Spotter Sins and Fly-Ins

A few weeks ago a friend and I watched airplanes together during our lunch break. We chatted while we snapped photos. During a pause in the conversation we looked up and saw something unusual approaching the other runway. By the time we realized what it was (a KC-135 doing a practice approach) it was too late for us to get to the other side of the garage. We managed to grab a couple of quick pics, but what could have been a great opportunity passed us by.

We looked at each other with dismay as we realized that we both had scanners, but neither of us was listening! Ooops! We had committed a major spotting sin and we paid the price. Make the most of your spotting moments by making sure you’re ready. Here are some classic errors that can cost you the chance to catch that special airplane.

Not Having/Not Listening to a Scanner

Since we’re already talking about it, let’s start here. I didn’t use a scanner for a long time. I just didn’t realize what a valuable tool it can be, especially for catching military flights or private jets which might not show up on flight trackers. Once I started using one my spotting game got a lot better. LiveATC feeds aren’t always available and don’t always capture the most useful channels. For example, at my airport LiveATC covers the approach and tower frequencies, but it doesn’t have the ground frequency which means you can’t hear taxi instructions. A scanner lets you program whatever channels you want and the reception is a lot clearer. If you don’t have a scanner, get one! And if you do have a scanner, don’t make my mistake and leave it in your car!

Forgetting to Check Equipment

How many times have you been set up to capture a long-sought-after livery only to have your camera’s low-battery light come on at the worst possible moment? I’ve had this happen many times! I usually continue with the shot while silently urging the battery to last just a few more moments. Sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes I don’t. The same thing happens with scanner batteries. We can save ourselves a lot of grief by taking a moment to check these things before we head out. And always carry spare batteries and extra memory cards.

Not Connecting with Other Spotters

Belonging to a spotter network is important. It can help you with everything from finding good spotting locations to choosing the right camera settings. Many spotters also work in the aviation industry and they often have really great insider information about rare airplanes or unusual liveries that are scheduled to visit. Plus plane spotting is just more fun with others!

Not Being Respectful

When chasing that perfect pic it can be hard to resist the temptation to sneak onto private property, or stand along the fence outside of the designated spotting area. You tell yourself it’s just this once for that one special airplane. The problem is, it only takes one person breaking the rules one time to potentially shut down spotting for everyone. Don’t be that person! Stick to designated locations. If airport security asks you to relocate, apologize and move right away.

Fly-In Season!

Warm weather and covid vaccinations mean that fly-ins are possible once again. After more than a year of being stuck at home with only virtual events to attend, the aviation world is ready to get back out there. On a recent Sunday I headed to the other side of the state to attend a fly-in that was held by a local EAA chapter. I was excited to be surrounded by airplanes and ready for a great day of photography.

I’ll admit I was a teeny bit apprehensive about crowds (or lack thereof), but I needn’t have worried. There was a wonderful mix of different types of planes and altbough attendance was strong, it never felt too crowded. I grabbed my camera and set off to capture the day. The field is bordered on one side by a raised levy. Not only did it offer a great view of the airfield below, but planes flew right over top as they departed. The perfect spotting location! Seeing an opportunity for some amazing video, I positioned myself carefully, lined up the shot and clicked the record button on my camera. And then the low battery light came on. And I realized I left my spare batteries back in the car.

DOH!!!

A New Perspective

I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post (OK, semi-regularly – but I do have a new post in the works, I swear) to bring you BREAKING NEWS!

As many of you know, the view from my desk leaves a lot to be desired. When I look up I see a wall. And I can look over into the copy room where the photocopier and supply cabinet are. Except for the occasional sound of airplanes taxiing up to nearby gates, you’d never know I worked at an airport. I could be sitting in any office anywhere.

The view from my desk.

I’ve tried not to complain too much. After all, a desk with a wall view at an airport beats a desk with a wall view anywhere else. However, there has been an open desk by the windows for over four years now. It looks out past one of the jetbridges to the south airfield beyond. It is brighter than my current cube, has more desk space than my cube and I’ve wanted to move into it sooooo badly.

