A trio of Dassault Falcon 7X executive jets, packed with observation equipment, journeyed to the North Atlantic at nearly 50,000 feet in order to chase a rare chance to see the black sun.
On March 20, 2015, a group of eclipse-chasers and scientists, led by amateur astronomer Xavier Jubier, climbed above the Faroe Islands to film one of the most impressive solar eclipses of the century. Another opportunity like this won't happen until September 3rd, 2081.
A flight to the edge of the stratosphere was required to ensure the best possible conditions for a smooth flight and ideal visibility, two things that are essential for the scientific observation equipment carried by the team. In order to reach the required altitude of 49,000 feet, Amjet Executive aircraft provided the three Falcon 7X tri-jets. These airplanes are the only civilian aircraft with the required performance capable of sustaining such altitudes while still providing a positive environment for the passengers and their gear.
Only a narrow band of the northern hemisphere, from the southern part of Greenland to the geographic north pole would be ideal to view the total eclipse. The flight, departing Paris/Le Bourget in the early morning on Friday, March 20th, climbed north to a precisely calculated position to place the aircraft exactly on the axis of motion of the lunar shadow. With speeds approaching Mach .9, this unique chance to view the total eclipse is also lengthened to a duration over a full minute.
The group's leader, Xavier Jubier, started to get involved with solar eclipses in the early 90's and now tries to combine his passion for travel, photography, and solar eclipses. He maintains a website related to eclipses and has been directly involved in a few world premieres, notably in 2008 viewing a solar eclipse from Mount Vinson Antarctica's highest peak.
In early 2007 he created a web tool to allow the exploration of 11,898 solar eclipses, and a simplified version of this tool was later adapted for NASA's website. The same tool was later released for the corresponding 12,064 lunar eclipses. The year after, he released Solar Eclipse Maestro, a software to automate the photography of solar eclipses.
You should also check out these photos and more details from Guillaume Cannat, who was lucky enough to go along for the ride.