For any aviation geek, aside from flying itself there’s nothing quite like plane spotting, whether it’s a special trip to an airport viewing area, lunch in the local airport café or that unexpected flyover prompting a quick dash for the camera. And when it comes to this particular pastime, the more unusual the better, from special liveries to rare aircraft and one-off visitors.
As a child growing up in the early 00s, my obsession for planes came before the age of easy access to YouTube and other social media platforms. For me, the only way to regularly see planes in action was a day out at the local airport.
Luckily, this happened to be Manchester, a bustling international affair which always had plenty to write home about. Although it has since grown beyond recognition, it’s still an amazing place to while away the hours. Another big plus is seeing the legendary icon of flight, Concorde, as this supersonic aircraft lies almost state-like in the adjacent Ringway Museum.
For modern aircraft in service today, watching their take-offs and landings and hearing their almighty roars is awesome. It’s also knowing that excited passengers are heading out on adventures that will make lasting memories for years to come.
Nowadays, new technology has made spotting much more fun. Just watching a plane fly overhead and attempting to work out the airline and type, before proceeding to check on radar, is a hobby in itself. And, if you can’t make it in person, you can live-stream various airport arrivals and departures from the comfort of your own home. Then there’s the numerous forums and groups, all dedicated to sharing media and tips for aircraft movements across the globe.
Perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring places to spot, and somewhere high on my travel bucket list, is the threshold of runway 10 at Princess Juliana Intl’ Airport on the Caribbean Island of St. Maarten. If you are lucky enough to visit, you can get seriously close to aircraft flying right over the spectacular Maho beach just moments before touchdown.
Alternatively, larger aircraft departures provide incredible jet-blast opportunities all from the comfort of a sun lounger. Unfortunately, the Boeing 747 is no longer a scheduled visitor to the airport, but you can still catch A330s and B757s along with other smaller aircraft.
One of my favorite spotting moments is the RAF Hercules C130J. I’ve lost count of the number of times that my radar app has pinged, alerting me of its presence in the North Wales area. I promptly abandon whatever it is I’m doing and, with adrenaline pumping, I head off to the banks of the Conwy River in the hope that it flies overhead.
On sporadic occasions, the quad engine military aircraft snakes low level through the Conwy Valley, popping out in the Conwy Estuary as low as 100 feet against the spectacularly scenic backdrop of the 13th century Conwy Castle and surrounding mountains. The sheer roar of the propeller driven engines never fails to turn heads.
I’m fortunate to have a wide range of options when it comes to my plane spotting, all within a one-hour drive from my home in North Wales. Among the regular locations are The Machloop, RAF Valley and Caernarfon Airport, as well as Manchester Airport and not forgetting Hawarden Airport for the Airbus Beluga.
And what is something I really want to see? Most definitely the Antonov AN-225.