SpaceX Appears To Be Flying This Slick Looking 737

The gray-and-black airliner is turning heads and drawing outward comparisons to some of the most secretive 737s in the world.

byJoseph Trevithick|
SpaceX's new 737NG aircraft.
Airline Videos (@airlinevideos)
Share

SpaceX appears to have quietly acquired a new aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 airliner, and has painted it in an eye-catching two-tone gray and black livery. How the company might be planning to employ this aircraft is unknown, but possibilities include use as a corporate shuttle, a testbed of some kind, or both. Its paint job and potential mission has also evoked comparisons to some of the most secretive 737s on the planet – but more on that later.

The apparent SpaceX 737 has been drawing the attention of plane spotters at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) this week, as can be seen in the video below. Beyond its U.S. civil registration number, N154TS, the aircraft is devoid of any distinctive markings.

"There's a lot of people saying that the color scheme was like a black and gray version of 'Janet.' ... they were saying that the straight line, nobody really does that anymore, across the windows," Jack Sweeney told The War Zone. "Janet" (sometimes referred to as standing for "Just Another Non-Existent Terminal") refers to a contractor-operated fleet of white 737s with similar red stripe on either side of the fuselage across the window line. These aircraft are used to ferry personnel between Las Vegas' Harry Reid International Airport and the top secret U.S. military flight test center at Groom Lake, better known as Area 51, as well as other locales that support clandestine aerospace programs around America's southwest.

A Janet 737 wearing the trademark white-and-red paint scheme. Eddie Maloney via Wikimedia

Jack Sweeney is famous for his monitoring of SpaceX's aircraft using publicly available flight tracking data and posting about their movements on social media accounts under the handle ElonJet (after SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk). Musk is an outspoken critic of publicly available flight tracking data, citing privacy and safety concerns, and notably took action against the ElonJet account on X, formerly Twitter, after acquiring the social media site in 2022. Online flight tracking is something that has become an emerging national security issue for the U.S. government, too, as you can read more about here.

N154TS is technically registered to Falcon Aviation Holdings, LLC, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) public online database. However, the address of that company is exactly the same a SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Hawthorne is situated within the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area and is relatively close to LAX.

Sweeney highlighted an additional connection between the aircraft and the space company. SpaceX's other known aircraft – a Gulfstream G550/GV-SP (N272BG) and a Gulfstream G650ER/GVI (N628TS) – are registered to a similarly named company, Falcon Landing, LLC, at the same Hawthorne address. A third Gulfstream had been registered to Falcon Landing, but aircraft trust and brokerage services company TVPX is now listed as the registrant, according to Sweeney. It’s unclear whether or not SpaceX and/or Elon Musk still owns that jet.

On X, Sweeney has also noted that N154TS previously belonged to Air China, the flag carrier of the People's Republic of China, before finding its new owner. It carried the Chinese civil registration B-2671. The FAA's database says that it was re-registered as N154TS in August 2023.

Publicly available flight tracking data from ADS-B Exchange does not show any activity from N154TS between August and December 14, 2023. At that time, the 737 then appears in southwestern Louisiana, possibly operating from one of the two airports near Lake Charles. Jack Sweeney told The War Zone he had heard from another plane spotter that the jet had been seen in Brownsville, Texas, around Christmas.

Flight tracking data for N154TS from ADS-B Exchange from December 14, 2023. ADS-B Exchange

ADS-B Exchange shows N154TS traveling on January 17 from somewhere in southwestern Louisiana to Washington Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C.. Between January 18 and 19, the aircraft went from Dulles to LAX with a stop at Orlando International Airport in Florida. Just yesterday, the aircraft did a run between LAX and the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville to northeast of Los Angeles. Then there was the flight to and from LAX earlier today.

A track showing N154TS's flight to Dulles on January 17, 2024. ADS-B Exchange
N154TS heading from Dulles to LAX via Orlando on January 18. ADS-B Exchange
N154TS's run between LAX and the Southern California Logistics Airport on January 24. ADS-B Exchange

If N154TS does indeed belong to SpaceX, how the company plans to use it are unclear. There is a good possibility that the jet will serve as a corporate shuttle for SpaceX staff. Sweeney noted that SpaceX appeared to be leasing or otherwise working with Alaska Airlines to move large groups to and from LAX and Brownsville in Texas, and that N154TS could be a company-owned replacement for that service. This would also be a loose callback to the Janet mission. This type of arrangement is not all that uncommon with other major companies running shuttle air service with private fleets between key locales.

Brownsville is situated just to the west of Boca Chica, where SpaceX's Starbase spaceport is located. Starbase is notably where testing of SpaceX's Starship reusable commercial spacecraft has been taking place.

Jack Sweeney also noted that there have been some discussion about the possibility of the jet being converted for use a freighter. However, he said this seemed unlikely given the absence of any large cargo door on the side of the fuselage as is typically seen on 737 freighter conversions. The fact that the jet is already painted and presumably fitted out, makes this even more unlikely.

The video below shows the typical procedure for converting 737s into freighters, including the addition of a large cargo door on the side of the fuselage.

Sweeney also raised the possibility that N154TS could be a testbed of some kind, maybe related to SpaceX's Starlink space-based internet service. The aircraft certainly has a number of antennas visible on top of the fuselage that look to be of the types typically tied to satellite or high-frequency communications systems.

A close-up look at some of the antennas visible on top of N154TS's fuselage. Airline Videos capture Airline Videos (@airlinevideos)

The 737 could be used to test or otherwise demonstrate Starlink connectivity for use on commercial airliners and other aircraft, including ones operated by the U.S. military. SpaceX already offers Starlink options for aviation use. The company has been looking to expand Starlink coverage in other novel ways, including recently through partnerships with various cellular phone service providers around the world.

N154TS could, of course, serve in multiple roles, too.

Whatever the case, SpaceX now appears to have 737 with a slick-looking, unmistakable paint job, which will become a star amongst plane spotters and SpaceX and Elon Musk enthusiasts alike.

Oliver Parken contributed to this story.

Special thanks to Airline Videos for sharing the clip of N154TS at LAX today with us.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com

stripe