Airborne Observations

Quite apart from tying down the southern extent of the eclipse track by making use of the grid pattern of Manhattan and the thousands of people who reported what they saw, other important scientific results were derived from the eclipse through the cooperation of the public. A couple of years previously the American Astronomical Society had convened a "Subcommittee on Measurements and Public Cooperation of the 1925 Eclipse," suggesting a variety of ways in which the average person could contribute useful information. This resulted in the eclipse becoming a scientific experiment with perhaps the largest mass participation ever known.

The astronomers themselves were also hard at work. Many eclipse expeditions to remote locations in preceding decades had their plans upset and their hopes dashed by cloudy, rainy weather, and the prognosis for clear skies over the eclipse track were not good in 1925, given that it was the middle of the winter. As it happened, the sky was clear in New York and most other spots, which is why it was so cold. Rather than take a chance, though, arrangements had been made for instruments to be flown far above any clouds.

In all 25 aircraft carried scientists aloft, plus other interested observers who could afford the trip. The Navy airship USS Los Angeles flew at an altitude of 4,500 feet over Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island and Connecticut, carrying a party of 19 astronomers plus crew. These were perilous trips. Later in the same year a similar dirigible, the Shenandoah, was torn apart by a storm in Ohio, resulting in the deaths of 14 passengers. The utility of airplanes was proven, however, and ten days later President Calvin Coolidge signed the act that authorized the transport of mail by air. This was in effect the first step in the process that resulted in the great airline industry of the United States.

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