ATLANTA — Pilots will team up with eclipse chasers in August for special flights above the clouds as a rare solar eclipse blazes a trail across the United States from the Pacific waters to the Atlantic coastline.
The eclipse’s line of totality on August 21 will be visible beginning over Oregon’s coast and continuing in a diagonal 73 mile-wide path to the South Carolina coast during a 93 minute period. It is along this route which has photographers and astronomers eager to board a special eclipse flight.
Private pilots have already begun preparing detailed flight plan as they prepare to go up with an astronomer or photographer to capture the sights as our moon passes directly before the Sun. This will be the first solar eclipse exclusive to the majority of the United States in 99 years, and millions are preparing to document the event high above the dust and possible clouds for a unique view.
“A full eclipse is a rare event, and I hope to get a rare view of it from a small plane,” said Andrew Kalat, a private pilot and aviation photographer from Atlanta. “Flying two miles above the surface will hopefully give me a very interesting view of the moon’s shadow as it moves across the earth.”
Andy’s flight plan will provide him with only three or four minutes of eclipse totality as he soars southeast over the last 55 miles of Tennessee. He adds that his Cessna is not a stable platform for direct photography of the eclipse, and will instead capture the sights of the celestial event using multiple camera in a unique way.
“I look forward to very quickly flying from day to night and back to day again,” Kalat explained. “To capture and share this, I plan to video with an aircraft mounted GoPro, and capture still images with a digital SLR. I’m going to focus more on capturing interesting images of the ground during the eclipse.”
He is not alone. Many pilots are working with airports along the path of totality to prepare their own flight plans for special charters in what maybe a busy, narrow path — including one commercial airliner.
Of the major commercial airlines, Alaska Airlines has announced they will fly a private charter of invited guests and VIP’s off the Oregon coastline providing the first views of the eclipse from an altitude of seven miles. Alaska has organized trips like this in the past too.
“As an airline, we are in a unique position to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for astronomy enthusiasts,” Alaska Airlines vice president of marketing Sangita Woerner states. “Flying high above the Pacific Ocean will not only provide one of the first views, but also one of the best.”
In addition to flying during the eclipse, many eclipse chasers will charter private aircraft to fly into airfields along the arc of totality. A few pilots confirmed to Avgeekery that if the weather is overcast, they can quickly take-off and relocate to an airfield with clearer visability.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)