There are people who travel the world visiting airports and airfields just to watch airplanes take off and land. They’re called planespotters, and if you’re fascinated by aviation, this could be the perfect hobby for you too.
This article will cover the basics of what plane spotting is and why it’s important to aviation. It will also provide a few reasons why aviation enthusiasts should care about planespotting, including the implications the hobby could have on their understanding of aviation and air travel.
About Plane Spotting and Plane Spotters
Some prefer the term ‘aviation enthusiast‘ due to the stigma associated with the terms planespotter and planespotting. For them, it too closely resembles trainspotter and the nerdy associations that these hobbies attract
This is an unfair and inaccurate perspective. Aircraft spotting is a hobby that many individuals from all walks of life enjoy, both men and women, and it can be a way of introducing children and young adults into the fascinating world of aviation, air travel, and aircraft of all types, civil, commercial, and military aircraft.
Aviation enthusiasts sometimes gather in large numbers at viewing points near commercial airport and military airfields when there’s news of a rare aircraft about to land or take off.
So, if you’re attracted to this hobby you’ll need to gather a few essential pieces of kit to become an aircraft spotter. Here are nine items you’ll need to get started:
1. A Good Camera
As an airplane spotter you’re probably going to want to photograph the aircraft you see, and for this you’ll need a good camera. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need the most expensive DSLR on the market and it may be that your smartphone’s camera is up to the job if it’s one of the latest models.
However, you can’t beat a camera with a telephoto lens so eventually, you’ll want to buy the best you can afford. You can upgrade later as your hobby develops. It may be a while before you’re ready to purchase a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens with a price in four figures.
With practice you’ll be able to develop your photography skills to such a level that your photos will be accepted on sites like airliners.net and jetphotos.com, but be warned – they don’t accept any snaps that don’t meet their stringent standards.
Standing at the end of a runway at airports around the world while taking photos is, for many plane spotters, the main reason they took up aircraft spotting.
2. A Spotting Scope
A spotting scope is a must-have for any planespotter. It allows you to see airplanes that are still far away on the approach path, and it can help you get a better view of the details on an aircraft’s fuselage. If you want to save money, you can buy a used spotting scope. Just make sure that it comes with a tripod.
With this piece of kit you’ll be able to distinguish between aircraft, airlines, and military aircraft at a greater distance.
3. A Good Pair of Binoculars
Binoculars are another essential piece of equipment for planespotters. They’re not as powerful as a spotting scope, but they’re lighter and easier to carry around. Look for a pair with at least 10x magnification and don’t buy those that are too heavy.
You want something light but powerful enough to view the aircraft in the circuit, on approach, and after takeoff, for checking registrations and other details.
4. A Planespotting Guide
If you want to identify the different types of aircraft you see, you’re going to need a planespotting guide. These guides come in both print and digital formats, and they’re packed with information on different types of aircraft.
In time, you’ll be able to recognize aircraft without a guide but it can be tricky to distinguish between aircraft of the same basic model but different variants.
5. A Notebook
You’ll need a notebook to keep track of the planes you see. In your notebook, you can record the plane’s make and model, its tail number, and the date and location where you saw it. This is a great way to keep track of your planespotting adventures. You might instantly recognise a Spitfire but in the heat of the moment it would be a shame to miss its registration. Armed with htis information you can research its pedigree.
You can transpose this handwritten record to a digital copy later, when you’re back at home and reviewing your day’s activities. Your plane spotting record might include the aircraft spotted, the city and airport code letters, and any ancillary activities noted during the course of the day.
6. A Small Step Ladder
Buy yourself a small step ladder to give you some extra height when you’re waiting outside the airfield boundary. Just a few steps are enough as you don’t want a ladder that is too heavy to carry and unsteady on the ground because it’s too tall.
Being able to step up a little may mean the difference between a photo that has the perimeter fence in it or a clear view of the runway and the landing aircraft.
7. An Airband Receiver
An airband receiver allows you to listen to the messages exchanged between aircraft and air traffic controllers. It’s perfectly legal to do so and you’ll see many planespotters wearing an earpiece while they listen in. By doing so you can anticipate which aircraft will appear next and you’ll be alerted to anything unusual or dramatic occurring in the air.
8. Protection From The Elements
Suitable clothing will depend on the season and the location of the airport or airfield. What began as a pleasant day on the drive to the airport can quickly become cold and uncomfortable if you’re standing at the edge of a windswept airfield for hours on end.
On the other hand, you may find the location for your plainspotting is exposed to hot sunshine, so you’ll need to remember to bring some suncream and perhaps something to create some shade. The umbrella you use on rainy days can become your parasol on the hottest days.
9. A Portable Seat
Take a break from your spotting or sit while you spot. At some point you’ll want to sit and rest while you enjoy that packed lunch you brought with you, and that flask of tea or coffee.
These portable and collapsable chairs are useful in all kinds of locations; airshows, fishing, picnics, and camping.
Do’s and Don’ts of Plane Spotting
All planespotters are ambassadors for the hobby so it’s important that everyone who takes part aircraft spotting adheres to some commone sense ground rules.
- Don’t park illegally. Respect the neighourhood whether it’s urban or rural.
- Don’t trespass. Respect the airport security and don’t tread where you’re not permitted.
- Don’t litter. Take your rubbish home with you.
- Do answer questions if you’re approached by curious onlookers.
- Do make yourself aware of local bylaws and regulations.
- When plane spotting abroad, be aware that what may be legal at home could be illegal in another country.
Plane Spotting Locations
There are thousands of plane spotting locations around the globe, ranging from those that are easy to reach, even by public transport, to others that are much more challenging.
For example, you will often see people plane spotting at London Heathrow from a patch of grass in Myrtle Avenue.
Look up the airport of your choice and review the information online. Some airports provide viewing areas specifically for plane spotting, and these can be comfortable areas with nearby parking and refreshments.
Why should we care about plainspotters?
There are many reasons why aircraft spotting enthusiasts should care about planespotting.
First, this pastime could have implications on their understanding of aviation and air travel. For example, through planespotting, enthusiasts can learn about different types of aircraft and their capabilities.
Second, the hobby can also be a way for enthusiasts to connect with other people who share their passion for aviation and watching airplanes take off and land. This is particularly important given the fact that the global planespotting community is huge.
Finally, planespotting can also be a way for enthusiasts to support the aviation industry and its continued growth.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why aviation enthusiasts should care about planespotting. The hobby can have implications for their understanding of aviation and air travel, it can be a way for them to connect with others who share their passion, and it can also be a way for them to support the aviation industry.
If you’re interested in planes and aviation and you want to try spotting aircraft, it’s important to get started with the right tools. This list includes all of the essentials that you’ll need to start spotting planes like a pro. With these nine items, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running (or flying).