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Triple Tree invites total eclipse viewersTriple Tree invites total eclipse viewers

‘Lights Out’ event attractive for East Coasters

Atlanta pilot Mike Mendenhall began his Aug. 21 total-solar-eclipse-watching plans months ago by querying local pilots, aviation community leaders, astronomers, and school groups. The more groups he contacted, the more he realized there were many Southeastern aviators and eclipse fanatics who wanted to view the spectacle but lacked a suitable venue.

The manicured bentgrass turf runway and taxiways at Triple Tree Aerodrome are maintained with the precision of golf course greens. Photo by David Tulis.

That’s when he figured it wouldn’t hurt to call one of his favorite airfields—Woodruff, South Carolina’s Triple Tree Aerodrome—to ask if the private facility was available for sun gazers.

A phone call and a few emails got things rolling—and to Mendenhall’s amazement, big-hearted Pat Hartness, the patriarch of Triple Tree, directed staff to clear the calendar and open the airfield to pilots, aviation enthusiasts, and astronomers.

Triple Tree’s Patrick Derrick wrote Mendenhall explaining that the airfield’s highly praised facilities and non-premium camping spots would be available on a first come, first served basis—and best of all, there would be no charge for the majority of overnighters.

Organizers instead requested donations of any denomination to help maintain the area’s facilities. For those who would rather not rough it, there are a limited number of premium camping sites with electrical and water hookups that would be ideal for recreational vehicles. The premium sites have a suggested $250 donation and must be reserved in advance. Staff explained that the donations would help fund a variety of events that “ignite and expand the passion for aviation.”

Triple Tree operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and hosts the annual Joe Nall Week aircraft and radio-control aircraft fly-in, hands-on aviation workshops, and other community outreach.

The airfield with its signature 7,000-by-400-foot bentgrass landing strip, fishing pond, and wood-paneled bathrooms is strategically located along the eclipse’s path of longest duration as it makes its way toward its East Coast exit. East Coasters should find the aerodrome's manicured turf landing strip and accompanying camping facilities an inviting combination for a weekend of aviation, airplane camping, and sun gazing.

The wide-open landing area, Southern hospitality, and accompanying camping spots should be ideal for eclipse-watchers—if South Carolina’s summer weather patterns cooperate. It’s not uncommon for late afternoon thunderstorms to roll through, but evening usually brings clearing skies followed by typically calm mornings. The airfield will open Aug. 20 at 9 a.m. for fly-in arrivals, and remain open for daylight aircraft operations until Aug. 22, the day after the eclipse.

An opportunity to mingle with like-minded aviators and astronomy buffs alike presents itself the night before the eclipse with a scheduled “bring your own grilling meat” dinner for $8, which includes grills, sides, green beans, salad, and drinks. The evening’s social agenda continues with a bar at the hangar where Hartness keeps a North American Mustang, a restored Piper Cub, and dozens of RC aircraft.

For the remainder of the gathering, a chow line will be available with fixed-priced food options from an $8 breakfast to a $25 barbecue dinner after the eclipse and an additional opportunity to mingle. Meal tickets go on sale in July and will be available for advance purchase until the day before the meal.

Staff posted a note on the website indicating they “may just bring out Tempus Fugit, our fabulous TF-51, for a celebratory fly-by,” which concludes with another opportunity to belly up to the bar before heading out the next day.

Mendenhall reached out to local planetary society members and volunteer astronomers to request telescopes for nighttime viewing and to provide additional eclipse expertise. He also rallied local pilots at Earl L Small Jr Field/Stockmar Airport, his home airfield, where a classic 1939 Howard DGA-15 is hangared. “It looks like this is coming together,” he said, hinting that the U.S. Army-badged Howard might make an appearance at Triple Tree.

He planned to “absolutely fly” to Triple Tree Aerodrome in his 1977 Cessna 172 to camp out under the stars. “Aviation gives us the ability to get together for this once in a lifetime opportunity,” Mendenhall said. “It’s all about getting pilots together to have fun and to watch the eclipse together.”

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: Fly in

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