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Airplane watching brings back fond memories during pandemic

Looking for something to do while social distancing? There aren't as many planes due to the pandemic, but it sure is fun to watch them take off and land (video) ( More...

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Craig Ehler 17
I took my wife spotting at MSP (Concourse D Observation Deck) for our first date. 25-years now past, she claims to have discovered two lifelong loves during that date - airplanes and ME! Back then we were 19-year-old students with dreams of being an airline pilot (me) and a doctor (her). Today, I am an airline pilot and my wife is a doctor. Despite our crazy lifestyle/schedules, we still love airplane spotting/watching together...
Tom Bruce 4
always tried to have time between flights there... have taken hundreds of pix from that deck.. travel agent
"there's a quicker connection?"... nope...don't want to chance it... I'll take the later flight... then, up to the "lookout"
Eddie Vallee 17
When I was a young boy I used to pack a sandwich with a can of 10-cent soda and ride my bicycle three miles to the end of the local airport's runway (ELM). I'd sit in a cornfield for an hour or two and watch the Schweizer AG Cats take off, The BAC 111's from Alleghany Air/USAir and of course, all the Gliders that were taking off too. It was some of the best summer days of my life. Now, when I pull over or go somewhere out of the way to plane spot I'm always met with some security person telling me to leave. I hate it and it quite frankly pisses me off.
I can understand your frustration. I don't know if you might join a planespotter group! We have a local one here in Northern California. I'm trying to join as we speak! It sounds like a ton of fun!
ThePumpkin 2
Totally sympathize with you Eddie
Bless you for your comment.

I remmeber the first time that I 'suffered through' the movie Twelve O'Clock High, and got to the end. The scene where the now old man rides the bicycle onto what was once the airport runway, and I was so moved. I still get a little teary eyed remembering that scene, and I think the movie starts with that scene as a 'recollection;' of the whole time.

I get a little emotional when I've visited WWII planes, and have been able to go inside. I have wanted to crawl to the tail gunner's spot. Out of all of the people in that plane, I think the tail gunner is the one that needs the highest honors.

But even the naval ships I've toured. I stand there and try to imagine the scene, at sea, war going on, no one knowing what the day holds for them, and sirens start going off. Men running all over the bowels of the ship. Men stuck in the bowels, wondering what's to come. I don't mean to ignore women, but I do think that once it caught on, the Pentagon figured it was a way to avoid re-instituting 'The Draft'. Ford forbid the (second) Gulf War Of Choice mean that *anyone* (who didn't have connected parents, and millions of dollars) would have to present themselves to be ready to deploy and serve their country, and join the ranks of the 'suckers' according to our current 5+ times draft dodger resident of the White House.

All who served during war are special people, and deserve the gratitude of the ENTIRE NATION, Including our loudmouthed asshole president.

And the United Kingdom's leaders too. The men, and women, who served, deserve to be lead by leaders that VALUE THAT SERVICE!

To think of flying almost all day to drop bombs and avoid chaff and enemy fighters, and come back. And do it AGAIN? How many politicians haven't done that, and actively avoided service. George Walker Bush, Donald J Trump, who else? There are many I'm sure.
bentwing60 1

Not to totally sully the thread, but, it seems WJC and BHO were active non-participants, as well as the current D. nominee for the office. GB11 was a documented member of the Texas ANG and DJT is currently doing more for the active military than any of the aforementioned D boys ever did! And the oft forgotten (who could?) 2016 presidential election accorded the 'winner' the same position as all but the nominee, CIC, U.S. military forces.

As for plane spotting, we lived so far back in the woods that it consisted of identifying what flew overhead from 50', pawnees and ag cats to 31,000', 707s, DC8s and I guess the odd Convair 880. Kinda hard to nail down the last category from high silhouettes and contrails.

