Endeavour’s farewell flight over Santa Barbara

Californians from Sacramento to Disneyland were treated to a rare treat today as the Space Shuttle Endeavour made its farewell flight from Edwards AFB to LAX by way of a scenic tour above the Golden State at low altitudes. NASA provided some advance clues to residents of both the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin, giving approximate flyover times and locations. However, the space agency did not publish any information on the route Endeavour, her Boeing 747 piggyback partner and accompanying F-18 Hornet “mission support aircraft” would use to get from NorCal to SoCal.

Not wanting to miss the spectacle if an inland route was chosen, I decided that Santa Ynez Peak would give me the best chance of catching a glimpse of the formation whether it took a coastal or inland valley track. Monitoring air traffic control and amateur radio frequencies provided some advance warning from pilots and ground spotters but it wasn’t until I saw the duo’s noses peering through the mist that I knew I for sure I had scouted a good vantage point. I snapped these images at around 11:36 AM PDT (18:36 UTC) from my perch at about 4,300 feet above sea level. The aircraft were reported to be flying at an altitude of 8,000 feet, which would have been just under 4,000 feet above my elevation. In a couple of the photos you can see parts of the the many antenna support structures located at the peak.

The flyover itself was visible to the naked eye for less than five minutes and tracked mostly along the 101 Freeway and the shoreline. The below map is my estimation of the flight path imposed on a Google Map.

The photos in the gallery were taken with a 300mm Canon zoom lens using my Canon EOS 50D.

Endeavour was commissioned to be built by NASA in 1987 following the loss of Challenger (OV-099) in the now-famous catastrophic failure that doomed Shuttle flight STS-51L. As the newest Space Shuttle in NASA’s fleet, Endeavour carried the highest numerical oribiter designation OV-105. In her 19 years of service, Endeavour made 25 flights into orbit, allowing astronauts, among other things, to service the Hubble Space Telescope, construct the International Space Station (ISS) and even rendezvous with the Russian Mir space station.

According to NASA, Endeavour will spend about a month at a United Airlines hanger at LAX to undergo preparations for public display before being towed through the streets to its permanent exhibit at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.