone Layer and included a low pass over the South Pole.

Here's a snapshot of my 48 years in the Aviation World.

U.S. Army Air Corps—9/20/1940—10/21/45 Air Corps Technical School
Chanute Field, IL,Aircraft Mechanic, Moffett Field, CA,Chico,CA,Boise,ID,
Pendelton, OR, CA Desert. CBI Theater, two years China 14th AF.
Spartan School of AeronauticsTulsa OK, 12 Months A&P License
15 years Eastern Airlines, 10yrs. Miami, Fl Aircraft Overhaul,Flt line Lead Mechanic.
On time off –Flight School-Commercial, Instrument, Multi-Eng, Flight Engineer ratings.- Recip, Turboprop,Turbojet, Ground School Instructor
5 years-Flight Engineer Eastern, Connies, DC-7, L-188 Electra. NY, New Orleans, Atlanta.
10 years Lockheed Georgia Co. Marietta, GA. A&P mech, C-141 Flt. Test, Supervisor, C-141 Flt Test Crew, FE on C-141 and C-5A production Aircraft, Ground School Instructor-C-5A Systems Operation to Altus AF instructors and Wright Pat. Engineering Personnel. Project FE on L-300
15 years NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field,CA Senior Flight Engineer and Instructor, C-141, Convair-990, C-130, DC-8.

Here's a note from Lloyd Domeier, who was associated with 714 for 21 years.

September, 2005

We got good treatment from the USAF and we never had to stage on other units aircraft like during Vietnam missions. However, I did spend a lot of time in the Air Force taking off at sundown and landing at sunup!!

My first trip to Hickam was 1957 to spend a month in C-124 maintenance school and many more trips there since, I figure I have been there about 120 times. I also did my share of flying out of Mildenhall all over Europe in old shakey {C-124}

I was active duty from 1957-1961 and got recalled in 1968 for two more years because of the Pueblo incident.

The old "I was in the right place at the right time" applied to me.

I was working at Travis in 1973 when I saw this beautiful blue and white 141 taxi in for fuel cell maintenance.

I found out were it came from and called the chief of maintenance at NASA Ames and asked for a job. He said come in and talk to him. I did and got hired on.

Three months later I was promoted into the crew chief slot which I held for 21 years.

Had a great job and met lots of interesting folks. Only shut down one engine in flight in all that time. We were on the way home from Christchurch N.Z. and after refueling in Pago Pago Samoa going nonstop to Ames we lost all the oil from # 2 engine. We diverted to Hickam and replaced a cracked oil line. Two hour later we were airborne again.

Had two in-flight failures, one after take off from Travis when we took a goose in #2 engine, the other one was on take off from Christchurch, the pins holding the turbines on #3 engine sheared and locked up the engine.

Last flight was in 1995. My hope is some museum will get 714 and put her on display.

Lloyd Domeier
Crew Chief NASA 714
S/N 6110
Model L-300
Was N4141A with Lockheed
Became N714NA with NASA
Had about 425 hours when NASA bought it
Total hours now 13,500

The day after the above info was posted this email arrived from James Mills:

I was the Avionics technician on the KAO from 1990 till it was de-commissioned in 1995.

From the time I got on board till the final flight, I took care of all the electronics, from the Bendix color radar to the T-Tail light, I did all Avionics.

I found out during the first Air Force Depot visit that MAC was not doing what NASA wanted when it came to the L300 avionics maintenance. On depot visits, I would sign a waiver during the pre-dock meeting that stopped all the scheduled avionics inspections and repairs. During the time in depot, I would order antennas and control panels as required and try to get the parts that NASA could not get due to our low priority in the Air Force system.

During non depot periods I had great service from the Travis Air Force Base maintenance supply system. We would call ahead for an AOG (Aircraft on Ground) part, then fly or drive to Travis and pick it up. We saved many a flight due to the fast actions of the men and at Travis and MAC.

Whenever we were on the road for oversea missions, the MAC C-141 supply system would deliver our parts to where ever we were if possible. This was especially true in Christchurch, New Zealand or Hickam AFB in Hawaii.

If we were away from a US base of operations then we would use air freight. Lloyd Domeier was without a doubt a great crew chief. He knew the plane so well that my job was easier when he was on the crew. He was not above changing brakes or tires or other dirty jobs.

Our crew was composed of three permanent mechanics and one avionics tech with one instrumentation tech for the telescope system. The Telescope and data acquisition and management system was contracted out to a subsidiary of Northrop and a Silicon Valley software company.

The KAO was de-commissioned to make way for the 747 version IR observatory which should have been airborne in 1998. It has been in construction since 1997. It may fly in 2006. NASA may7 get to restart IR observatory flights in 2007.

I love the C141 website! I have a few C-141A stories that I will share when I get a chance.

After years of working on research F-18s and F-15s, I am currently working on C-17's for a research program here at Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB.

Keep up the great work.

Jim Mills

These are some links to pages and photos about this activity.

NASA book
Partners in Freedom

Full book can be downloaded in PDF form
from this link
(It's 57mb, so you better
have a fast connection for this one!!!)

C-141 Kuiper Observatory
cabin interior with experimentors

Lloyd Domeier's 714 Page

2004 Blog 2005 Blog
2006 Blog 2007 Blog
2008 Blog 2009 Blog
2010 Blog 2011 Blog
2012 Blog 2013 Blog
2014 Blog 2015 Blog
2018 Blog

Copyright © 2004 - 2024