Total Solar Eclipse of 1999 August 11
from Air France Concorde F-BVFC flight AF4500
Twenty-six years after the first Hall-of-Fame Concorde 001 record flight during the 1973 June 30 total solar eclipse, three other commercial Concorde were in the umbral path of this new eclipse. The first one, registered as F-BVFC, from Air France (AF4500) was affreted by the French Astronomy Association and two by British Airways (BA9099C G-BOAC, a.k.a. BA99S and BA9091C G-BOAA, a.k.a. BA91N). Concorde was the only civilian plane able to "chase" the eclipse because of its speed superior to Mach 2 and because the speed of the umbra was about Mach 2.3 over Europe. Thus the three Concorde managed to stay in the shadow for about 4 to more than 5 minutes (for AF4500). However, only the Air France Concorde passengers had the opportunity to view this eclipse from the cabin with a line-of-sight angle barely under 50 degrees during totality which didn’t facilitate the observations; the two British Airways Concorde passengers had an even worse line-of-sight angle at 60 degrees which made observations even more difficult through the tiny cabin windows and a totality duration under 4 minutes. Prof John Beckman, an astronomer at the Canary Astrophysical Institute in Tenerife and additionally participant to the historic Concorde 001 ‘73 eclipse flight, was one of the lucky ones, and even he wasn’t totally satisfied. He said: "Because of the small windows and the angle, you could never get your eye in the right position to see totality while the plane was in level flight. It was only when it did a few wiggles in the air that you could see totality. Luckily, I happened to be at the window on one of those occasions, so I saw about 10 seconds of totality. It was obviously disappointing and I’d hoped to see several minutes." Another BA91N passenger reports: "We all struggle to see anything, getting onto the floor and into strange contortions. The pilot had to bank the plane to allow a glimpse of totality - and we saw the solar corona for about half a minute!" The photographies were taken from the Concorde cockpit on Air France flight AF4500. The simulation below, made with my Solar Eclipse Maestro software, refutes the claim that the passengers had over 8 minutes of totality as it was said in the documentary and advertized in most media. The same applies to the two British Airways flights that were operated by Goodwood Travel. After the crash of the Concorde on 2000 July 25th, those three flights were the last to intercept the umbral shadow cone and the 1973 record with its mighty 73 minutes won’t be broken anytime soon, the 2001 June 21st flight having been cancelled.
Concorde cockpit crew
(left: Eric Célérier; right: Jean Prunin)
Concorde front flight panel
Earth view from 20,000 meters
Flying towards the eclipse
Umbra on the right
Earth from above
Panoramic view of the cockpit (QuickTime required)
Back to Earth
Postcard of AF4500 Concorde F-BVFC 1999 August 11 Total Solar Eclipse Flight
Certificate of AF4500 Concorde F-BVFC 1999 August 11 Total Solar Eclipse Flight
(the duration of totality was only 5 minutes and 10 seconds contrary to the indicated duration mentioned on the certificate, please read the explanation below)
In this short documentary Jean Prunin, the Concorde’s captain, who prepared the eclipse flight plan claims they had 8 minutes and 10 seconds of totality. However, they only had slightly over 5 minutes and 10 seconds of totality as the above simulation clearly shows. What lasted 8 minutes and 10 seconds is the whole run on the map below that includes some of the partial phases (in dark blue) before and after totality (in red). The flight plan, which can be seen on two pictures above and on the figure below, was to start the interception at N4950.0 and W01300.0, end it at N5020.0 and W00900.0 (complete flight plan in Google Earth, description in French of the computations done by Jean Prunin which explain the small mistakes made).
A later intercept combined with a flight parallel to the umbra would have allowed a totality duration of nearly 6 minutes, and even more if flying at Mach 2 over Cape Lizard had been authorized.
Rencontre avec une ombre - Encounter with a shadow (duration: 5 minutes 36 seconds)
[requires an H.264/MPEG-4 decoder: Windows users can install the Windows Essentials Codec Pack]
It is clear that British Airways flights have not reached the eight minutes of totality promised by the tour operator Goodwood Travel, which anyway was physically impossible. Again these flights were badly planned and by people who do not have sufficient knowledge of the subject.
Another eclipse flight at only 25,000 feet, using a pressurized turboprop Twin Commander airplane, took off from Bedford in Massachusetts to intercept the shadow cone shortly after sunrise.
This documentary, from Peter Ceravolo, tells a story of how Mitch Sayare, Dennis di Cicco and Peter Ceravolo planned and executed the flight to intercept the path of totality 300 miles off the coast of New England, south of Nova Scotia.