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Bella Luna

Flying under a lunar eclipse.

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Some pilots hate flying the red-eye flights, but I kind of like them. There aren't as many planes in the air in the wee hours, and the controllers are quick to give us direct routing. Out of Las Vegas, we're often cleared direct to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, before we've even gotten to Bryce Canyon, Utah. You'll never get a clearance like that during the daytime.



Monday night's flight had a couple of things going for it. The first is that we had the band Atomic Tom on board. I admit to having never heard of them before this flight, but it turns out the Captain is a huge fan. He was trying hard to figure out a way to get to meet them, but they had already boarded and he didn't want to "out" them in front of the other passengers. I had the flight attendants pass a note to them, and they joined us after landing for pictures.

The other big deal is that there was a lunar eclipse that night, and we got a pretty good look at it while cruising at 39,000 feet. There was no point in telling the passengers, who were probably sleeping anyway, because the moon was almost directly overhead and was only viewable from the cockpit. We can look almost straight up because the side windows in the 767 cockpit curve inward a little bit.



With the airplane humming along on autopilot, I couldn't resist pulling out my camera and getting a shot. It's really not worthy of publication — hard to get good focus while contorting to shoot straight up — but I submit it for your enjoyment. We were just west of Denver when I snapped this.

It was a quick flight back. With a 150-knot wind out of the west, we were doing close to 575 knots ground speed (about 660 mph). Facing a similar wind going out the day before, it took us five hours and fifteen minutes from New York to Las Vegas. Monday night's flight was only three hours and fifty minutes. We were at the gate in New York by 5 a.m. The sun wasn't even up and I was done for the day.
About Steve Satre
Steve Satre

Steve Satre got his pilot’s license in 1977 and became a full-time commercial pilot in 1993. He currently flies the Boeing 757/767 on both international and domestic routes. The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the views of his employer or the Smithsonian Institution.

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