Those who thought they would beat the eclipse viewing traffic by soaring over it are getting a nasty reality check at little Madras Airport in central Oregon. The video below, shot by Portland NBC affiliate KGW's helicopter, shows an almost comically huge line of aircraft waiting to take the airport's main runway for departure. The planes in line for departure range from home-built kit planes to small corporate jets.
The town of Madras, which has a population of roughly 7,000 people on a normal day, saw hoards of people flood into the area to watch the once in a lifetime celestial event. The city sits perfectly on the "line of totality" and the area's weather this time of year is predictably ideal for viewing.
Oregon had been in a near emergency state in preparation for a huge influx of eclipse viewers, and traffic was predicted to be near disastrous in the hours before and after the event. With this in mind, aviators and those who could afford to charter an aircraft to leap over the traffic apocalypse below probably thought they had beat the system, but now it looks like that simply isn't the case. And depending on fuel loads and destinations, some of the aircraft waiting in that huge taxi queue may have to go to the back of the line or wait out the rush so that they can make it to their destination without diverting.
Normally, Madras Airport is a relatively quiet place. Sporadic light aircraft traffic is normal, as well as the occasional turboprop or business jet. Erickson International has a large presence at the airport and their firefighting aircraft are usually on the ramp there. Erickson antique aircraft collection is also based at Madras, which includes WWII fighters and bombers. But aside from a small but fun little air show every summer, not much else goes on out there. So anywhere near this type of traffic is totally unheard of at the airfield.
Making things more precarious, Madras has no air traffic control tower. So deconfliction and coordination of takeoffs and departures is done via open frequency, aircraft-to-aircraft communications. It is unclear if a temporary tower was setup for the eclipse rush or not. But regardless, with one 5,089 foot runway and one 2,701 foot runway available, and many dissimilar aircraft trying to use those runways, things can go wrong real fast. One airplane already crashed on Saturday while approaching the airport, with the pilot dying in the crash.
Hopefully everyone's trip home is safe and predictable.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com