Pilots planning to view the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse as it tracks across the country from Oregon to South Carolina are in the final stages of gearing up for the celestial phenomenon. For aviators without a plan—or an airplane—there is still hope.
Weather watchers are combing meteorological charts to determine the best locations to view the event. Several general aviation airports along the 70-mile-wide cross-country swath of totality have established arrival procedures to help combat the expected crowds; motels have been booked for months; and transportation department officials are predicting an “onslaught” of motorists seeking vantage points.
Depending on sky conditions, pilots should be in the best position to move around the country because most of the United States will experience at least a partial solar eclipse. Pilots worried about violating any of the federal aviation regulations when the sun’s illumination briefly disappears should not fear. Flying in the daytime darkness does not qualify as night flying, according to AOPA Pilot Information Center specialist Paul Feldmeyer.
The event begins when the moon slides in front of the sun at 10:16 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time near Oregon’s Siletz Bay State Airport. Three time zones later, the Great American Eclipse exits the country at 2:48 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time near South Carolina’s Mt. Pleasant Regional-Faison Field Airport, throwing parts of 14 states into total daytime darkness along the way. Approximately 12 million people live along the band of totality, and some 25 million reside within a day’s drive. The entire event lasts one hour, 33 minutes.
Pilots planning a trip to an airport along the eclipse’s path of totality should definitely plan ahead, said central Oregon pilot John Alexander. He reminded pilots that proper fuel planning is a must because many airfields might be at capacity and a diversion could threaten on-board fuel reserves. He said a few additional steps ahead of time could help avoid unwanted adventure. Alexander recommended that pilots call ahead to make sure the airfield is open; make a flight plan and then follow it; bring plenty of food and water; seek shelter from the sun; and stay with their aircraft if they have to make an off-airport landing. Here are a few aviation hot spots along the zone of totality.
Experts from NASA are reminding eclipse viewers that looking directly at the sun is unsafe “except during the brief total phase” when the moon is directly in front of the sun illuminating just its outer corona—or atmosphere. During all other times, the space administration recommends special solar filter sunglasses or hand-held solar viewers. Officials caution that homemade filters “are not safe for looking at the sun” and may transmit “thousands of times too much sunlight.”
Many solar eyeglass suppliers have already sold out of the special glasses. There also have been recent reports of bogus protective eyewear that hasn’t passed international safety standards, so make sure your glasses comply with the ISO 12312-2 safety recommendation. An alternate method of viewing described by the American Astronomical Society shows how to make a pinhole projection of the solar eclipse, and NASA says that welder’s glass rated 12 or higher also may be used for safe viewing.
In order to capture the beginning, the middle, and the end of the solar phenomenon, professional photographers training their long lenses at the sun will be equipped with special “white light” lens filters or neutral density filters that greatly cut down on the sun’s intensity.
Fred “Mr. Eclipse” Espenak writes that a “solar corona is simply the most awe-inspiring naked-eye sight in all of nature,” and he details exactly how to photograph a solar eclipse from the beginning notch through totality. However, he warns that staring at the sun through an unprotected telephoto lens during the partial phases of an eclipse can cause permanent eye damage. Unfortunately, many online suppliers have already run out of the specialty filters, and mega-retailer Amazon alerted customers that some of the photographic filters it sold were not safe to use “as a viewing apparatus.” That is because the lens filters are designed for viewing on a camera’s LCD screen and not directly through the optical viewfinder.
Tripods are suggested to help stabilize cameras with long lenses and slow shutter speeds as the sun’s corona reveals itself in the darkness—the only time when the special filters can briefly be removed. Because the Earth rotates, photographers are also reminded to adjust the camera’s angle of view during the phenomenon.
Mendenhall, the Cessna pilot who reached out to Triple Tree patriarch Pat Hartness, said pilots are in a unique position. “GA gives you the freedom and flexibility to move around” for the best views. He added that as long as Mother Nature cooperates to keep skies clear, “we’ll all be OK.”
An eclipse resource page with a wealth of information is available online.