ECLIPSE OF THE SUN

 
In the spring of 1970 there was going to be a total eclipse of the sun that was going to be viewable in the states, on a track from the southwest, in the Gulf of Mexico, to northeast across the southern states, and exit the states  at Charleston South Carolina. The 3 networks, CBS, ABC, and NBC made a deal with the Air Force to pay for the modification of one of our C-135 aircraft (one with windows in the top of the plane, normally used to track/photograph  Air Force Missiles). The modification involved adding and connecting a tremendous number of wires and TV cameras/ equipment to the aircraft’s electrical systems. And, each net work, then  put a crew aboard to give a live report and TV viewing of the eclipse, to their particular viewing audience, all over the United states.
 
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A gaggle of ARIA"s  at Patrick AFB, Florida (1970) plus our even "weirder" planes in the back ground. We had about 20 of these Boeing 707   C135s/ KC 135s, photo planes etc. in our organization.

 
Since I was the boss of the organization, at the time, I assigned myself as the pilot to make the flight which consisted of flying the plane from Patrick up to Charleston, South Carolina climbing to 43,000 feet; a very simple flight.

 
We decided to make a practice run up there the day before the actual flight to make sure all of the modifications were valid and all of the TV equipment worked. But, they did not get the work done until late that day so we flew up there that night; as a dry run sort of thing. The only point I am making is that as I entered the plane and looked in the cargo compartment, I was aghast at all of the junk, wires, cameras, etc. they had running around back there. It was such a frightening mess that I turned away from it, nor did I even look back there the next morning as we departed for the actual flight. It was such a mess that I just gave it the old Patrick AFB, P BAR (probably, be all right) and charged ahead.

 
We did have one rather famous reporter on board from ABC, by the name of Jules Bergman, who turned out to be total a pain in the ass. Other than that, the flight could not have been more simple. The weather was good, we made an on time take off early the next morning and headed to Charleston, climbing to 43,000 feet. The reason for being so high was that they wanted us to be as far above any haze or clouds as possible. The track we flew was up the Florida coast, to Jacksonville, out over the ocean until southeast of Charleston, then headed northwest so as to be over Charleston at the precise time of the broadcast; with Charleston selected because it was squarely in the path of the shadow of the eclipse as it raced across the southeast United States. Unfortunately we encountered a deck of high level clouds just as we were approaching Charleston and were just skimming through the tops of them, making me think I was going to have to request a higher altitude to stay in the clear (which I did not want to do because it might have meant having to go to 47,000 for Air Traffic Control requirements and that old girl did not have a lot left over even at 43,000 feet). Fortunately, however, the clouds lowered a little as we closed in on Charleston and I could stay in the clear just above the clouds and still hold my assigned 43,000 feet. From then on it was just flying straight and level until the event was over.  --- From my point of view in the cockpit, however, it was very impressive.---- We were heading northwest, 90 degrees to the path of the shadow going northeast. It was all very normal as I looked to the southwest but then in the distance I could see the cloud tops looking less white, then they seemed to start turning brown and then even browner. It reminded me of the brown skies back in Oklahoma where I had grown up as a kid in the dust bowl days. Then everything started getting dark as opposed to brown. It kept getting darker and I had to turn on the instrument lights. It was just as dark as night. I looked up out of the little window above my pilots position and saw the beautiful sight of the black shape of the moon totally blotting out the sun, with only a corona effect of it, showing around the edges. We were squarely in the path of the shadow to have such a symmetrical view.

 
This is what I saw that day in 1970, while over Charleston, South Carolina at 43,000 feet in a Boeing 707/ C-135; a complete solar eclipse with the moon blocking out the sun.
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The remainder of the flight was simply to fly out of the shadow and then on home. So in spite of the modifications and wires, it all worked out splendidly and was just another one of those strange and wonderful flying experiences the kid from Oklahoma, who wanted to fly airplanes when he grew up, got to do.

Bob

Robert L. Mosley