When the Lights Went Out

When the Lights Went Out

“Want to fly with me to see the total eclipse?”

The text from friend and M2 owner Larry King seemed simple enough. Since the viewing percentage in the Dallas area would be only 70 percent, why not take the airplane to a location where we could experience what many had not seen for nearly 100 years?

“Larry, are you sure we can’t just pull the plane out of the hangar, climb in the cockpit, and tell our pilot friends we saw the total eclipse?” I asked. “No, he texted back. I want to see this for myself.”

As Aug. 21 approached, we checked the weather and cloud cover forecasts daily. Finally, on the 20th, the decision was to go to the Nashville area and KMQY (Smyrna, Tennessee). An 0800 departure would allow adequate time to get a good parking place at Contour FBO. After calling ahead to secure a spot, off we went.

At FL390 truing 394 knots in ISA +2 temperatures and burning 390 pounds per side, all was relatively quiet. During the descent, however, the MFD began to fill with numerous targets. A lot of folks were headed to Tennessee.

“Nashville approach, November-9-2-1-X-ray-Tango would like the ILS to 32,” I requested. “Negative X-ray-Tango, expect the visual. I don’t have time for anything else. We’ve got 100 airplanes inbound in the next hour,” replied a harried controller.

The ramp was bustling, but Contour was fast and efficient. We were fueled and towed next to a Premier within minutes. The entire scene was like an aviation Woodstock. Two elderly women were wearing identical “I did the 2017 Total Eclipse” silk blouses. The pilot of a Citation CJ deplaned with a welder’s mask around his head. The FBO waiting area reminded me of the pilot’s lounge at a NASCAR event. People gathered everywhere. Under the giant wing of a Falcon 2000, pampered passengers sat in folding chairs around catered platters of shrimp and chardonnay. Larry’s son Taylor called Uber to get some fast food.

Apparently, the King congregation was on a budget.

I donned my special glasses as totality neared. “Those are cool specs,” a wily corporate pilot commented. He had no glasses but within two minutes had convinced Judy King to give him a pair. Later, he conned another lady out of half her club sandwich.

Corporate pilots are industrious.

Eight Air Force jocks flying two Beechjet trainers decided to land and watch the festivities. Now we had a party. Two slightly intoxicated ladies asked the pilots if the eclipse would affect their instruments. “Do you remember the film Airplane,” someone asked. Everyone began to giggle as they pictured the movie’s cockpit scenes. “I hear you weigh less during an eclipse too,” laughed one woman. She looked pleased to think she was about to become lighter.

Soon, hundreds gathered on the ramp with cameras ready as we counted down the seconds to totality. The temperature dropped more 10 degrees. As the last sliver of light slipped away, you could hear a gasp then cheers from the crowd. It was eerily dark. Landing lights from the runways were clearly visible. For the first time in my life, I could look directly at the sun. And for one minute and 58 seconds, we stood in awe of nature.

Fly safe.

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