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Plan a solar eclipse fly-out

On Aug. 21, the United States will experience a total solar eclipse. It will make landfall in Oregon and move eastward throughout the day. South Carolina is the final location where it will be visible. 

Lots of pilot groups are planning fly-outs to locations where they can view the eclipse. Your flight school could jump on this opportunity to show your customers the utility of having a pilot certificate: Pilots can fly wherever we want to view something as spectacular as a solar eclipse. A fly-out to view the solar eclipse also could be a great enticement for your customers to get some unusual dual cross-country or instrument training. But planning is in order.

Where should you go? The best spots to view the eclipse are within the path of totality with clear skies. GreatAmericanEclipse.com cites these locations in particular: Madras, Oregon; Snake River Valley, Idaho; Casper, Wyoming; the Sandhills of western Nebraska; St. Joseph, Missouri; Carbondale, Illinois; Hopkinsville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Great Smokey Mountains National Park on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina; and Columbia, South Carolina.

So you can look for airports near or at those locations. But, if planning a multiple-day event that will require accommodations for a group, do call ahead. Many areas are already booked for hotel accommodations. (There’s always camping at the airport if you really want to make it an adventure.)

VFR or IFR? Will this be a VFR fly-out? If that’s the case, you’ll be subject to the whims of weather, just as on any other occasion. If, however, your CFIIs can file an instrument flight plan, your fly-out can get to the destination airport—or fly to another one if that airport has cloud cover that would hamper the viewing of an eclipse.

What about ramp space? Once you determine a destination airport, call to see if fuel, ramp space, or other services are available. There are plenty of airports within the path of totality, but they don’t all sell avgas or have restrooms. Choose your destination wisely.

Resources. AOPA has prepared a resource page https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2017/2017-solar-eclipse for pilots who want to fly to a local to view the solar eclipse. It includes an interactive map that plots of the path of the eclipse and airports along its path, plus a list of airports, some with viewing events nearby, broken out by state.

Marketing opportunities like a total solar eclipse don’t happen often. You’ll have to wait until 2024 for the next North American total solar eclipse. 

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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