I have a confession to make. This may sound crazy but… I vacation at airports. No, I don’t mean I travel through airports on my way to somewhere else. (I haven’t flown commercially in years.) I mean I spend substantial portions of my vacations at airports entirely on purpose. And did I mention that I also work at an airport? Yes, I may be just a wee bit obsessed.
I will further confess that almost any airport will do as a vacation destination as long as it has airplanes coming and going and a decent spot from which to watch. Airports with aviation-related museums or attractions nearby get bonus points. Here are some of my vacation spots from the last year.
Wittman Regional Airport, Oshkosh WI (OSH)
Yeah, this one is a no-brainer and if you know me at all you should have seen it coming. Hundreds of thousands of people spend days just hanging around this airport every July. Coincidentally there’s this little event called Airventure that goes on around that time and brings in thousands of airplanes. There’s even an aviation museum right up the street! Ah, but how many Airventure attendees have been to the airport terminal? Well I have! OK, actually I just drove by. But I went out of my way to find it this past year because given the title of this blog it just seemed like the right thing to do.
O’Hare International Airport, Chicago IL (ORD)
This airport is conveniently located on the way home from Osh and driving by is always one of the highlights of the trip. But this year I had the opportunity to meet up with some friends and do a little plane spotting. What a wonderful way to wrap up Osh week! The best part was getting to see several of the big 747 cargo planes. They are just so darn cool and I rarely get to see them at the airport where I work. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay longer. I’m hoping to go back soon for an extended visit.
Cape May Airport, Rio Grande NJ (WWD)
I have to thank David Vanderhoof (Aviation Historian, blogger and podcaster) for turning me on to this one. This airport is the home of the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. The museum is small but has an interesting collection of airplanes, helicopters, and aviation-related artifacts. The day I visited they brought in several WWII-era planes and were offering airplane rides. Although I didn’t go on a ride, it was awesome to hear those old engines fire up and to see the planes fly. And being the airport junkie that I am, I had fun watching the regular GA traffic as well.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, NC (CLT)
This airport is one of my very favorites (next to Osh, of course). For one thing, it has a very nice viewing area which overlooks the center runway. The airport is quite busy and there’s an excellent variety of airplanes to see. That is, as long as you like American Airlines. And Airbuses. But if you pay attention you can catch some non-American non-Airbuses sneaking in. My favorite catch? A Luftansa A330.
The other nice thing about this airport is the Carolinas Aviation Museum. It has a small collection of interesting airplanes ranging from a Savoia Marchetti S.56B to an F-14 to a Piedmont Airlines DC-3. The centerpiece of the collection is an Airbus A320. What’s so special about that, you ask? Well this particular A320 made an emergency landing on the Hudson river a few years back. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Not only do I like to spend my vacations at airports, I also like to see what airports I’ll be driving by along the way so I can look out for any interesting traffic that might be flying overhead. (Did I mention I’m a wee bit obsessed?) Some of my favorite “drive-by” airports include:
Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) – This is a relatively small airport that has a modest amount of commercial traffic. In fact, I’m rarely lucky enough to catch airliners taking off or landing – but that just makes it more exciting when I do. It’s like I’ve won a prize.
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) – My hometown favorite! There’s always something interesting to see when I drive by this airport. Depending on what runways are in use, I can sometimes see planes on approach from my mom’s house.
Yeager Airport (CRW) – It’s a fairly small airport and, like Harrisburg, I don’t often see airplanes flying in. However, it is always fun when I do because the area is relatively mountainous and the airport itself is perched on top of a hill.
Dover AFB – Can you say C-5s?! The first time I ever saw a C-5 was when I was a teenager. There were three or four of them coming in to land at Dover and I simply could not believe what I was seeing. “Wait… are those AIRPLANES? Holy cow – they’re HUGE!” I fell in love with the C-5 right then and there and have continued to be crazy about it ever since.
Sadly, vacations don’t last forever. After seeing so much activity and so many different and interesting airplanes, returning to my airport can feel like a bit of a let-down. It seems quiet by comparison. Fortunately it only takes a day or two before I rediscover my airport’s charms. After all, flying is magic and airplanes are amazing where ever you happen to see them.
9 thoughts on “My Airport Vacations”
Added a couple of these to my list, thanks Jen! If you’re ever in Tennessee, the Tennessee Museum of Aviation at Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport (KGKT) is a good little stop. The last time I was there, a flight of two T-6 Texans landed ahead of an air show scheduled for the following week. Hearing those two huge radial engines taxi up was awesome!
I’d also recommend the Grissom Air Museum in Peru, IN. It’s at Gus Grissom Air Reserve Base (KGUS). They have a lot of warbirds and a few modern planes as well. They are also in the process of restoring a B-17 to flight worthy status, the Miss Liberty Belle.
Thanks so much for the suggestions Brian – they sound amazing! Those are both within a reasonable driving distance so I’m definitely going to check them out. Thanks again and thanks for reading!
This is totally random, but I flew to Russia out of the Charlotte airport on a Lufthansa A330 plane. It’s such a coincidence that you talked about the Charlotte airport and that very plane together in this post!
Also, the Charlotte airport is one of my least favorites—because when you’re connecting through there, it’s so hard to make your connection due to the layout! I had to run madly to make it to my gate last time I flew through there.
If you like being close to the runway, I recommend the viewing are at Santa Monica Airport in west Los Angeles.
The Carolinas museum also has the very first Gulfstream jet. Serial number 1. I wrote an article about that aircraft. http://www.rapp.org/archives/2013/10/first-gulfstream/ Unfortunately they don’t have it on display. It was in mint condition when it was donated and for whatever reason they’ve left it outside to rot. Really sad…
I would love to visit Santa Monica! Sounds like my kind of airport. As for the Carolinas Museum, I don’t remember seeing a Gulfstream… its not the sort of thing I would miss. They didn’t have the outdoor display area open when I was there so I couldn’t get close to the outdoor planes, but I was able to see most of them through the fence. If it is there and being neglected I join you in being terribly disappointed. Its a gorgeous plane and should be treasured! As always, thanks so much for reading and commenting!
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Did you know that IAD (Dulles) has a little known taxiway that leads south to the “other” Smithsonian Air & Space museum? Bet you did. If not, go check it out! Hint: Can you say, SR-71?!
Hiya Capn Aux! Thanks for reading! And yes I did know that! Haven’t made it there yet but it is definitely on my must-see list.
As of now, my favorite airport for plane watching is SXM, Princess Juliana, in St Maarten. You cannot beat sitting in a beach chair on Maho beach next to the Sunrise bar, watching a KLM 747 coming over you at less than a hundred feet in the air and landing. We we there for the last 747 landing earlier this month, and it was quite the sight. Now the biggest ones coming in will be A340’s, nice but not at neat as the 747 with slats deployed and gear hanging down seemingly everywhere, and just hanging there as if by magic.
As a bonus, we left on a Saturday, which is SXM’s busiest day, and we got to walk out on the ramp to our plane, and yes, there was a stairs truck there to get us up into the 757. I thought of you as I was walking up those stairs. That was my first stairs truck in quite a while.
Thanks for reading Kenneth! Saint Maarten is way up at the top of my list of places to go for plane spotting! I’m so jealous you got to see the last scheduled 747 landing. I can only imagine how spectacular that must have been!