I started my quest by dropping subtle hints. (“That desk over there has been open a long time now…”) When that didn’t work I became a little more obvious. (“Sure, I’ll take on that additional task. What are the chances I can move to that desk?”) Evenutally I resorted to straight-up stating my desire on my annual review. (Question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Me: “Sitting at a desk by the windows.”) It has become something of a joke. “Oh, we can’t give Jennifer a window desk – she’d never get anything done!” I’ve tried to argue that I’d actually get more done because I wouldn’t have to get up and run to the window every time something interesting taxies by. Sadly, I got nowhere. I hadn’t given up all hope, but I was close.

In the meantime, several rounds of reorganization have occurred. The department that shared part our space moved upstairs. We downsized. More and more offices and desks went unusued. Then in a recent meeting my new boss announced that since there are so many open offices, they decided to allow people to move into them. She went on to say that unfortunately there aren’t quite enough offices for everyone. Would I be willing to take a desk by the windows instead?

Me: Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Her: Are you OK?

Me: *dances*

Her: *looks confused*

Once I calmed down enough to be coherent I assured my boss that I have ZERO desire to have an office (most of which don’t have windows) and that I am not only willing to take a desk by the windows, but that it’s pretty much the only work-related thing I’ve wanted for the past six years.

Eeeeeeeeeee!

And so, after years of patiently (or maybe not-so patiently) waiting, I HAVE A DESK BY THE WINDOWS! Yes, my view is somewhat obscured by the jetbridge, and even more obscured when a plane is there, but I do not care! This is the beginning of a whole new era! I’m not saying I’m going to post a million pics of what I see out my window… but then again, I might.

Airport Love Connection

Have you ever gazed across a crowded concourse and suddenly found yourself totally smitten? Well I have. More than once. Smitten by AIRPLANES, of course! Sure, I’ve always had a list of favorite planes, but since I started working at the airport I’ve fallen in love with a number of other airplanes that I might never have met otherwise.

T-38 Talon (The movie star.)

Oooh – look! It’s that plane who played the MiG-28 in Top Gun! OK, fine – so the T-38 wasn’t actually in Top Gun (the MiG-28 was played by F-5s), but it is strikingly similar. It isn’t unusual to see several Talons at the airport over the course of the summer. Like any fan-girl I love to take pics of them, but it isn’t easy. They are nimble little jets that can easily evade the paparazzi if they want to.

C-130 (The hypnotist.)

These planes also stop by my office regularly. It is not unusual to see them practicing approaches or doing touch and goes. I had seen C-130s on static display at air shows before, but it wasn’t until I got the chance to see them flying that I really fell in love. Let’s just say I have a thing for big… propellors. There’s something about them that is completely mesmerizing. And the sound they make… music to my ears!

Mooney (That tail!)

I did my discovery flight in a Mooney so I’ll admit I’m partial to them. With a tail that looks like someone accidentally installed it backwards, what’s not to love? It gives them a distinctive appearance that makes them easy to spot on the airfield.

Antonov 124 (Bigger is better!)

As you may already know, I LOVE big airplanes. (Yes, size matters!) The An-124 is the largest commercial airplane to regularly visit our cargo airport. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to get close to one I’m reminded of just how ridiculously huge it is. Even the tires seem abnormally large.

Gulfstream (Bond. James Bond.)

If Gulfstreams drank martinis they’d prefer them shaken and not stirred. Suave, smooth, flashy… they are sure to steal any avgeek’s heart! There’s just something about the sweep of their wings that makes me go all a-flutter.

Starship (Out of this world!)

I remember the first time I saw a Starship. It was being towed out from behind some other planes and as it slowly came into view, my jaw nearly hit the floor. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but I was hooked. It is one of the most unique airplanes I’ve ever had the pleasure to see at work and I do hope it comes back to visit some day.

Your Turn!

So what about you? Have you made any love connections lately? If not, then get yourself to the nearest airport ASAP. You never know what you might find hiding out amongst the hangars. Just be prepared to have your heart stolen!

Wacko for Waco

It has been a rough year for avgeeks. Pretty much every major air show and aviation event has been canceled or posponed until 2021. Aside from a few isolated fly-overs, aviation enthusiasts have had to make due with whatever airplanes happened to stop by the local airport.

