While one AN-32 transport aircraft carrying scientific equipment, cameras and scientists that took off from Agra landed back after a three-hour flight, a Mirage-2000 trainer from 9 Squadron “Wolfpack”, Gwalior took spectacular images of the celestial spectacle from 40,000 feet. With weather being clear at the altitudes and coordinates planned by the IAF pilots, both AN-32 and Mirage-2000 pilots were able to accomplish the mission successfully.
“The mission was a huge success. We got excellent footage of the eclipse. This was made possible by the perfect planning and execution by the IAF pilots”, said Dr.Vinay B. Kamble, Director, Vigyan Prasar while addressing media persons at Agra airbase after the flight.
The AN-32 mission was flown at 25,000 feet. The aircraft flew a south-westerly course from abeam Khajuraho, descending and aligning along the central axis of the eclipse. The Mirage-2000 fighter flew at an altitude of 42,000 feet bisecting the central axis in a north-south direction to film the eclipse.
“Since flying with the ramp open involves depressurisation, inhaling of oxygen separately becomes absolutely necessary at that altitude. We flew a practise mission to train everyone for the sortie”, explained Wing Commander D Singh, Captain of the historic flight. “Ensuring the Sun at six-o-clock position at the correct angle for cameras to be able to catch the phenomenon demanded a high degree of accuracy in flying”, he added, satisfied with the results.
As the eclipse progressed towards the totality phase, darkness descended across the morning sky metamorphosing rapidly from bright daylight to the twilight zone, transiting to dark phase. The pilots switched on rheostats illuminating their instrument panel for a brief phase of night flying before resuming daylight flying after the total solar eclipse. For those who witnessed the rare spectacle in air, the experience was truly ethereal.
Photos & Text by IAF