Lies Plane Spotters Tell

IMG_8816It’s a sad truth and it pains me to say this but… plane spotters tell lies.  Yes, we do.  Anyone who says they don’t is… well, probably lying. We don’t mean to lie, it’s just that when you are hanging around the airfield and watching planes come and go, it is so easy to get completely sucked in and say things that you don’t really mean.  For example:

I’m not going plane spotting today. 

IMG_9501Since I work for an airport, the temptation is always there to stop upstairs and do a little plane spotting before I head home. It seems that no matter how firm my resolve to go straight to my car after work, by the time I get to the escalators I feel that irresistible urge to head on up. At that point I move on to lie number two…

I’m only going to stay for ten minutes. 

Half an hour later and I’m still there. The problem is, there’s almost always something interesting to see. In the unlikely event that there’s nothing happening on the airfield, I listen to ATC communications on my scanner. I listen to some of the airline operations frequencies as well, which can often be quite entertaining.

It’s too wet/cold/snowy/stormy for plane spotting. 


Photo by Andrew Stricker

To be fair, sometimes it really IS too miserable outside for plane spotting. But spotters learn quickly that airplanes can be very cool to watch in rainy/snowy/windy weather. Can you say crosswind landings? On a recent stormy Friday I was able to sneak outside for a few minutes between storms. Listening to the coordination between ATC and the pilots and watching flights navigate around the weather was quite fascinating.

I’ve already got several pictures of that airline/livery/aircraft type. I don’t need any more. 

Except they’re landing from the opposite direction today… and on the other runway… and the sky is amazing… and the light conditions are just right…

I’m only going to wait a few more minutes for that flight to push back and then I’m giving up.


I have to thank my twitter friend Andrew for coming up with this one.  It’s so true! An hour later I’m still there, still waiting for that plane to depart. Of course when I do give up and leave that’s when the plane decides to taxi out. Doh! I swear it does this on purpose just to taunt me! (I’m talking to you, American Airlines Airbus with the America West retro livery!)

I don’t need a better camera/lens/scanner.

Actually, yes I do! I really do! And once I get that new piece of spotting equipment, then of course I have to test it out! But don’t worry – I’m only going to stay ten minutes.

So why do we end up staying even though we swear we’re going to leave? Why do we make liars out of ourselves? Well…

For Moments Like This:

IMG_8472Earlier this week I decided to do a little plane spotting on my lunch break. It was hot and muggy so I told myself I’d only stay a few minutes. I was just about to (for once) head inside early when I heard a military flight contact the tower. I didn’t recognize the call sign but assumed it was probably a KC-135 practicing approaches. They often fly over from the nearby Air National Guard base. I’ve seen them several times before, however I figured I might as well stick around and watch them fly by.

FullSizeRender (70)Then I heard ATC clear the flight for the break. At that point I realized that it couldn’t be a tanker – it had to be fighters. Before I could even begin to speculate on what kind of fighters they might be, a flight of four A-10 Warthogs appeared. I calmly and patiently watched as they circled to land… OK, I’m lying again.  The truth is, I completely lost my mind.  I let out a shriek and sprinted across the parking garage (in high heels no less) while simultaneously attempting to take as many pictures as possible. I was overwhelmed with excitement, laughing, crying, jumping up and down…

IMG_9481Then I noticed that the group of construction workers who had been working nearby were slowly backing away. I must have looked like a complete lunatic. And guess what? I. DON’T. CARE. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time then you know the A-10 is one of my all-time favorite airplanes. I’ve only seen them fly once before at AirVenture Oshkosh last summer. To see them at my airport was absolutely the most unexpected, amazing thing EVER.

So why do plane spotters tell themselves these terrible lies? Because magic moments happen without notice when you least expect them. We just don’t want to miss out. And that’s the truth.


Author’s note: In April I attended an event at the USAF Museum commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.  If you want to hear about it and see some pictures I took of the B-25s that participated in the flyover, please check out Episode 24 of the Flying and Life podcast.

15 thoughts on “Lies Plane Spotters Tell

  1. What an incredibly impressive story Jen. You never fail to amaze me with your talent for telling a marvelous airplane tail …

    And thanks for the pic of the Skymaster. I spent many an hour in one of those Push-me Pull-you things.



    • Thank you so much, Rob! You’re too kind! If you check my twitter feed there’s a photo of the Skymaster next to a Warthog. That’s a whole lot of awesome right there! LOL


  2. Your enthusiasm for the A-10 is well founded. I spent 23 years in the AF and three of that I spent working A-10 EW maintenance at DM. My favorite time was in the cockpit with canopy closed and APU running. I miss those days.


  3. Are you sitting down? Ok. What if I told you there was a stair truck designed for the A-10??

    (It’s not true, mind you — I’m just wonder what the reaction would be. 🙂 )


  4. Thanks so much JC – you are very kind! I love writing and I love aviation (and I love cats) so it is a good combination. 😊 As always, thanks so much for reading and for all your suppport and encouragement!


  5. Yep, there’s all kinds of lies we tell ourselves when we decide to spot. 😀

    The lie:
    “Yes, I was just killing time practicing panning shots on the local Cessnas and Zlins while waiting for the locally based L-29 Delfin jet to be rolled out and flown around.”

    The truth:
    “I suppose the Cessnas and Zlins are better than nothing for…HOLY CRAP!!! Is that an L-29 Delfin?! I had no idea there was one of those based at my local!”

    The lie:
    “I went out there early in the morning to take these nice shots of the Ilyushin Il-76 that I knew was there and would be departing early ”

    The truth:
    “I went out there early to get a landing shot of the daily BAe 146 cargo jet in that handsome orange and white TNT livery. My single shot of the TNT aircraft is a pathetic blur, but that IL-76 getting ready to leave is an unexpected treat that is more than ample compensation!”


  6. I never get tired of reading your stuff Jen. You are one of the few people who’s articles I will read more than once because they are just so darn entertaining.

    I only generally tell those lies to myself anymore. My wife stopped believing them a long time ago.


  7. Cool post and – ironically – so true!
    I do have to add the curse of the plane tracking app. Y’know: “Oh, that inbound flight is only 15 minutes out. I’ll just wait for it to land and then I’ll go… Wait, what’s this? Another one? And only 20 minutes behind the first? Well the light is looking really nice now so.. Hey, where’d the sun go??”


    • Thanks so much for reading! And oh yes – that’s a good one! Tracking apps in combination with plane spotting can make it impossible to leave the airport. In my case, they allow me to know exactly how long I can stay at my desk before I have to dash upstairs to catch the landing. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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