Flight to Totality

rstephens’s Travelogue

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To see the Total Solar Eclipse, there will be several chartered flights over the North Atlantic. Alson Wong and I werepart of a group of 30 people with TravelQuest International which is chartering a Boeing 737-800 out of Dusseldorf.

The flight path has been planned for a couple of years to intercept the shadow of the eclipse between Scotland and Iceland over the Faroe Islands. The plane will be orientated so that the eclipsed sun will be viewable directly out the windows on the right side of the plane. The sun was 18 degrees above the horizon. This is a new airplane who’s windows should have less scratches than most. Alson and I will be in row 17, and a picture of our row on that specific airplane has been provided. I have constructed a camera platform to attach to the seat arm which will hold a computer controlled camera and a video camera. Alson and I will share viewing of the eclipse out of the window during the 3-1/2 minute eclipse. We gain almost a minute of totality over those on the Faroe Islands.

Unfortunately, although LAX seemed unconcerned that I brought enough tools in my carry-on to disassemble the airplane, the folks at Heathrow were not so amused and confiscated my crescent wrenches. That’s ok, I had a Plan B (and a Plan C). They missed the socket set…

On the flight over, we saw a wonderful Aurora Borealis near Hudson Bay, from the window of an A380 flying from LAX to London Heathrow.

The evening we arrived, we attended a pre-flight briefing for our eclipse flight tomorrow. There werebe 20 chartered flights in the area of the Faroe Islands – three from this group. Air Traffic control took over the entire operation and will be stacking the planes along the eclipse path at 1,000 foot intervals. 

Our plane took off within one minute of the scheduled departure time, and air traffic control gave our plane priority in its route to the eclipse shadow. We arrived 30 minutes early and had to circle until the shadow caught up with us. It was overcast below and the cloud bank dramatically showed the Moon’s shadow as it raced to catch up with us. The Sun was high enough that we had difficulty seeing it out the window, and viewing with binoculars was impossible – at least in our row where it was hard to get on the floor between the seats. But despite that, the eclipse was visually stunning, especially when combined with the shadow on the clouds below and the reddening on the horizon caused by the red chromosphere on the sun.

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