In recent weeks, however, a few small events have popped up. I shrugged most of them off – we’re in a pandemic, after all. Who is going to show up? The chance of any event being worth attending seemed pretty low. Then last month I found out about a Waco fly-in being held a couple hours away at Waco Field. The day was gorgeous – blue skies, perfect temps. I had nothing better to do so I decided to take a chance and make the trip.

During the drive I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. However, when I arrived at the destination and saw row after row of bi-planes and other vintage airplanes I nearly burst into tears for sheer joy. Finally! After more than a year I was once again surrounded by airplanes and avgeeks and it felt wonderful!

I started the afternoon by working my way along the rows of planes. Since this was a Waco fly-in, I was not surprised to see several of them in attendance. However, there were plenty of other types of planes on hand as well. One that caught my eye was the Grasshopper. It is actually a Piper J-3 Cub which was adapted for service in WWII. Another plane that grabbed my attention was a Great Lakes bi-plane. I just love the stance, the big round tail and splashy colors.

Next I visited the small museum located on the field. Inside were a number of exhibits dedicated to the history of Waco airplanes. Originally the Weaver Aircraft Company, the name changed to Waco around 1929. They developed a number of different airplanes including both open and closed cockpit bi-planes. During WWII they manufactured gliders which were used by the US Army Air Force as well as the RAF. The company folded after the war when the demand for civil aircraft didn’t increase as hoped.

I headed back outside in time to watch the RC air show. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from RC planes. Turns out it was pretty darn cool. They started with an aerobatic helicopter which did some pretty fancy flying that made me a little dizzy. This was followed by an aerobatic plane which performed the same loops and spins that one would expect from the full-sized version. Last was an RC plane built almost entirely for speed. It had a jet engine and they weren’t kidding when they said it was fast!

Once the RC show was over, the families moved off to the other side of the field for the candy drop. This was accomplished with another RC helicopter. I had never seen a candy drop before. It sure did look like fun! I opted not to get too close – in part to maintain social distance, but mostly because the Wacos and several other planes were taking off in preparation for the parade of planes.

The parade consisted of a series of fly-bys. An announcer provided details about each type of Waco as it made a low pass up the grass strip. Once the parade was over, the two bi-planes that had been giving rides all afternoon took back to the air. I’ve always been a bit hesitant about flying in an open cockpit, but I have to admit it looked like a lot of fun.

I headed home at the end of the day exhausted and sunburned but very happy. It was wonderful to be around airplanes again! Plus I found the perfect souvenir to remind me of all the fun. Perhaps best of all, I was able to support a small aviation museum and hopefully help keep it up and running for years to come.

The Bad, the Ugly and… the Good?

Its been a struggle lately to find something encouraging to write about. Things are quiet. Too quiet. Every aviation event I planned to attend has been canceled. Many shops at the airport remain closed, parking lots are empty and there are few passengers wandering the concourses.

The Bad

The outlook for the travel industry continues to be pretty bleak. The number of enplanements at my airport increased over the summer from the shocking low numbers we saw in the spring, but they haven’t rebounded as strongly as everyone hoped. Total passengers are down 65% from 2019. Unfortunately, now that the summer travel season has ended, enplanements appear to be sliding backwards again. In response, the airlines have trimmed flights and we currently expect to see around 60 flights per day in September – down from 70 per day in July and August. (That’s compared to around 140 flights per day in 2019.)

The Ugly

The CARES Act funding ends at the end of September. Unless additional funding is provided, the airlines will begin downsizing. Thousands of people will lose their jobs. Whole fleets will be parked. Once this happens the airlines will be much smaller. Even if the demand for travel suddenly comes roaring back, it is unlikely they’ll be able to scale up quickly enough to meet it. Sadly, it seems that there won’t be any real recovery any time soon. And the longer this drags on, the slower it will be. Current predictions are for a possible recovery in 2024. Ouch!

The Good?

In the midst of all the bad news and discouragement I got to wondering: is there anything good going in aviation right now? It can’t be ALL bad, can it? So I set out to find if there are any silver linings hidden in the gloom.

1. Cargo

In June our cargo-dedicated airport managed to have one of the best months it has EVER had. The airport handled 31 million lbs of freight compared to around 19 million lbs in June 2019. Some international carriers haven’t returned since the pandemic began, but others have increased flights. We even picked up a new carrier – Korean air announced that they will be starting regular flights this month. Domestic charters have increased as well. It is encouraging to see that at least one sector of the industry is doing OK.

