Kevin Coleman and Pete McLeod fly across the Total Solar Eclipse in Sulpher Springs, Texas, USA on April 8, 2024.
© Peter McKinnon / Red Bull Content Pool
Aerobatic Flying

Pilots fly through rare solar eclipse, creating once-in-a-lifetime photos

Two aerobatic pilots worked with a team of photographers to create a series of once in a lifetime photographs during the rare, full eclipse in Sulphur Springs, Texas.
By Riley Hunter
2 min readPublished on
Two pilots took full advantage of the longest and most visible eclipse for the U.S. in 100 years.
To celebrate the recent celestial event in North America, Red Bull captured photos to eclipse all others. These once-in-a-lifetime images required aerobatic pilots Kevin Coleman and Pete McLeod to fly in tandem a mere four feet apart, 1,500 feet in the sky, while renowned photographers Peter McKinnon, Mason Mashon and Dustin Snipes photographed them from the ground.
Total Solar Eclipse

Total Solar Eclipse

© Dustin Snipes and Mason Mashon / Red Bull Content Pool

This is one of the hardest photos that I’ve ever tried to capture.
Mason Mashon
There is no true analog for a total eclipse for practice and preparation. “Normally, this would be a manageable maneuver. But when you have to fly a few feet wing to wing, navigate the darkness from the eclipse, a flight angle that needs to be perfectly in line with the sun, and only four minutes to take the shot while moving at 180 mph, it makes it incredibly challenging,” said Coleman about the project. “It’s a game of inches - two inches off and we lose the image.”
Capturing the planes amidst the solar eclipse required months of preparation, sorting out details of locations, flight paths, distances, and the means of illuminating a plane in near total darkness. Reflective vinyls were installed on the plane to ensure the wings were visible from the ground.
“This is one of the hardest photos that I’ve ever tried to capture,” said Mashon. “There are known settings to capture an eclipse, but when you need to figure out the height of the planes above ground level to frame and scale them perfectly with the eclipse, during totality, it’s a totally different game.”
To help line up the planes, Red Bull Air Force team member Luke Aikins was the translator on the ground, helping communicate the needed adjustments from the photographers to the pilots in the air.
Snipes added “Communication was key throughout this entire shoot. We were constantly discussing what we wanted the final image to look like, and the best way to get the planes in the perfect position to accomplish it.”
This was an opportunity to take advantage of a rare celestial event, and challenge pilots and photographers in new and unexpected ways. “Unlike the high adrenaline and aerobatics I’m used to, this project is all about exact precision and planning”, said McLeod. “It’s all about teamwork to make this happen so it’s been incredible to be a part of.”
Mason Mashon and Dustin Snipes work with Luke Aikins to map out their plan

Mason Mashon and Dustin Snipes work with Luke Aikins to map out their plan

© Colin Kerrigan / Red Bull Content Pool

Part of this story

Kevin Coleman

With skills honed under the tutelage of aviation legends, Coleman sets the bar for aerobatic flight with his incredible skill and precision.

United StatesUnited States

Pete McLeod

Canadian pilot Pete McLeod wrote history when he became the Red Bull Air Race World Championship series’ youngest pilot at age 25.