Does Flying During a Total Eclipse Count as Night Time?

By Scott Spangler on April 1st, 2024

One week from today, on Monday April 8, as the moon’s shadow slides across the eastern third of the United States, the Great North American Eclipse will darken the skies over 458 US airports that are within 50 miles of the eclipse’s centerline track. (For of list of these aerodromes, see the FAA’s Domestic Notice on how the eclipse will affect aviation operations.)

So, here’s my question: Can pilots flying in the shadow, perhaps following the track, log their time in the darkness at night flight time?

With the shadow’s afternoon transit of 13 states, no, clearly seems to be the answer.

FAR § 1.1, Definitions, says “Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time.” FAR § 61.57 Recent flight experience: Pilot in command, in section (b) (1), Night Takeoff and Landing Experience: “Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise.”

Total eclipses are nowhere mentioned in subsection (e) Exceptions.

The inability to log shadow flight time as “night” doesn’t mean things cannot get interesting. For many, the Great North American Eclipse will be a lifetime experience, so pilots will be flocking to the 458 airports in the total eclipse cone of darkness. The FAA Domestic Notice says pilots flying IFR should be prepared for holds, reroutes and EDCTs (Expect Departure Clearence Times) and “VFR departures may also expect delays for airborne pickup of IFR clearance within 50 NM either side of the path of the eclipse.”

Expect FBO ramp congestion, so pilots should coordinate their flights with their eclipse destinations well before the moon slides between the sun and Earth. Obviously, “There may be a higher traffic volume than normal anticipated at airports along the path of the eclipse. Traffic should anticipate delays during peak traffic periods. Parking may be limited – particularly at the smaller, uncontrolled airports. Practice approaches, touch-and-goes, flight following services and pilot training operations at airports in the path of the eclipse may be extremely limited and possibly prohibited during this time period. Airmen should check NOTAMs carefully for special procedures/restrictions that may be in place at affected airports.”

All of this assumes that Mother Nature cooperates and does not roll out a thick carpet of clouds between the Earth and the moon. For those contemplating an IFR flight through the carpet to view the eclipse on top, revisit the Domestic Notice’s warning of IFR delays. And regardless of where one is to witness the eclipse, practice safe viewing, you don’t want the eclipse to be one of the last things you see clearly.

If Mother Nature cooperates, and the expected aerial traffic shows up, given the resulting delays, you still might get to log some night time on your way home. But please make sure you are night current—and proficient. – Scott Spangler, Editor


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