The take off and landing part of spotting for me came after we moved close enough to an airport that I could ride my human-powered bike there and hang off the fence, or not, as many small airports back in the day weren't modern day fortresses and had few if any fences. You could ride right up to the parking lot or ramp, and they didn't consider you a terrorist if you had a camera. In retrospect, I guess I was safe, I couldn't afford one. It was grand! Cheers
Tom Bruce -5
Clinton - dodger
Bush - got in a ANG unit when no-one else could- and unlikely to be sent to Nam
Obama - no service
Biden - asthma?? no service
Trump - no service but went to military school
patrick baker 6
authority figures too casually use the words security issues when exercising their authority.
jmoyikjr 6
Just a week ago, my son and I sat in a shopping center parking lot near the end of JFK 31R. We'd get a run of about 3 or 4 aircraft every 15m. A couple of 747 freighters were the highlight of the day.
robin guess 5
I take my lunch break everyday at Founders Plaza at DFW. Spotting at other areas have not been a problem either. 1 time I had airport police show up pulled out his camera and snapped a few of a BA dreamliner then went on his way.
Larry White 2
I go out there too. I have a silver Jeep Renegade.
Larry White 2
oh yes DFW north west side by UPS terminal. I often go there and watch for 2-3 hrs. Go to Whataburger for take-out lunch. I miss QF A-380s coming and going. Used to go over my home in Arlington going back to Sydney. Maybe we'll meet some day out there. I drive a silver Jeep Renegade.
Our local airport had a fantastic 'observation deck' at the top of the airport. It had a restaurant, and bar, and was a great place to hang out. People would go there for meetings, and just to hang out. Then, after the hysteria of 9.11.2001, it was closed. Why? It was a 'security issue'. It still sounds silly today. Yeah, people carrying bazookas and ground-to-air missiles were known to hang out there. Detroit Metro Airport was built with obscured windows on both sides of the incredibly long terminal. Especially the restroom entrances. Most people, I'd wager, would want to watch the planes. It just doesn't make any sense to block viewing planes IN AN AIRPORT! The paranoia, and need to appear to be 'doing something'.

Out local airport? They tore down the terminal. The replacement has windows on only one side, and they are translucent, largely. *sigh*
David Beattie 3
My very understanding mother would drive me out and drop me off for the day at SJC so I could watch airplanes and otherwise bother airline employees. Back then there was no security and I could invite myself onto most airliners just by asking the gate agent. UA was the best at this. Once I got to visit a DC-8 which had diverted from SFO when JAL landed in the bay. The FE showed me the logbook for the day; ORD-DEN-SLC-SJC. I was so impressed!
Heatseekerws6 3
KMKE Mitchell International in Milwaukee has 2 lots for plane watching. The main lot has both ground and arr/dep frequencies available via FM modulation.
Kris Akerley 3
KAPF (Naples Municipal airport, FL) actually welcomes you to plane watch. These planes (the 1%'er's) are constantly still flying. Free public parking. They've built a observation deck with benches and a shade sail. TWR freq speaker you can activate. Public restrooms. Airplane kiddie playground, all on the end of runway 5/23.
Don't forget Gravely Point at DCA.
William Smith 2
I grew up in NoVa. Know Gravely Point well.
Russ Brown 2
I have a beautiful picture of my father holding my two year old daughter and the hand of my five year old son silhouetted looking up at an Eastern airlines DC-9 taken at Gravelly Point in 1972.
ADXbear 3
There are only a few airports that have areas designated for watching.. CLT AND LAS come to mind..

I live close to MCO no longer ais any area allowed to stop, serious security gets in your face.. however you can go to the airport GOAA for a pass to go to the rooftop of main terminal.. only problem, it's nearly a mile to the runways!.. thanksvalot...i needed 500mm lens to get any kind of picture..
911 screwed up alot of things we had, and they say the terrorist didnt win!!
WhiteKnight77 3
I was born on a SAC bomber base (now closed) and have been into planes ever since. Being on or near military bases allowed me to watch planes of all sorts including the Vulcan bomber that was part of the British contingent at Offutt in the 70s. I would go up on the hill behind our housing unit and watch it, as well as Looking Glass fly around.

Getting to see the F-15s at Langley was fun and after Pops retired, we ended up a couple of miles off the end of 7. You could watch civilian and military aircraft flying in. We used to go to the old terminals observation deck to watch planes come and go, but with the new terminal, no such place exists. I still remember a day back in the late 70s where there was an Alitalia Airlines 747 that stopped in for some reason. I didn't even hear it take off even though I was elsewhere on the airport property.

