Operation Eclipse

Canada Post stamp commemorating the 8 April 2024 eclipse.


Saturday, 20 July 1963 marked the third time that the Royal Canadian Air Force had made aircraft available for the viewing of a total eclipse of the sun from the air. The previous occasions were on 9 July 1945 and 30 June 1954.

Totality during the 1999 solar eclipse. Solar prominences can be seen along the limb (in red) as well as extensive coronal filaments.

In 1945, the base of operations was the RCAF Central Navigation School at Rivers, Manitoba and the aircraft used were a Mitchell, a Spitfire and two Ansons. The aircraft were operated at altitudes varying from 17,000 to 33,000 feet over the general area around Dauphin, Manitoba. The duration of totality was between 33 and 38 seconds. Only photographic observations were made and eight cameras of various types were used. From these, motion and still pictures of the stages of the eclipse and of the chromosphere and the corona were recorded, together with spectrographic data.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3574063)

Tri-metrogon camera installation in a North American Mitchell Mk. II, No. 413 'Tusker' (P)Squadron, RCAF, 19 June 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583349)

North American Mitchell Mk. II, RCAF (Serial No. 894), close up view of camera modification, No. 13 (P) Squadron, 4 July 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583160)

Supermarine Spitfire F Mk. VI, RCAF (Serial No. X4492), flown by Tony Grub of No. 13 Squadron, 26 Feb 1944.  Built as X F Mk.1 4492, later converted to X F Mk. V.

RCAF Supermarine Spitfire (Serial No. X4492) was flown in trials from Mar to Jul 1943.  It was in Saint John, New Brunswick, then flown to RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba, to photograph the total eclipse of the sun on 9 July 1945.  It was equipped with an F24 oblique camera installed to sight upwards.  Another pilot of this Spitfire was F/Lt Tom Percival.  X4492 was flown over Lake Winnipeg at 35,000 feet, a record breaking altitude record for photographing a solar eclipse. 

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3545923)

Avro Anson Mk. V, RCAF, No. 414 Sqn, 1944.

The eclipse was photographed from four aircraft, with three of the aircraft, the Spitfire, Mitchell, and one Anson, being outfitted with a total of seven aerial cameras. The second Anson carried a motion picture camera. The altitude of the aircraft ranged between 17,000 ft and 34,000 ft,with the Spitfire the highest. The eclipse photos obtained during the mission may have beeen the first-ever taken from an aircraft.

In 1954, the "Ice Wagon", a North Star aircraft converted for studies of icing during flight, was used. The operation was organized at RCAF Station Rockcliffe and all the practice flights originated from there. The aircraft was moved to Goose Bay, Labrador for the actual observations, which were made at an altitude of 27,500 feet to the east of this base. On this occasion the period of darkness was nearly two minutes. In addition to photographic and spectrographic observations, visual observations were made of the solar prominences during totality and the dark sky searched for a daytime display of aurora.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643748)

Canadair CL-2 North Star Mk. I, RCAF (Serial No. 17513), Rockcliffe Ice Wagon, Experimental Proving Establishment, 8 Aug 1959.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584727)

Canadair CL-2 North Star Mk. I, RCAF (Serial No. 17513), Rockcliffe Ice Wagon, Experimental Proving Establishment, 1 Oct 1952.

Initial planning for the present operation began during the summer of 1961, when the Chief of the Air Staff gave his approval to the undertaking. While the operation was fully supported by the Defence Research Board, the main interest centered on the Dominion Observatory. As a result, the Dominion Astronomer coordinated the programme of scientific observations. After examining the characteristics of the several types of transports available, it was decided that the large turboprop-driven Canadiar CC-106 Yukon was the only one which would be satisfactory and 412(T) Squadron, based on Station Uplands near Ottawa, was given the responsibility of carrying out the operation.

(DND Photo)

Canadair CC-106 Yukon, a Canadian turboprop airliner and cargo aircraft based on the Bristol Britannia, developed and produced by Canadair in the late 1950s and early 1960s

As the path of totality extended across Canada from the Alaska-Yukon border to the southern tip of Nova Scotia, there was a wide choice of areas for viewing the eclipse. In order to obtain the greatest period of darkness, the aircraft was flown along the path of the eclipse in the same direction as the movement of the moon's shadow (i.e. towards the east). An altitude of 30,000 feet was chosen to be above weather. Because of the intricacy of the scientific equipment, it was necessary to have the sun directly off the beam of the aircraft. This condition was only to be found along the Mackenzie River between Fort Simpson and Fort Providence, near the western end of Great Slave Lake. The eclipse required just over 1½ hours to progress from the Alaska-Yukon border to the southern tip of Nova Scotia and in terms of local standard time ranged from 11:10 am in the Yukon to 5:45 pm off Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. At Great Slave Lake, the local standard time was 12:40 pm-— the time past noon just compensating for the southerly component of the flight direction— and the period of totality was 99 seconds. The speed of the aircraft increased the time of darkness by about 20 percent.

The scientific programme was much more elaborate than on the previous operations. It included photometric measurements of the sun's corona and the airglow in the suddenly darkened sky. The northern sky was photographed with an auroral camera in the search for a daytime display of aurora and visual observations were made of the solar prominences during totality. This latter information was transmitted immediately following the eclipse to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to assist them in their television coverage of the eclipse in the region of Three Rivers, Quebec, approximately one hour later. Three special glass windows were used in place of the standard plastic ones for those measurements which would be impaired by optical distortion.

The scientists aboard the aircraft represented: Defence Research Board, Dominion Observatory, National Research Council, University of Saskatchewan,  Oxford University, England, and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

LocationVisibility Duration, All of Eclipse Duration of Totality Partial Begins Full Begins Max. Time Full Ends Partial Ends

Fredericton 100% 2h, 18 m, 14 s 2 m, 17 s 3:23:41 pm 4:33:49 pm 4:34:57 pm 4:36:06 pm 5:41:55.

(MSGT Robert A Whitehead, USAF Photo)

No. 403(Helicopter) Operational Training Squadron is a squadron of the RCAF, based at5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  It is currently equipped with Bell CH-146 Griffon helicopters and provides operational aircrew training to the crews who will fly the helicopter.  The squadron also conducts operational test and evaluation, develops aviation tactics and carries out operations in support of the 1 Wing mission.  It also supports the local Army requirements of the Combat Training Centre at 5 CDSB Gagetown. It was founded as No. 403 Squadron RCAF.

Fredericton flypast for the eclipse 2024

On Monday, 8 April 2024, a total solar eclipse will pass through certain parts of New Brunswick, Canada. The areas of Fredericton, Woodstock, Florenceville-Bristol and Miramichi will all experience100% totality, that is, a complete coverage of the sun. The path of this extraordinary cosmic event will also cross the southern tips of Ontario and Quebec, western P.E.I. and central Newfoundland.

The plan is to have the helicopters from 403Squadron fly over the spectators in downtown Fredericton during the max period of darkness from 16:33 to 16:34 (plus or minus).

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