AOPA Members DO more LEARN more SAVE more - Get MORE out of being a pilot - CLICK HERE

Lights out at Triple Tree

Hundreds fly in for total solar eclipse

Approaching Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina, a controller’s voice directing aircraft from Enoree—a small town east of the field that’s the last point on the published approach—to the downwind for Runway 3 was as welcoming as her words, “Welcome to Triple Tree.” The private aerodrome, made famous by its 7,000-foot-long-by-400-foot-wide manicured grass strip, camping facilities, and southern hospitality, opened its runway for total solar eclipse viewers Aug. 20 through 22.

  • Hundreds of aircraft line up at the Triple Tree Aerodrome in advance of the solar eclipse. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Christopher Eads.
  • Photo by Alyssa Miller.

A notice on the aerodrome’s website warned that the airfield wouldn’t be controlled because of the demand the eclipse has placed on air traffic controllers in the southeast who normally volunteer to staff the tower during its other fly-ins throughout the year. Pilots were instructed to fly the procedure and then self-announce at the airport.

However, a group of Cardinal pilots received permission to fly in on Aug. 19 as long as they volunteered to help during the event. That’s just what people do at Triple Tree—they volunteer to help in any capacity to make everyone’s visit enjoyable. So, the Cardinal pilots took turns providing advisories from the tower for the hundreds who flew in and out Sunday and Monday.

Curtis Berry flew his Cardinal from Hagerstown, Maryland, for the event and worked in the tower for two days. “It was a lot of fun,” Berry said, “Everybody seemed to follow the procedure inbound.

Until the total eclipse arrives over Triple Tree, spectators line up in the pilot lounge pavilion to snag some shade and watch the other main event--pilots' approach and landing at the 7,000-foot-long manicured turf strip. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

“From the tower, you can see the white tower [checkpoint] at Enoree,” he said, as he pointed out two aircraft on the arrival segment. They use binoculars, he said, to determine if the aircraft are high or low winged. Berry has volunteered to help at Triple Tree’s fly-in events in the past, but the job from the other side of the mic gave him a new perspective on the event.

“Oh there’s a lot to this,” he said, “It’s a well-organized thing. We’ll see how it goes leaving.” Berry finished his tower duties by mid-day Monday and planned to fly out after the eclipse, along with several hundred of the pilots who flew in just for the solar event.

Casey Matthews and his wife Nicol flew their neighbors Wayne and Cheryl Sherrill to Triple Tree in a Maule with a flight of four that included another Maule, a Decathlon, and a Warrior, and set up in the shade under the wing to wait for the eclipse.

Wayne and Cheryl Sherrill (left) get a taste of relaxing at Triple Tree Aerodrome after flying in with their neighbors Nicol and Casey Matthews in a Maule.

“This is one of the cool spots for it,” Casey said.

“We knew we’d be away from the trees in the open,” he said, adding, “and there’s airplanes here.” Casey and his wife are based at Lincoln County, South Carolina, just a 30-minute fight north of Triple Tree, and have camped here multiple times. It proved to be an unbelievable introduction to the general aviation culture for their neighbors.

“It’s way cool,” Wayne exclaimed, his wife dubbing it “amazing.”

“It’s better than sitting in traffic on 85!” Casey added.

Because attendees were gathered for the common purpose of watching the solar eclipse, actual talk of the eclipse waned until 1:10 p.m. when the moon began to cover a little sliver of the sun. Until then, perhaps the number one question was, “Is this your first time to Triple Tree?”

Spectators lay out on a hill overlooking the runway, but they aren't interested in watching landings. They have their protected eyes fixed on the solar eclipse. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

That’s because, at Triple Tree, there are only two types of pilots—first timers and returning veterans who have come to love and anticipate a relaxing few days camping under their aircraft wing, fishing, hiking, making new friends, and drinking in the first-class southern hospitality.

As the eclipse progressed, a few straggling aircraft coming in to land competed for attendees’ notice as young and old alike turned their gaze skyward to watch the moon start its slow march across the sun. At the point of totality, with only a bright ring showing around the sun, the crowd cheered as they looked up, the few clouds in the sky giving a hint of a sunset mid-day. As the sun reappeared, another cheer preceded the onslaught of rumbling engines as dozens of aircraft seemed to start up in unison for a mass exodus.

Diehard Triple Tree fans stayed put to watch the departures and head to a barbecue dinner and one more night of camping before returning to their everyday lives.

Those who’ve never been or who didn’t get the opportunity to experience Triple Tree during the solar eclipse don’t have to wait for another natural phenomenon to stop in.

“Hey Dale, see ya in two weeks!” one attendee exclaimed to his friend in the hot afternoon sun. Triple Tree will open its runway again Sept. 6 through 10 for its annual GA fly-in.

Pilots lined up to leave immediately after the solar eclipse, and many were still in line to leave two hours after the phenomenon. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media
AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media, Alyssa J. Cobb began working at AOPA in 2004, is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: Events, U.S. Travel

Related Articles