2. General Aviation

General aviation flights are down a bit from 2019, but not nearly as much as I expected. In June and July commercial carrier operations were down about 6,000 flights/month, which is a drop of around 63% from the same period in 2019. However, general aviation operations were only down about 300 flights/month, which is a drop of only 28% from the prior year. As a plane spotter, I think it is great that general aviation planes are getting more time in the spotlight. I’ve enjoyed seeing more Bonanzas, Mooneys and Cessnas around.

3. Airport Life

Regardless of what may be happening in the industry, life at the airport goes on. Airfield inspections still have to happen, the winter season has to be prepared for and unusual visitors still drop in. Last week the airport held its tri-annual emergency preparedness exercise. This year it involved a simulated aircraft fire using a replica fuselage with actual flames. I was able to leave my desk for a few minutes to go upstairs and watch. I often see ARFF practicing on the airfield, but it was cool to be able to see them in action in a more realistic situation.

Times may be stressful and the outlook rather gloomy, but airplanes are still cool and flying is still magic. It will take more than a pandemic to change that! As long as there are C-17s on the ramp and a Maules in camo, there is never a dull day at the airport. And that’s very good indeed!

Aviation Appreciation

DE18EC16-532D-42AA-A67A-4BFB4068CAB2This is not the blog post I intended to write. I originally planned to outline all the things that avgeeks can do to try to cope with Severe Aviation Deficiency (aka S.A.D) brought about by the current pandemic. I may still write that post eventually. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t want aviation subsitutes. I want real airplanes and I want them RIGHT NOW.

I know, I know. I’m being selfish and silly and maybe a bit juevenile. But as I’ve written before, aviation is more than just a passing interest. It’s a passion. It’s therapy. It’s a community. And I’m REALLY missing all of that.

70F3550F-086E-4E78-8740-F6CE7B1D61F3If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile then you may recall that my mother passed away last year. I still miss her a lot. Then a few weeks ago my brother’s wife had a massive stroke. She collapsed suddenly and had to be life-flighted to a hospital for brain surgery. She survived – a miracle in itself – but she’s facing a very long road to recovery. I’ve been helping my brother with his blog, which he is using to keep friends and family informed.

4DB6968B-0768-4B23-ACC9-DBD3DF689890So you see, I’ve been in dire need of a little aviation therapy. Unfortunately, I’m not at the office these days so the only planes I see are those that happen to fly over my back yard. Then I got an email with two small words that brightened my whole week: military charters. TWO of them! A B767 AND a B777 – planes we rarely get to see. Better still, they’re being flown by an airline that rarely visits. This, my friends, was just what the doctor ordered!

But would I be able to catch both flights? After all, I’m working from home so I can’t just take a break and go upstairs for a few minutes. I need at least half an hour to drive to the airport, park and get into position. As luck would have it, the B767 arrived on a Friday evening. It was delayed until well after I had finished work for the day, so I had no trouble getting there in time to see it.

5271AFF1-74D5-4702-A462-63A676D2EEDFThe B777 on the other hand, was much more of a challenge. It was originally scheduled for a Saturday arrival, which would have been great. Then they pushed it back to Thursday morning. Noooooo! Not good! But… a B777! In my nearly six years at the airport I’ve never seen a B777 there. I did NOT want to miss it. What’s an avgeek to do?

I did the only thing I could think of: I took time off work so I could spend time at the office. I know – that sounds completely ridiculous. (Thanks pandemic!) But hey, I did what I had to do. And it was soooo worth it – not just for the airplane (which was fantastic) but for the time I got to spend around other spotters. Thankfully, it is easy to watch airplanes and still maintain an appropriate distance from others.

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A spotter and his dad.

Actually, I was surprised how many people were there, including a number of younger spotters I had never met before. Several parents and siblings had also come along. There were so many faces peering over the wall of the parking garage that it caught the attention of some members of the Airport Operations Department. After the 777 parked, they came upstairs to greet the spotters and talk to them about possible careers in Operations. How cool is that!? I am SO GLAD I work for an airport that appreciates and encourages a passion for aviation!

