On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the continental United States for the first time since 1918. Astronomers are calling it the Great American Eclipse. Beginning at 10:15 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on the Oregon coast and heading east like an accelerated sunset-in-reverse, what’s known as the path of totality will cut a 60-mile-wide arc across Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, and Tennessee before crossing the South Carolina coast an hour and a half later.
Within this arc, the moon will pass before the sun, and day will suddenly become night. Temperatures will drop, birds will stop singing, and stars will become visible. Solar astronomers stationed at strategic locations at the center of the arc, where totality will last about two-and-a-half minutes, will scramble to collect as much data as possible about the sun’s usually hidden outer atmosphere. Although a total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about every 18 months, at any given spot it’s a rare thing, and nothing like a partial eclipse. That’s because the sun is so bright that even when 99 percent of it is covered by the moon, the remaining 1 percent is bright enough to keep the sky blue. During a total solar eclipse, the daytime sky darkens by a factor of 1 million.
The Great American Eclipse website has interactive maps and an app that shows special eclipse events across the country, which can help you plan where to fly. Even if you just land, tie down, watch, and fly home, airports generally offer wide views of the sky above. Call the fixed-base operator to make arrangements. If instead you are airborne in clear skies during the event, you will see the moon’s shadow race across the landscape from west to east at nearly 3,000 mph! Below are some suggested airports and events along the path of totality.
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 can also share their solar eclipse viewing tips and destination ideas in the AOPA Hangar.