Planespotting – what is it and how to live with it?
“And why are you photographing these airplanes and freight broker training schools? How will this help you?” – relatives told me in 2007.
Plainspotting is a relatively new pastime format that gained popularity in narrow circles in 2006-2010. The main task is to capture the aircraft from a non-standard angle (and in the second half of the 2000s, any angle was non-standard), in a non-standard situation (landing at another airport, “goat”, air flow disruptions, etc.), if it’s simpler – the more tricks are combined in one frame, the better.
I’ll tell you about my story, how and why I came to the proud title of “spotter” back in 2008.
So, in the yard of 2007, weather conditions are within the normal range, a fresh version of the Microsoft flight simulator game falls into my hands. At that time it was one of the most realistic and beautiful flight simulators, with certified aircraft models and real flight physics. Hours spent at the virtual helm with the study of all possible systems of the aircraft according to real instructions (“starting up” the Boeing 737 of the NG generation took 7 minutes) gradually showed interest in aviation and everything connected with it. And, of course, there was a dream to become a pilot.
In those years, it was extremely fashionable to gather on Internet forums to discuss various topics or arrange “couch battles” of various sizes.
After some time, it became clear: it’s time to go offline, meet people with a similar range of interests and, finally, look at these mysterious planes live. The moment of my close acquaintance with the aviation world coincided with the start of the world tour of the newest aircraft, the Airbus A 380. Arrival in Moscow was scheduled for the end of April – an excellent occasion to see steel birds, and even more so a world novelty. Now, having a conditional 10,000 subscribers on Instagram, you rightfully consider yourself a blogger and can be accredited to any event (and even start making good money on it). In 2008, things looked a little different.
Taking a Canon 450 D from my father, I drove towards Domodedovo Airport. Without any preparation, just conditionally understanding where it is located and what schemes for entering the airport I will use in order not to miscalculate with the desired lane (hereinafter referred to as the runway).
After 3 kilometers through the fields and forests, I found a point from which a panoramic view of the runway opened. By the way, at that time there was an extremely negative attitude towards people with photographic equipment, and even more so near such a strict object as an airport. Climbing from tree to tree, trying not to light up in front of the SAB (airport security service), I began to expect the arrival of the cherished Airbus. At that time, the well-known real-time aircraft tracking service was not yet so widespread, as well as the network of live communications between air traffic controllers and pilots. A couple of acquaintances had a walkie-talkie with frequency interception – this was the only source of up-to-date information.
After an hour of waiting, we understand: here it is, a white “elephant”, so huge, majestically approaching us. Needless to say, the moment of touchdown of the runway was carried out under the accompaniment of dozens of camera shots to capture the very moment of touchdown of the largest passenger aircraft in the world.
The sensations were incredibly exciting, perhaps comparable to a parachute jump. Thoughts were spinning in my head: “Is it really me who filmed such an important event ?!”. Realization came: this hobby is with me for a long time. Playinspotting is 100% mine. Many locations of all Moscow airports were studied, all hills, pits and trees became known (amusing fact: our company’s office is located 200 meters from an interesting spotting point at Sheremetyevo Airport, which was accessible until the third runway was built). And at Sheremetyevo Airport there was a wonderful cafe with a good view right on the platform.
As time went on, I met like-minded people, new opportunities appeared (I even filmed a couple of times from the control tower of Domodedovo Airport – I will talk about this in one of the following articles). By the way, the age of people involved in spotting was extremely heterogeneous – from 15 to 50 years old! Each plane that came into view aroused genuine interest – who is flying, where? Flightradar has become a favorite application for tracking flights both during spotting and in everyday life. There is information that the Boeing 777 of Transaero Airlines should fly to Sheremetyevo, and not to Domodedovo? Urgently to the airport! This can’t be missed. There was even an international Internet portal for aerial photography, where, after moderation, your photos could also be published. Then it was a “closed club of the elite”, where everyone dreamed of getting into (and yes, I will not miss the opportunity to report that the only photo of the Boeing 777 of Transaero Airlines at Sheremetyevo is posted there under my authorship).
Gradually, people who are passionate about aerial photography began to learn about us in the press services of the capital’s airports. The path from “knee-deep in the mud along the fence 5 km through the forest” to “You are invited to the official spotting of the airport” was 3 years. It was a common victory – not only did they stop chasing us, but we deserved recognition. It was no longer necessary to hide behind trees (unless, of course, an El – Al plane was taking off or landing – their security protocols did not allow anyone to be in line of sight).
There were even 2 types of spotting – official (invitation from the press service) and “barbecue”. The second one is like going back to the past, under a fence, in the trees, but without running around from the SAB, with aircraft monitoring by Flightradar and with a kind of outdoor recreation.
Now, 14 years later, many acquaintances from those times connected their lives with aviation. Pilots, air traffic controllers, airport employees – a large number of aviation professionals grew out of spotters who once decided to do the strange thing – to photograph planes, crawling through the forests.
My closest friend is the one with whom we went to the next unofficial spotting. And the proud badge “photographer, Domodedovo Airport” is still on the table – as a memory of those times when you didn’t have to go to work (your favorite), there were no worries, but there was only a desire – after studying to go to the airport and wait for what something special in the lens of his camera.
The camera is already covered with dust today, but still, watching planes on the way to work, taking off or landing, I feel the same joy in my soul as I did 14 years ago.
“And why are you photographing these airplanes? How will this help you?” – one decision, one passion connected me with aviation and logistics (I didn’t become a pilot, but now I manage the loading of aircraft with cargo for our clients), introduced me to interesting people, gave me friends.
By the way, the Airbus A 380 is still the largest passenger aircraft in the world. Most recently, the last aircraft was produced – the manufacturer curtailed the program after the 2020 crisis in aviation.