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I chased the eclipse at 41,000 feet


On the ground in Nashville, scores of people have set up folding chairs and tripods to view and capture Monday’s total solar eclipse. Thousands of feet…
On the ground in Nashville, scores of people have set up folding chairs and tripods to view and capture Monday’s total solar eclipse. Thousands of feet above the city, however, the scene is more serene.
We’ re in an eight-seater Hawker-1000, thanks to private jet charter service Victor. Captain Adam McCoy and First Mate Robert Work crafted a flight plan to chase the eclipse (like the pros) : We’ ll careen around a loop northwest of Nashville and then cut a southeasterly route towards Charleston — all at 500 mph.
Just as on Earth, the moon’s movement turns the sun into a chunky crescent, then an impossibly slim sliver as the moment of totality (1: 30 p.m. Central time) draws near.
But unlike on the ground, we can see hundreds of miles in all directions. We’ re above the clouds, so nothing obstructs the view. Well, nothing except the silly-looking glasses.
The sky grows midnight blue as dusk sets in, a sunset without a setting sun. We check ourselves, exclaiming, “It’s only early afternoon!”
McCoy and Work bank the plane back and forth, like a seesaw, for the clearest views. Our in-flight photographer, Joshua MacLeod, has affixed a solar filter to his DSLR. The best my iPhone 6 can capture is a blurry golden orb, but it’s actually a relief. In an age where social media compels us to record and share every moment, it feels luxurious to just sit and watch without the pressure of documentation.
Totality is reached above the Tennessee/Georgia border, and the crown of light is all that’s left of the sun. It’s like nightfall, and the mood is hushed.
The silence breaks when a crescent of light appears again, on the other side of the center of our universe.
We’ re not the only ones who took to the skies to view this natural phenomenon. Some flew to cities in path of the totality to watch from the ground; others joined us in the air on carefully selected commercial flights. Demand is high.
A few even had private jets chartered. In the Nashville airport before takeoff, a group from San Antonio was chowing down on biscuits, preparing for their chartered private flight. “I took a day off work for this, ” one woman said excitedly.
(An exciting option, if not exactly an accessible one: A round-trip flight like ours — which left from Teterboro in New Jersey, landed in Nashville, and then made the eclipse loop-di-loop before returning to Teterboro — might run about $20,000 divided eight ways, according to David Young, Victor’s senior vice president of North America.)
Reviewing his photos as we fly north, MacLeod discovers he couldn’ t quite capture the totality, which lasted for about one minute and 50 seconds almost directly above us.
It’s fitting, really — a sign of how ephemeral the eclipse was.
For something like this, you just had to be there.
The author was a guest of Victor.

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