Our Great American Eclipse Alaska Airlines Flight

by RCA Member Teela Bright

The day started out early as I woke up around 3:00 am, thinking of my incredible luck in having my name drawn by RCA for such a spectacular event — reviewing in my mind the smiles and amazing support I have had from RCA, knowing in my heart that they would all be with me during this flight, and then some — and knowing I have been blessed with perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see something so amazing and beautiful.

Getting to the airport was easy enough: amazingly there was no traffic. My husband Dustin and I were surprised, because of the rumors that intense amounts of traffic would bringing hoards of onlookers to Oregon. We arrived at the airport on time, and had a special line and an expedited security check for the Eclipse passengers at the Alaska Airlines terminal. Excitement filled the air.

The terminal itself was in celebration. There was a blue and green Voodoo Donut display on the wall; a guitarist strumming away a melody in the corner; food, coffee, and people talking to each other. Lots of news people, cameras, equipment, and a press release to sign. While waiting for the plane, my husband and were both interviewed as our anticipation was building. The Legendary Alaska Airlines Eclipse Flight was waiting for us and our hearts smiled.

When it got time to board, it was like walking into a dream. The plane itself was about half full, leaving room for movement and unobstructed sight of the miracle about to take place. The flight itself was beautifully planned in a mathematically intricate way to assure that the passengers got the best experience possible: from the angle on the sun that would hit the window, to the plane speed, the amazing height of 38000 feet, the speed of the eclipse, the wind-speed, and the incredible hospitality that was beyond phenomenal.

When we got to our seat there was a gift bag with plastic eclipse glasses, a travel case, alcoholic chocolates, and a champagne cocktail mixer with elderberry syrup for the post eclipse toast. We also had free internet if we wanted to use it to listen watch Startalk or other space oriented programs, but we opted out, with just wanting the full experience.

Photo: Alaska Airlines

The flight lifted off at 7:00 am, and the view from the window was beautiful. The sun rising up, illuminating the clouds in the valleys around the volcanoes and mountains. The patchwork of farmers’ fields and forest below creating a tapestry of wonder, and the increasingly blue sky above us. As we approached the ocean the tapestry of greens and browns below were replaced with a soft cottony white of ripples and waves of clouds, and an occasional break of blue ocean below.

On board were guest speakers and helpers on making this flight a reality: astronaut Dr Michael Barratt [speaker at our October 2016 General Meeting], meteorologist and eclipse chaser extraordinaire Joe Rao, astronomer turned planetary scientist Dr. Tanya Harrison, astrophysicist Dr. Evgenya Shkolnik, retired high-school teacher and published astrophotographer Dennis Cassia, and last — but not least — Dr. Stan Gedzelman, professor at City College of New York, author, and research specialist in atmospheric optical phenomena. It was amazing to hear the experiences they had to share and their journey putting this flight together for optimal results.

Alaska Flight #9671

After the stories and the time was getting close, and as the moon started taking a bite out of the sun, the flight was on its way to perfect the viewing angle for the totality. The clouds started getting a soft blue and lavender rainbow effect in layers. Most could not see the sun yet, but I was able to look out at it with my head cocked and face pressed against the window just right. It was starting: the first bite out of the sun.

The atmosphere was changing to soft pastels and the sky slowly darkened as we approached the appointed spot. The ocean below was hardly visible as the blue sky turned a deeper blue. The moonshadow was coming from the other side of the plane, but the clouds were becoming deeper with blues, purples and magentas. The sky was not black or starry, but a deep blue gray. The sun was rising into the perfect location, as the pilot tilted the plane to meet it.

The dance of sun, moon, and earth aligned in a brief perfect moment, which somehow also felt like an eternal moment. As the moon lovingly embraced/ate the sun, the sky suddenly came alive. The glints around the sun shot like sparks from a diamond. Then two hot pink dots appeared on top, and stayed there like glowing angels waiting on the diamond ring of God.

Then it happened: the white ring exploded in the sky like a blooming fire of creation. Simultaneously long filaments struck out from the sun in a perfect triangle of dancing light: one filament pointing down and two others reaching out from the upper left and right of the sun. For just a moment a celestial trillium — the flower of trinity and beauty — blessed the heavens.

Author Teela Bright and her husband Dustin

The plane was filled with the sounds of awe and amazement, while my husband and I pressed our heads together looking out the window and felt intensely grateful to be alive experiencing such a moment. We were too high up to see some of the effects (I was looking for the atmospheric shadow snakes, however none came) but the splendor of our location and our closeness to this miraculous celestial dance were beyond our greatest dreams of what we would see.

The whole plane did a champagne toast and everyone spoke happily at the perfection of the flight. Our flight back to land was mostly stories, interviews, and merry making. This is a flight that will last a lifetime for those on board, and hopefully now also to those who shared the experience from these words. I know people were immensely blessed on the ground with mostly clear skies, and perhaps we can share our stories as time moves on to keep the splendor of the event alive and active in our hearts.