Planespotting isn’t a hobby, it is an art. Most travellers see us with our cameras, notepads or binoculars, milling around the airfield, patiently waiting for that special shot of an aircraft with a different colour scheme or new engines. Most passengers or pilots do not realise they are being photographed. Some look. Some even wave at us. However, most do not understand the art of planespotting! Most ask how we know the aircraft off by heart. There are noticeable differences in the aircraft such as the nose shape or the landing gear, however, the best way to find out about an aircraft’s history is by the registration which must be clearly visible on every aircraft.
Each spotter has their hub where they know all the spots to grab the best shots. Mine is Heathrow Airport in London, the main hub for the UK. London is special as it has a number of regional airports around the city including Gatwick Airport, Stansted, Luton and City Airport with variety of aircraft at each airport. Some of the airlines on show include British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, Air New Zealand, and American Airlines. The list goes on!
A Normal Day Planespotting at Heathrow Airport
My day starts checking out flightradar24 for any special liveries close to my hub, Heathrow Airport. FlightRadar24 is an app available on a phone, tablet or laptop that enables you to track aircraft in the sky. The amount of traffic varies but there is a nice mix of short haul and long-haul aircraft. There is something for everyone. I check the weather forecast for the airport of choice for the day. A sunny day with a few clouds with a mild temperature counts as perfect spotting weather for me. I pack my camera with an extra battery and memory card! There is nothing worse than your camera running out of battery during the day! Some planespotters have a range of kit including a number of interchangeable lenses for the camera depending on the aircraft flying in, radios, and notepads.
The direction the aircraft are landing/taking off in usually decides the spot around the airport I visit. One of the most famous spots at Heathrow Airport is Myrtle Avenue which is perfect for 27L arrivals for when aircraft are arriving from over the City of London.
Usually, on a warm sunny day, planespotting can be a fun family activity especially for budding aviators of the future! They seem to take a keen interest in the heavies aircraft like the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747, more commonly known as the Jumbo Jet.
A transmission comes on for Heathrow Tower that the Airbus A350, the newest commercial airliner is on finals to land. The field fills up with planespotters and an eerily silence accompanies it until the aircraft comes into view. The continual chorus of shutter buttons rings around Myrtle Avenue as the aircraft zooms past us and AvGeeks, geeks in aviation, compare our shots/videos (above).
It starts to cloud over so I decide to visit one of the airport’s terminals to grab a bite to eat and preview some of my shots.
-By Henry Heming, aka “Planespotter H”
Main image: American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER landing on 27R at Heathrow. American Airlines send to Heathrow their Boeing 777s, 767s and Airbus A330s. They recently went through a merger with US Airways. Catching a US Airways colour scheme on an aircraft is extremely rare. The Boeing 777-300ERs features the GE90-115B engines. These are the world’s largest and most powerful jet engines in the world.