To the Path of Totality

Update: This story appeared in the Nov. 2017 issue of Comanche Flyer magazine.

Wow! What a memorable experience. We were fortunate to be able to fly to the path of totality to experience the total eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017.

Bob’s short video of our eclipse adventure:

We planned to fly there in our Piper Twin Comanche, N8475Y. Bob did quite a bit of planning for this trip. As a pilot, he’s a first-rate planner, and he bought eclipse-viewing glasses for all of us quite early — no problem. Weather was a big factor, of course, as we wanted to avoid any areas that had storms in the forecast. As we got closer to the day, it was obvious that all hotel rooms in the path of totality were either totally booked up, or were now priced at $1000-2000 per room, per night. Yowzer!

Another factor was the airports. Bob called many regional airports in the path, and was told that no reservations were possible; it’s first-come-first-served. Eek!

Our dear friends Tom & June were adventurous enough to come along on this, um, flexible journey, as we weren’t 100% sure of anything.

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Top to bottom: Blue Ridge Mountains; N8465Y at Hickory; en route

We decided to fly down to a point close to the path of totality, and we selected Hickory, NC. What a great choice! We flew down Sunday, the day before, and were delighted with the warm and friendly atmosphere at the Hickory Regional Airport. “Southern hospitality” is alive and well and on full display at this terrific airport. The restaurant there gets great reviews, but alas, it’s not open on Sundays.

The airport folks loaned us a crew car, and we enjoyed a lovely day in Hickory. We particularly liked the aviation museum on the field at Hickory Airport. It’s free, and we were more than happy to make a donation, as the museum is currently working on getting a hangar for its collection of aircraft from an F-4 to an A-6. Tom had flown A-6s while in the Navy, and it was fun to see one at the museum.

We overnighted in Hickory, at the very reasonably-priced Days Inn, close to the airport. Up early the next morning — to the airplane, and up in the air to cross over to South Carolina, about a 30-minute flight (100 miles) to the path of totality.

We first contacted the airport at Clemson — and were shocked to hear that all the spots are reserved (after having been told that it didn’t accept reservations!). Next target, Pickens — sorry, no room on the ramp. We weren’t panicked yet, but it’s not looking good. Next, we went to “Plan C” — Bob contacted Anderson Regional Airport and got a green light, yay! We landed at Anderson, which was totally ready for an onslaught of traffic. Marshals on the ground pointed the way, and we followed a truck with a huge sign, “Follow Me.” We did.

They parked us in an area that looked like an unused runway — plenty of room, and the planes kept arriving. I asked the marshal when was the last time they had so many aircraft expected, and he said, “Never.” It truly was a historic day, and we were glad to be part of it.

The Hickory Airport that day was hosting an event for a Cirrus pilots’ club — COPA — and we were surrounded by enthusiastic pilots, friends and family. What a great, collegial atmosphere. We set up our camp chairs, brought out a picnic lunch, and sat in the shade in a roomy hangar, as it was plenty hot that day. A pair of scientists with professional-looking telescopes and cameras were set up near us; they were very generous with their equipment and knowledge and shared both with us.

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Clockwise, from top: Approaching totality at Anderson; eclipse seen through telescope; a fat cloud sitting between us and the eclipse

As the moon began to move over the sun, excitement built. We walked out to look up (with our special glasses) at the sun. As the moon covered more and more of the sun, the temperature dropped and the light became somewhat strange. I said, “The light looks like that moment in the horror film when the people first realize something terrible is about to happen.” The scientists looked amused.

As it got really, truly dark, we saw that streetlights had come on, and the airport beacon had come on. Temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees; it was quite comfortable. Alas, a big cloud covered the sun just at the wrong moment … but I WAS able to glimpse the “diamond ring.” You can see it in Bob’s short video of our eclipse adventure. The totality lasted about 2+ minutes — most memorable.

Just as quickly as it had darkened, the skies brightened. A group of skydivers had jumped during totality and were floating back down to land at the airport. Private aircraft began moving out; we enjoyed the “parade” of various types of airplanes — Cirrus (of course), Mooney, Navion, Cessna, Beech, Piper, and several small jets.

We returned to Hickory for another overnight. Bob (looking at our onboard GPS) was amused to see a large number of aircraft headed back up north. We were glad we were in the air and not on the ground, stuck in traffic!

Many thanks to the wonderful folks at both Hickory Airport and Anderson Airport — they were all amazingly warm, friendly, and helpful. We had such a great adventure … we are contemplating destinations for the next total eclipse in 2024.

Look for us on Instagram: #N8475Y. 

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