From 18 November to 3 December 2003, fans of the science of astronomy will have an exclusive opportunity to take part in a special flight around the world. The luxury flight has been organised by tour operator Astronomy Travel and will be made on an Austrian Airlines Airbus A340. Two Austrian Airlines pilots, Max Schwendenwein and Harald Baumgartner, have been working for almost two years to prepare this unique journey, and have plans to follow a sensational route with numerous highlights. The passengers on the flight will be accompanied by Prof. Dr. Rudolf Kippenhahn, former Head of Munich’s Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics and author of a wide range of books on the subject. Prof. Dr. Kippenhahn will provide a detailed commentary and explanation of the astronomical highlights for his fellow travellers.
On 18 November 2003, an Airbus A340 of Austrian Airlines will take off from Vienna for the first and longest single section of the journey: a flight deep into the polar night via Spitzbergen, over the North Pole and on across Alaska to Hawaii, where the aircraft will land on Big Island. The aircraft will land after around 15 hours in the air, although this will still be on the same day. The following day will witness another high point (literally) as the lucky passengers pay a visit to the observatory near the summit of Mauna Kea, at an altitude of 4,205 metres. After spending a relaxing day on the beach, the participants will continue to fly south to Australia and across the International Date Line, where they will be treated to a performance at Sydney Opera House.
The undisputed highpoint of the trip will take place on 24 and 23 November (due to the time difference), when passengers will have the chance to observe a total eclipse of the sun above the Antarctic, before the aircraft passes over the South Pole itself. As the aircraft will need to reach a highly specific Antarctic location at precisely the right time in order that all on board can properly appreciate the majesty of the total solar eclipse, this part of the flight will be exceptionally demanding for the crew. In order to observe the partial phases before and after totality, the aircraft will also shadow the path of the eclipse for a period.
This will be the first crossing of the South Pole by an aircraft of the Airbus type, and the first by any aircraft in this, the third millennium. In fact, just 257 people have flown over the South Pole in the history of civil aviation.
After overflying Cape Horn, the aircraft will set a direct course for the southern Argentinean airport of Ushuaia. The next stage of the flight will take participants over the Andes range, where the Airbus will take its passengers over Aconcagua, South America’s highest mountain at 6,959 metres. They will then change direction and fly west towards the South Pacific to Easter Island. Following a break of one day, the trip will move on to Antofagasta in northern Chile, site of Mount Paranal and the world’s largest telescope, the VLT or Very Large Telescope. The final leg of the circumnavigation will take the Airbus and its passengers to Mexico, where if the weather is good all on board will be treated to a stunning bird’s-eye view of Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and the world-famous lines of Nasca in Peru - an assortment of hundreds of naturally-formed lines of lighter sand on the desert floor, some 50 kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide, which intersect to produce a grand geometric form and can only be truly appreciated from the air. The final high point of the awe-inspiring programme will be a visit to the ruins of the Mayan civilisation at Chichén-Itzà, on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. The return flight will take passengers directly from Cancun to Vienna, where the astronomical dream journey will conclude on 3 December 2003.
This is not the first time the two Austrian Airlines pilots have arranged a trip of this sort. Their most recent effort involved a flight to Iceland to observe the solar eclipse. Before that, those with an interest in astronomy had the opportunity to travel to Lusaka in Zambia and to Finland.
Throughout the journey, the emphasis is to be placed upon luxury and comfort: the number of passengers on the 291-seat Airbus A340-300 is to be restricted to just 154. Twenty seats will be available in Grand-Class, and 134 in the Economy Class section of the aircraft. Only the double seats by the windows of the aircraft will be sold, while the central seats will remain free, giving the opportunity for passengers to stretch out and relax as they enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Do&Co will take responsibility for the catering on the tour. Each leg of the journey will feature an appropriate menu with a number of different courses and special wine will be served from the famous Opitz vineyard in Illmitz on one of Austria’s most beautiful lakes, the Neusiedlersee.
The all-inclusive price - which starts at EUR 16,500 per person - includes the cost of the round-the-world flight, airport and security charges, all organised transfers and entrance fees on the ground, and hotel costs including breakfast and meals together, including a specified number of drinks. Passengers will only be accommodated in the best hotels in each of the regions around the world. This unique round-the-world tour can be booked directly with Astronomy Travel, and further details are available at the company’s website at http://www.astronomy-travel.com.