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Total solar eclipse longest at Carbondale, Illinois, airportTotal solar eclipse longest at Carbondale, Illinois, airport

Sun gazers at Southern Illinois Airport in Carbondale will have an advantage over hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of total solar eclipse viewers when the moon slides in front of the sun for two minutes, 40 seconds. The airport near Southern Illinois University (SIU) will boast the greatest point of duration for an airfield, according to Airport Manager Gary Shafer, who is busily preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime event.

This image of the moon crossing in front of the sun was captured on Jan. 30, 2014, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory observing an eclipse from its vantage point in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Only the hamlet of Makanda—a dot on the sectional chart a few miles due south of the airport—will be in the dark another second or so. Just about everyone else watching in 12 states from Oregon to South Carolina along the estimated 70-mile-wide arc will experience less time in the moon’s shadow.

The sprawling airport facility is an ideal location to view the eclipse because of its unobstructed sky view, explained Shafer, who was enthusiastic that visitors would enjoy the wide-open camping area and plenty of things nearby to see and do. The airport is the university’s home base, and there are solar fests, shadow fests, and music fests planned for the weekend.

“We’re the airport closest to the point of longest duration so we’ll be dark the longest in Carbondale,” Shafer told AOPA by telephone in July. “As a result, it’s been a focal point for a lot of activities and we anticipate a large number of aircraft flying in.”

With one north-south runway exceeding 6,500 feet in length; a 4,100-foot-long parallel runway; a 3,500-foot-long crossing runway; and a massive ramp, there’s no shortage of space at Southern Illinois. “Folks can camp and we’ve already had a half dozen people reserve sites under their aircraft’s wings. We have a grass area for pilots and RV parking for those who want to drive in.”

Shafer had to estimate the quantity of water and food needed to hydrate and feed aviators, so he set up a survey on the airport’s home page and is encouraging participation. “It’s working well so far but we’re concerned that some folks won’t let us know they are coming and we don’t want to be overwhelmed,” he added. “We can easily accommodate a plan for 400 airplanes and we’re in about the 80-90 airplane range.”

This screenshot of a solar eclipse graphic provided by Google and NASA shows the duration of the eclipse near Carbondale, Illinois. Photo courtesy NASA and Google.

The Carbondale Eclipse event features a variety of entertainment options ranging from the Crossroads Astronomy, Science, and Technology Expo to the Eclipse Comic Con. An online schedule posted on the Carbondale Eclipse website advised that noted astronomy radio host Matt Kaplan of Planetary Radio would broadcast live from the university’s Saluki Stadium and “be on hand for a unique guided eclipse experience.”

Tribute bands to Fleetwood Mac, Green Day, and U2 are on tap. Plus, the comedy film Space Balls will be screened during the school’s Varsity Cool Eclipse Weekend. SIU students are infamous for their ability to embrace a party atmosphere—no matter the location or the subject. (Playboy recognized the university for years as one of the magazine’s Top 10 party schools when such things were highly prized.)

Families looking for entertainment options also are in luck. They can visit the Family Fun Zone for crafts, giveaways, and G-rated music choices; some events are free while others have a nominal fee.

“The festival atmosphere is all weekend long,” Shafer explained. “It’s pretty big and is capturing a lot of attention. A New York Times article on the eclipse might have jump-started plans for a lot of people. There’s definitely been an uptick since that article was published.”

Shafer said pilots would see “a pretty organized group of people” that could usher aircraft and their pilots into a tiedown “rather quickly.” Volunteers and staff will greet visiting pilots with complimentary bottles of water, and a catering plan is well under way.

“We’re going to have food offered to everybody, with a suggested donation $2.40, which is the solar eclipse time over the airport,” Shafer noted. “Otherwise, food is free. We’ll be cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for everybody and it looks like the crush of people will be here Monday.” Merchandise folks will sell solar eclipse products that are souvenir-logoed to support the airport.

One organizer expected Carbondale’s normal population of 26,000 would swell to about double and take on the feel of New Year’s Eve at New York’s Times Square. In a city that is known to embrace festivities Shafer said, “This is probably the biggest party, ever.”

AOPA has created a resource page for pilots who want to fly to a location to view the solar eclipse. View an interactive map that plots the path of the eclipse and airports along its path, plus a list of airports (some with viewing events nearby) broken out by state. As more stories of events and viewing tips emerge, AOPA will continue to add to the resource page. Pilots also can share their solar eclipse viewing tips and destination ideas in the AOPA Hangar.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: US Travel

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