Trip Preview: Visiting Palmdale to Fly on NASA’s DC-8

Last year, I was fortunate enough to fly on NASA’s airborne observatory – SOFIA – in Christchurch, New Zealand. Last month, I had a chance to experience another one of the agency’s research aircraft – Douglas DC-8.

I won’t talk much about that in this article, though. Instead, I’ll give you a brief overview of the whole trip so that you get a better idea of what articles you can expect to go live in the coming weeks.

Trip Preview: Visiting Palmdale to Fly on NASA's DC-8

Getting to Palmdale, California

Once my DC-8 flight date was confirmed, it was time to book a flight to Los Angeles – the nearest major international airport to Palmdale where the aircraft is based.

While I would have preferred to take a direct flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles and back, because of the high price, I opted for one-stop flights instead. And, since I spent the day before I needed to depart in Nagoya, I looked for flights departing either Nagoya or Osaka – a city that is closer to Nagoya than Tokyo is.

In the end, I booked an open-jaw ticket with Hong Kong Airlines for less than 60,000 yen (550 dollars) that fit my needs almost perfectly (except for a long transfer in Hong Kong on the way back).

Hong Kong Airlines A350

It also gave me a chance to try three different aircraft types operated by (what now seems to be troubled) airline.

The itinerary was as follows:

  • Osaka Kansai – Hong Kong (Airbus A330-300)
  • Hong Kong – Los Angeles (Airbus A350-900)
  • Los Angeles – Hong Kong (Airbus A350-900)
  • Hong Kong – Tokyo Narita (Airbus A320-200)

From Los Angeles to Palmdale and back, I took the fairly comfortable but infrequent Metrolink train.

Metrolink Train

Booking the Hotels

For my stay in Palmdale, I went with the cheapest reasonably-looking option – Ramada by Wyndham. I booked it through for about 70 dollars per night. Given that it also earned me “nights” into the booking site’s loyalty program, the actual cost was about 10% less than that.

Ramada Palmdale

I will not be writing a full review of the hotel. However, if you are looking for a cheap accommodation in Palmdale, I wouldn’t hesitate considering the Ramada as an option.

While it’s got quite a few bad reviews, my stay was actually quite pleasant – and nothing like what some of the reviews describe the hotel to be. Plus, the hotel is just a ten minute walk from an In-n-Out Burger!


Besides the four nights in Palmdale, I also had to book a night somewhere near Kansai airport. As my flight was departing around 7AM, I decided to try the airport’s (kind of) capsule hotel – First Cabin.

As it’s not a “real” hotel, Japanese law prohibits the rooms at First Cabin to have doors. Still, it provided a decent place to get some sleep just a short walk from the terminal.

More about the hotel in a full review I will be posting later, though.

NASA Armstrong Building 703

The main – and more or less only – reason of my visit to Palmdale was to cover NASA’s Douglas DC-8. The aircraft is equipped with a variety of probes and instruments, and studies the weather among other things.

I was lucky to not only be able to see the aircraft, but also fly on it during one of its missions. The flight departed from and landed back in Palmdale, and it took about nine-and-a-half hours.


Besides that, I was also able to take a tour of NASA Armstrong Building 703 which is home to both the DC-8 as well as a variety of other research aircraft operated by NASA. That includes the airborne observatory, SOFIA, that I had a chance to fly on last year.

I will be writing a series of articles about both the hangar – Building 703 – itself, as well as about the Douglas DC-8 and the mission I had was able to observe.

Stay Tuned!

Because of the timing of my flights, I was not able to visit any lounges or try any Priority Pass restaurants during this trip. However, I was able to sample Hong Kong Airlines across three different types in their fleet.

And so, I will be reviewing three of those flights (I will skip reviewing the Los Angeles – Hong Kong flight).  I will also post a detailed review of First Cabin which offers an affordable place to sleep before an early flight out of Kansai airport.

Of course, I will be writing about the NASA visit in great detail as well – in fact, that’s something I am looking forward to the most.

So, stay tuned!

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