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‘Make memories with the family’

Derek Thompson Jr. has set the bar pretty high for family adventures in their 1976 Cessna Cardinal—flying to experience the 2024 solar eclipse along the path of totality.

Total eclipse of the sun

  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Derek Thompson Jr. flew his wife, Carla, and son, Derek, from St. Mary’s County Regional Airport in Maryland to Union County Airport in Marysville, Ohio, in their 1976 Cessna Cardinal to experience the 2024 solar eclipse along the path of totality. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Derek Thompson Jr.; his wife, Carla; and son, Derek stand in front of their 1976 Cessna Cardinal, in which they flew to Union County Airport in Marysville, Ohio, to experience the 2024 solar eclipse along the path of totality. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Derek Thompson III checks out the eclipse next to his father's Cessna Cardinal. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Spectators gathered at Union County Airport in Marysville, Ohio, one of more than 450 airports in the United States located along the eclipse’s path of totality. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    The author's son, Shawn, and husband, Jason, admire the crescent shape of the sun as the moon slides across about 15 minutes before totality. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Steven Rosine and his two sons are ready to capture the solar eclipse. They flew 2.5 hours April 8 from Roanoke, Virginia, to Marysville, Ohio, to watch the solar eclipse along the path of totality. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Spectators at Union County Airport in Marysville, Ohio, watch as the moon begins to obscure part of the sun during the 2024 solar eclipse. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Front row parking. The last two aircraft in before the total solar eclipse park closest to the taxiway. The Cessna 172 started up minutes after the eclipse and was the first to depart. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Derek Thompson Jr. reclines against the wheel pant of his 1976 Cessna Cardinal to watch the solar eclipse. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    Steven Rosine stands in awe of the total solar eclipse while his son continues to photograph the natural phenomenon. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Total eclipse of the sun
    The sky darkened for nearly three minutes at Union County Airport in Marysville, Ohio, along the path of totality during the solar eclipse. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.

“This is really our first big family trip in the airplane,” Thompson said of the three-hour, 15-minute flight from St. Mary’s County Regional Airport in southern Maryland to Union County Airport in central Ohio. Thompson, a program manager with Amazon Web Services, just purchased the airplane in January. The 120-hour private pilot flew his wife, Carla, and son, Derek, in April 7 and stayed overnight in a hotel to ensure they would have a parking spot at the airport the day of the eclipse.

“Jumping in an airplane and going to another state is a big step for us,” his wife said.

Weather-wise, Thompson couldn’t have picked a better location: Ohio presented its finest spring weather with temperatures in the mid-70 degrees Fahrenheit and scattered cirrus clouds.

“We’ll actually be able to see the eclipse from here,” Thompson said, and “make memories with the family. That’s what aviation’s all about, right?”

About a dozen aircraft flew in and the AHA Waffles and Triple P Barbeque food trucks offered breakfast and lunch. Many families with youngsters set up in a grassy area at the airport entrance, playing around the flagpole, blowing bubbles, chasing one another beside a hangar, and stopping every so often for a glance at the sun through their eclipse viewing glasses.

“It’s so small,” one girl exclaimed about 15 minutes before totality. “It looks like a smiley face but a sad face.”

Spectators relaxed on the concrete ramp, in the grass, in camping chairs, and even against airplane wheel pants to watch the eclipse. Gasps such as “Wow!” and “Oh, that’s so cool!” punctuated the stillness of nature around the airport as it grew cooler and darker. Totality lasted nearly three minutes, but the memories will likely last a lifetime. Another total solar eclipse won’t cross the contiguous United States for 20 years.

“I’ve seen partial eclipses and totality was worth the two-and-a-half hours to fly up here and, obviously, to experience that unique situation with my family,” said Steven Rosine, who flew from Roanoke, Virginia, with his two sons. “Totality was something…almost indescribable” he said of seeing the ring of fire and solar flares. What struck him most was the “360-degree sunset all around us. I was completely unprepared to see that.”

These are moments that make pilot math—time, cost, and experiences—work out in favor of memory making every time.

“That was amazing,” Thompson said. “It went dark. All the airport lights came on. The birds stopped singing. It was absolutely amazing…well worth the trip.”

Alyssa J. Miller
Alyssa J. Cobb
The former senior director of digital media, Alyssa J. Cobb was on the AOPA staff from 2004 until 2023. She is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: Travel, U.S. Travel

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