So, am I feeling better now? Yes! It makes me happy to know that there are still cool airplanes and interesting liveries to see. And if having more free time during the pandemic has encouraged new avgeeks, then that’s a silver lining that makes life’s challenges a little easier to bear. 0004CA7E-79F8-40CD-972A-F03B3C120F0E

What in the World?!

I’m not a big fan of surprises. Surprise party? No, thanks. Surprise audit? Yikes! What about surprise airplanes? Ah! That’s the one kind of surprise I actually DO like! Over the last few years I’ve gotten to see some pretty unusual and unlikely airplanes lurking outside the office.38045232_unknown Tracking down these rare and different visitors takes a lot of practice, skill and a keen eye for… OK, fine – mostly it just takes luck. And a knack for being in the right place at the right time. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances.

If commercial aviation is your thing, I recommend JetTip.net. For a long time I resisted the urge to add yet another tracking service to my already large collection. But after a friend gave it a try and got a lot of useful alerts about unusual liveries and charter aircraft, I gave in. Now my problem is trying to schedule my lunch break to catch the planes I most want to see and hoping I’m not in a meeting when they arrive.

39382640_unknownIf you are interested in non-commercial planes then you really MUST listen to a scanner. There have been several instances where I’ve been watching traffic on one runway when an exchange with ATC alerted me to something interesting on approach to the other. Also, make sure you really look around carefully. I pull out my camera and zoom in on the hard-to-see places at the far end of the airfield. More than once what I thought at first glance to be just another plane turned out to be something special when I took a closer look.

So, what kind of unusual and unlikely airplanes have I spotted hiding out on the airfield? Well, my favorite catches lean towards the military, but there are some good GA aircraft on the list as well.

CT-155 Hawk

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I know I’ve found something fun when I have to stop what I’m doing and research the plane to figure out what the heck it is. Such was the case with the Hawk. Google tells me it is an advanced jet trainer – this particular one belongs to Canada. What was it doing flying around the Midwest? No clue but I’m so glad I got to see it!

Widgeon

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I had heard from one of my friends that there is a Widgeon hangared at my airport. Wait… a what? I looked it up and discovered tbat it’s a type of amphibious aircraft first built in the 1940s. I was skeptical that such a special airplane would make its home here. Then one day I spotted it parked on the ramp. I really hoped I would get to see it take off, but it was eventually towed back into the hangar. Glad I got a glimpse of it at least.

NASA T-38

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The T-38 is a fairly regular visitor to my airport, so I don’t consider them to be rare or unusual… unless it happens to have the NASA livery! Not sure how many Talons NASA has these days, but I had only seen one previously and it was at an air show. I definitely didn’t expect to see one at work!

Beechcraft Starship

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I was scanning the area around the FBO one afternoon when I noticed an unusual shape being towed across the ramp. As it gradually emerged from behind the other airplanes I became and more and more perplexed. What in the heck is that? It was the most crazy and the most excellent general aviation airplane I’ve ever seen parked outside of the office. My friends on twitter informed me that it was a Starship, one of very few still flying. Definitely one of my most favorite catches!

Navy T-6 Trainer

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As I mentioned, it isn’t unusual to see T-38 and other Air Force trainers around. But when a Navy trainer shows up you bet it caught my attention. A quick check of the map confirmed that there are no oceans in the area. No Navy bases either. That made this T-6 a special catch.

P-8 Poseidon

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I was listening to the scanner one evening when I heard ATC clear someone for a practice approach. Curious, I headed over to the runway in question just in time to see a Poseidon doing a touch and go. Um… wait… a Poseidon? Here??? I’m really starting to wonder if the Navy has a secret ocean stashed nearby.

E-9A Widget

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I almost didn’t notice this plane hanging out across the airfield until I zoomed in with my camera and saw the unusual markings. I did some digging online and discovered that this is one of only two Widgets owned by the USAF. Guess what they’re used for? That’s right – ocean surveillance!

OK, that does it. Clearly there’s an ocean hiding here in the Midwest. Thank goodness I love looking for unusual airplanes or I might never have known! Now I just need to find the hidden seaplane base – maybe then I’ll finally get to see the Widgeon fly!