I lived across the street from Dobbins ARB/NAS Atlanta and would drive down the road and take night pics of planes flying the pattern from the end of the runway. Of course, since Lockheed Martin was there, took lots of pics of F-22s returning from their first flights and the test pilots playing around. Plane spotting is fun, but hard to do nowadays sadly.

If anyone knows of places to watch planes coming to or leaving ATL, please let me know.
WhiteKnight77 1
I meant to state off the end of 7 at PHF. Sadly, Ma sold the place a couple of years ago.
Greg Mermel 3
ABQ has a nice upstairs seating area inside security with a great runway view, and a designated parking area for plane watching off the approach end of Runway 8.
ThePumpkin 1
You’re very lucky! Sounds great!
Cyma Shapiro 3
Since I was a young child, I've been utterly fascinated with planes. While on either domestic or international flights, I would immediately look for the (then) observation deck in every airport. As I got older, my experience got more sophisticated - using FlightAware to track the planes in real-time, while listening to live ATC at the same time. I began bringing friends along with me and then my husband and kids. Today, we're enamored with Charlotte's wondrous Douglas Airport Outlook (perhaps one of the last of its kind, anywhere around). Together with more than 100 of our newest BFFs (actually, no - we don't know any of them!), we all share the same experience together. We do this often. Time has not diminished our love of flying or watching planes take off and land. We feel so lucky that we still have the opportunity to continue to do so.
For 8 years we lived in Alameda about a mile north of the Oakland Airport runway. We were treated daily to an endless stream of all types of aircraft climbing out. Plus, there were bonus yearly sightings during Fleet Week of the Blue Angels forming up right off our back yard after dual take-offs, and the occasional Concorde round-the-world charter flight straightening out the droop nose as it howled into the air. Most of my neighbors were noise whiners, but we aviation buffs were in heaven.
Kim Kleppel 3
I live under a Kennedy airport flight path and when the wind is right I have my own private air show. I miss the Concorde. A bit of noise so infrequently was a small price to pay for being able to watch that beautiful bird fly by. I doubt there will ever be a plane to match that.
dee9bee 2
I,too miss the old observation decks. Thank heaven I had my camera along in those days. There are still exceptions post 9/11. Google BWI, LAX, LAS, RDU (I think) SFO (new), DFW, FLL and so on. Some are in the secure area, many are not.
Ric Ben 2
My favorite observation deck as a teenager in the late 1960's was the old EWR North Terminal Observation Deck on the 2nd floor. There was a large indoor area the full length of the terminal with seating and 2 outdoor decks.
This is why I love the parking areas at KLAS and KVGT. At LAS (on Sunset Road, parallel to runways 8/26) there's a parking area adjacent to 26L, roughly 1000ft from the approach end. They pipe the tower to that area over FM radio (101.1FM), so you can hear the local controller there. You can then use LiveATC or a scanner to pick up any other frequencies (like Final) to catch everything all the way down.

The same is at VGT, though their parking area is actually a park, at the northwest corner of the field, between the approach end of 12R and 7. Same radio frequency applies there as well.
Phil Ford 2
I loved to watch flights at YVR, but I now live on the other side of the country and can now do it via my I pad!
Russ Brown 2
Grew up just over the hill from Boeing Plant and "Boeing Field" as it was known in Seattle. Now live two miles west of the end of the Dulles East/West runway. I can tell what time it is down in the basement when the heavies go over. Miss 'em.
Philip Lanum 2
Known as BFI or King County International Airport / Boeing Field.

When I took a voluntary layoff in 1999 from Boeing, I worked at the DC (Development Center) across the street from Boeing Field and the Museum of Flight. We used to cross the street during lunch and watch take offs and landings. Boeing Field is also the home base for Boeing Flight Test.

As a young boy in the late 50's to early 60's, my Uncle took "us kids" out to Stapleton Airport in Denver where we stood on a overlook and watched airliners take off for a few hours. Just to watch them.

I lived 50 miles east of Warren AFB in Cheyenne WY and at least once a week there were AF airplanes flying over. Mustangs and some bombers, we used to run out of the house to watch the show.

