About Spotting

Just some general observations on plane spotting.


I am a Plane Spotter, I have been a spotter for the best part of 50 years. It has been a great hobby, I have met some great people and been to some great locations. When I started this hobby, you only really needed a pencil and a bit of paper – the truth be told you still do. But the world has moved on a long way since I started spotting, we think nothing of the fact that we can identify an aircraft flying at 35,000 feet and 50 miles away nowadays.

There are all sorts of tools in place, with new ones arriving all the time that make spotting a great experience and an ever improving hobby. There is a huge wealth of information available online, the sheer amount of information is staggering. The possibility of having someone take a picture of an aircraft on the other side of the world, then having access to it in a couple of hours is now a reality. The addition of a radio, a digital camera and a pair of binoculars is where most spotters start.

If anything the variety of technologies and the availability of them will increase, what will be the next big thing to change spotting – your guess is as good as mine. Every new thing that arrives in the spotting world is potentially a game changer, whatever comes along next I’m looking forward to it. I live in the North of Scotland and if the weather is right, I can see aircraft well over 100 miles away and now I can actually identify them using my mobile phone.

Starting to Spot

As I said above, all you really need to start spotting is a note pad and a pencil. The information that you record is completely down to you, the storage medium for it can always be changed at some point in the future. As a rule, people generally have at least two copies of the data. This comes in the format of a note pad for day to day spotting and generally some kind of master log.

I have had and still have many rough logs, scraps of paper and sundry show lists bought at air shows. Along with various “Master Logs”, these have comprised large books, index cards and a computerised database. The choice is completely down to the individual.

What to Spot.

 This is similar to the how long is a bit of string problem, some people spot only military aircraft others only airliners. Some people are only interested the first time they see an aircraft, others collect information every time they see it. it is as I have said down to the individual. There are endless permutations, it is more important to do it because you enjoy it rather than what you can collect.

The choice of what data to collect comes down to a personal preference, but most people will start with the basics – Date, Location, Type, Operator and Registration or Serial. You can add a huge list of additions to that, far too much to go into on this page.

Places to Spot.

When I started spotting, we lived in far simpler times. Most airports had a spectators terrace, quite often there was a café where you could sit and watch the aircraft. The local airport was as likely to have plenty of good vantage points as not, it was possible to ask the crew for a tour of the aircraft. Due to the security constraints placed on us by the modern world, most of these things no longer exist.

It is still possible to find good spotting locations around many airports, some places like Schipol in Amsterdam still have a viewing terrace. Other places afford a good view from certain perimeter points, others can be viewed from hotels or car parks. You just have to do a little research if you are heading off on a trip to spot. There are a number of spotters forums where the information is usually available, then there is always the air show day – here you will generally be able to get up close and photograph the static exhibits anyway.

Organised Spotting.

Most major airports will have attached to them an aviation enthusiasts group, although some have restricted membership they are worth contacting if you live near. Certainly most major UK airports have a spotters group, the information can be found online – or at a pinch from the airport information or administration services. It is worth contacting the group to find out local information, they are generally locals after all.

Where organised trips abroad are concerned, these are a bit of a lucky dip and will not be for every one. They can be very intense, with a great deal of time spent in transit between airports or air bases – with late arrivals at hotels and early departures. It is worth asking the questions of the tour organiser if you want to possibly do other things, you have to remember that the organiser has to try and please everyone from the total spotter to the spotter that wants to visit an other country in company.

Spotting Aids

There are numerous spotting aids available, from peer support all the way through personal technology to online resources. For people who have the time, much information can be found digging around in the online forums or places like Google. There are additional resources in the shape of Yahoo groups and the old Usenet groups, there is a lot of information in these places if you have the time to look.

On the technology front, there are phone and tablet compatible applications that can serve as a log or assist with the identification of aircraft flying overhead. To be fair, the best spotting aid is the mark one eyeball – but there are lots of ways of enhancing it. A few years ago I would have argued that a good pair of binoculars should be the first purchase, now with the quality of just a reasonable digital camera – I would argue that it should be the first purchase. But as I’ve already said, this spotting malarkey is all down to individual tastes.