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Stalking Airplanes

IMG_1327Every aviation enthusiast has a list of airplanes that they really want to see. Sometimes it’s a certain type that we’re after. Or it can be a particular airline or livery (or both). Some hard-core spotters seek specific tail numbers. For me, it is a mix of these things.

I would dearly love to see an A380. It’s not going to happen at my airport – I’d have to go elsewhere. I would also love to see a B747-8 up close. They fly into the cargo airport but I just haven’t been able to coordinate my schedule to make it down there to see one. We do get lots of special liveries though. Both Southwest and American have several of them. Even Delta and United have a few.

IMG_1470With all the hours I spend at airports, you’d think that chasing down specific liveries wouldn’t be much of a challenge. Wrong! For one thing, I’ve got pretty strict rules. I have to see the plane where I work – another airport doesn’t count. The plane needs to be taxiing, taking off or landing, and I need to witness it either from the ramp or up on the garage. The bigger issue, however, is that certain airplanes are deliberately hiding from me.

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Photo by Ryan Ewing, who gets to see some really awesome airplanes.

American Airlines TWA & Reno Air Liveries

To my great sadness, American has been retiring the mighty Mad Dog at a rapid pace. If there is any consolation, however, it’s that they are sending B737s (rather than more A319s) to replace them. This means that some special liveries which were previously out of my reach are now within the realm of possibility. Recently I happened to get lucky enough to catch American’s One World livery as it was landing. I figure at some point TWA and Reno Air will make an appearance. Hopefully I’ll be watching when they do!

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Another photo by Ryan Ewing. I’m so jealous.

American Airlines America West Livery

I have seen this airplane a time or two… but always at the gate or hiding behind a fence. For some reason it doesn’t visit my airport very often. A few months ago it was scheduled to fly out just after I finished work for the day.  Perfect!  But then it delayed and delayed and delayed. It wasn’t until I gave up and headed for my car that it finally pushed back. It taunted me by taxiing onto the runway at the exact moment I happened to drive by.

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You get one guess who took this. Yep, Ryan Ewing. I’m way beyond jealous at this point.

Delta SkyTeam livery

If the America West special livery plane is elusive, Delta SkyTeam is worse. I recently discovered that this wily plane has been sneaking in and out of my airport for quite some time. It flies in late at night then hurriedly takes off shortly before I arrive. I had no clue this was going on until a coworker told me about it. Sure, show up for the coworker but hide from me! Totally uncool, Delta SkyTeam!

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Miami Air captured in the open by James Dingell.

Miami Air

This airline has been taunting me relentlessly for years. Like the Delta SkyTeam livery, it conveniently flies in when I’m not around. On the rare occasion that it shows up while I’m at work, it always parks at the one gate I can’t see. Or it parks at the FBO and positions itself in such a way that I can’t get a good look at it, no matter what vantage point I try.

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Photo by Andrew Stricker. Because Miami Air apparently isn’t hiding from him.

A few months ago I noticed Miami Air on the scheduled charter list, and much to my joy it was supposed to arrive right around my lunch time. Hooray! Then the flight was delayed. So I delayed my lunch. But then it was delayed some more. And some more. And wouldn’t you know I had a meeting that afternoon? Clearly Miami Air knew. Not only did it land after the meeting started, but it performed the world’s fastest turn-around and departed before the meeting ended. Did I mention the meeting was only ONE HOUR long? Well played, Miami Air. You may have won this round but I’m not giving up!

IMG_6041Every once in a while I happen to stumble across a cool livery that almost (but not entirely) makes up for all those planes I haven’t been able to see (yet). Such was the case when United’s Star Alliance stopped by. Not only did it park at a gate where it was easy to see, but it taxied out on time and took off right in front of me. Thank you so much, Star Alliance!

As for the planes on my most wanted list, well I’m in meetings all day next Wednesday, so I’m sure they’ll pick that day to fly in. (OK, actually I don’t have any meetings.  Don’t tell them that!)

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© http://www.talesfromtheterminal.com 2017

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

My Airport Vacations

img_6174I 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.

img_4345O’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.

img_4982Cape 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.

img_6028Charlotte 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.

img_6104The 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?

The Drive-Bys

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:

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Carolinas Aviation Museum

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.

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At Oshkosh. Oh how I love that plane!

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.

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