God I am old.
Peter Fuller 2
Yeah, you’re old, and I’m right there with you.

When I was a little guy in the mid to late 50s, my Dad would take us out to the old Orlando Municipal Airport (now the Orlando Executive Airport KORL) He’d park near the active runway so we could watch the airliners take off and land - mostly Eastern Airlines: Martins, Convairs, DC6s, sometimes a Constellation, later Electras. Sometimes we’d go to the terminal, to watch the planes come and go, even got to go aboard to sit in the pilots’ seats and pretend to fly. I remember the guys with fire extinguishers out on the ramp, ready in case something, umm, interesting happened during engine starts; also remember the start cart with big air hose to start the Electra turboprops. When we got home I’d try to build the planes I saw with Tinkertoys.

Once we went to the terminal, joined a big crowd of people, I sat on Dad’s shoulders so I could see. A plane taxied up, parked, an important-looking man came out, walked down the steps, shook some hands, everybody cheered. Figured out much later that he was Senator Estes Kefauver, the 1956 Democratic VP candidate, campaigning.

Old times, good times.
mbrews 1
@ Peter Fuller - I had similar experiences as a youngster at Orlando (Herndon field) before it was re-named Executive airport. During summertime, mom would drop us off in the morning at Herndon & later pick us up in the afternoon. Things weren't too busy, no Disney travelers, nobody bothered the young plane spotters at the terminal.

We got to know the schedules of Eastern DC-7s and Electras to DCA, Delta DC8s to ATL, and later National Airlines B-727 trijets to PHL and JFK. And yes,the Constellations gave us great sights and sounds. I remember seeing R. Nixon campaigning at a "whistlestop" tour at Orlando-Herndon in 1968.

I did have an affiliation as a Winter Park wildcat.
Russ Brown 1
She knows it.
William Smith 2
When I was a kid in the mid-70's, my dad, who was a career Army officer, was stationed in Hawai'i. We were fortunate to be assigned quarters at Ft. Kamehameha, about 3/4 of ample from the end of runway 8 (now 8L) at Honolulu Intel (PHNL). Every day we were treated to Aloha Airlines 737's and Hawaiian Air DC-9's turning on short final and from time to time 747's, DC-10's and large US Air Force transports on a long approach from the Barbers Point area of Oahu. If we wanted a better view to watch aircraft, the terminal had a gorgeous open air viewing platform that was open to the public. Later in my life, I usually found places to airplane watch around airports. Such as the parking lot at the end of runway 1L and 1R at KSFO, there was a great place at The end of 12L at KSTL. It no longer exists. Then the park at the north end of 19 at KDCA. I don't know it's current status. I now live in the Chicago metro area. You can pretty much forget any real airplane watching around KORD or KMDW. Either security is majorly anal or the fiel is more or less surrounded by walls. They must have morons advising the airport authorities in regard to security. Fact is, if anyone was planning to do anything such as try to do harm yo aircraft flying in or out of our airports, they wouldn't do it right at the airport. They would be miles away but in an area where the target aircraft would still be within the weapons target envelope. Typically below 10,000 ft and within 3 miles. That's a lot of real estate to secure. Most of the security in place that we see is really a mere laying on of hands. There are numerous cases of security breaches occurring at all levels of airports. Anyway, that's just my take. I have loved airplane watching for most of my life. When we were able to watch from parking lots, I would routinely place an extension speaker on the roof of my car, connected to an Air band AM radio receiver, tuned to the local tower frequency, so others could hear the communications between the pilots and the air controllers.
Jasper Buck 2
"...AM radio receiver, tuned to the local tower frequency,..."

I believe that ATC communications are the 118-137 MHz band. Not AM.

