Watching a Solar Eclipse from 37,000 ft

  • Mar 9, 2016 1:48pm GMT

It's a once in a lifetime flight experience on Alaska Airlines Flight 870. Astronomers and solar eclipse enthusiasts known as "eclipse chasers boarded the flight from Anchorage to Honolulu to watch a two minute phenomenon at 37,000 ft. Special filtered glasses provided by Dan McGlaun were handed out to everybody on the plane, so they can watch the sun during all phases of the eclipse. (During the nearly two minutes of “totality,” McGlaun says it’s safe to take off the glasses and watch.)

A year ago Joe Rao, an associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium discovered that Alaska Airlines Flight 870 from Anchorage to Honolulu would intersect the “path of totality” – the darkest shadow of the moon as it passes over the Earth. After his discovery he contacted Alaska Airlines and they were able to make this happen on Mar 8, 2016. Due to the timing of the event Alaska even scheduled the departure 25 minutes later than the original time so that everyone could get a great look at the rare sight at the high altitude.

Before the trip lots of flight planning went into place working with Air traffic control and dispatch everything to go right. According to Alaska Airlines forum, "Flying 530 mph at 37,000 feet, Alaska Flight 870 intercepted the eclipse 695 miles north of Honolulu.

Captain Hal Andersen also coordinated with Oceanic Air Traffic Control, to make them aware that the flight might require a few more tactical changes then normal.

“The key to success here is meeting some very tight time constraints – specific latitudes and longitudes over the ocean,” Andersen said. “With the flight management computer, it’s a pretty easy challenge, but it’s something we need to pay very close attention to. We don’t want to be too far ahead or too far behind schedule.”

People from all over the world traveled to Anchorage to experience the eclipse and Mike Kentrianakis/American Astronomical Society claims "Since they’re flying from the 49th state to the 50th state, Kentrianakis calls this the “almost-Great American Eclipse.” It’s a sneak preview of “The Great American Eclipse” next year – Aug. 21, 2017 – which will be the first total solar eclipse to sweep across the entire United States since 1918. It’s expected to be one of the biggest news stories of 2017.

For more details and comments by people onboard the flight visit Alaska Airlines Blog. Photo by Rachael C. & Sofia S. and Dan McGlaun. Video by Mike Kentrianakis/American Astronomical Society.