John Cummings 1
Amplitude Modulation is used in the 118-137 MHz. Standard broadcast has used AM in the 540-1700 kHz band for over a century, think of AM as Ancient Modulation!
You know, seeing this, and seeing the joy on those kids' faces, brings back memories of my childhood. My mom used to take me to different airports, and we'd either pack lunches or we'd go to restaurants that either were in surrounding areas of airports, or on airport property and I'd sit and watch planes t/o and land for hours. Of course that was way pre-9/11. One of my dreams as a kid was to either be a pilot, or an act! It was a lot of fun. Glad to see these kids smiles.
Tom Bruce 2
Been taking slides of planes for 50 years... know all the places to go all over the West... 911 killed a lot of access but there are still some tricks to play... AF 1965-68 - 100 missions in Nam... ATC for 6 1/2 years...fired in '81... sales for 25 years on airplanes every other week... still get out... big fires in NorCal and McClellan AB full of fire fighting tankers.. 744, DC10s, C130s, P3s, L188, Ba146... helios..MD87s
ExPatHere 2
My Dad used to take us out to the old Detroit Airport (now where car rentals are located at DTW ) every now and then To watch take-offs and landings and we loved it. Now I live near a military base and whenever I hear our fliers overhead, I still run out to look up...and wish them well.
mmc7090 2
From personal experience having visited DTW, CLE, CVG 911 type paranoia and now pandemic has closed terminal rooftops and parking lots originally placed for this purpose. Knee jerk overreactions. Cleveland in particular you would find visiting classes of Mennonites and Amish taking their children for an airport day to see what the modern world had built around them. Assisting the teachers explaining to the children what they were looking at was a rewarding experience.
In Kentucky the jerk Governor won't allow people to sit in their own cars off of Donaldson Rd
oh my..i wish i had a dollar for every airplane,large and small, i have watched land and takeoff through the years..i would be rich!having lived closeby a few airports and worked at one, i have seen everything from military jets,to the space shuttle 747 to all types of commercial aircraft,to cessnas and pipers! it is fun and it actualy is kind of relaxing to look up into the skies and say wow..beautiful day,beautiful aircraft...
Russ Brown 1
and wonderful aircrew.
womlliv 1
Tears to my eyes! Been flying since toddler; remember twin-engine props. Crazy abt flying!
bentwing60 1
So, for you folks who enjoyed as much, or more time watching them come and go as I did, The front seats of any jet have a great perspective too, and, you get to watch a bunch of takeoffs and landings while 'holding short' at TEB.

My favorite arrival and departure by far! And after you did it a time or two in a Lear, JetStar, C650 or Challenger, you didn't exactly have to spend all your time lookin' at the runway 10 paint cause' it ain't exactly ASP and it don't take much to miss the fence.

Bein' a blow boater, the environment was home for me and bein' the unheralded rock star for the plane spotters was a bonus, the paychecks were nice and Jimmy Stewart did it too, "It's a wonderful life". Cheers!
tam nelson 1
In the 1970s I'd sit in my car in a parking area just across the street from McCoy in Orlando and watch the planes go right over my head! Now it's called OIA and there's a huge highway (528) where that spot was. I miss that time.
Pa Thomas 1
Just happened to be driving by LAX today and stopped at the In-And-Out on Sepulveda and watched for a bit. The traffic is waaaaaay down, of course, but there were still plenty of people out to watch.
Larry White 1
IND used have upper outside deck then blocked it off after 9-11. Also had a small parking lot south-west side off I-70 until I-70 was redone and the new terminal and control tower was built.
When living in Toronto my wife and I used to spend a fair bit of spare time at YYZ and/or YTZ. My radio scanner programmed to the appropriate frequencies we'd get a coffee and enjoy an hour or so listening to approaches and watching take-offs. A great stress reliever and a real source of enjoyment. Even had the privilege of watching the Concorde on its last flight back to Europe. (Thankfully we had the scanner and found that the'd changed runways at the last minute.)
We are now retired in a much smaller community (I no longer drive) where there are maybe half a dozen flights a day and the airport is on the other end of town. Greatly miss the opportunity to enjoy planewatching and monitoring the Air Band.
Only traffic nearby is the odd seaplane or the Air Ambulance.
I have great memories back in the 70's while living about 30 miles from LHR! Every day after school we were in our back yards with binoculars and our aircraft registration books. Back then you also could use the observation decks at LHR and we would take frequent trips their with my plan spotting buddies! To this day, I still love to watch planes, although today my flight path is the Scottsdale Airport (SDL)!


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