A Day In The Life - Avgeek (The Prep)

What is an 'Avgeek' 

Welcome to the life of an Avgeek, aka Aviation Enthusiast / Plane Spotter! 

Like just about everything in life, there is always a small, and sometimes, not so small group of people who dedicate their lives to a dream, pursuit, hobby or ideology. Fleeting moments, or life long passions.. Whatever they may be - and just like your first crush, husband or wife, there are few moments in every day that escape a thought that relates to your passion. 

Aviation is something that almost all humans can relate to. Everyone dreams of travelling to see what's over the horizon, and few creations enable us to do so quite like a commercial aircraft. 

Where do you get 'the bug'

For me, the fascination started young. I recall days spent by the airport fence back in Perth (W.A) with my dad, who clearly had the Avgeek bug. I'm still unsure why he was so attracted to plane spotting - Perhaps a longing to travel, or marvelling at the majesty, i'll never know. I just thought they were cool! Even though Perth only saw a dozen or so movements in a day, we would stand there for hours on end, waiting for the expected aircraft to arrive. Back then, in the early 80's, they'd print the domestic and international arrivals and departures in the West Australian newspaper and if it was late, you'd never know it! The sound of the engines, the smell of the Avgas had me, hook line and sinker.

I'm sure the "Parent to Child" Avgeek rates as one of the highest reasons for the spread of the hobby, like lot's of things that we carry into adulthood, our eyes are initially opened and enriched through our parents view of the world. Every time I'm out doing my photography, I see parents with their kids watching the aircraft go by, with the child letting out gasps of awe when the heavies (larger aircraft) are around. And it reminds me of me. As i'm sure it does for many of us.. 

Then vs Now!

In the year 2016, the landscape for Avgeeks has changed into a world of endless resources. If you need to know about something that's coming or going, changing or changed, it's available at the click of a finger! (like just about everything in today's society). Moving from printed paper timetables to apps that detail everything you could desire to know for any airport and aircraft in the world. 

Not to mention the multitude of airlines that now service the globe, compared to 30 years ago. Low Cost, or Budget Airline were phrases that didn't exist when I was a pup!

The Preparation! 

Some thing's are a given when preparing for an Avgeek day out with your camera. You know your airport! You know the runways, the locations and the best times of day to go, because you've done this many times before. And when you travel, you get advice from the locals who know best!

Weather Check

Days prior to your excursion, you'll be looking at the weather app on your phone or PC. You'll need to know the wind direction, wind speed.  Based on all these factors (including the "PLEASE LET IT BE SUNNY" factor) you'll start to formulate a plan of action.

If the weather forecast is right, and the wind is from the North (e.g), then aircraft will be using a certain runway (34L & 34R here in Sydney for example) for their operations that day. As we all know, winds are variable from hour to hour and changes in direction and speed impact aircraft of all shapes and sizes. Knowing when these changes are roughly due, will help when planning your next spot to photograph from!

The final call for which runways will be used is left to Air Services Australia, who operate the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATC) & Intercontinental Airways. Information from them can be accessed in a couple of ways:

  • Twitter, believe it or not.. Air Services actively tweet live information, with regular updates and immediate notification if the situation changes. 
  • You can listen to the ATC in real time through a radio scanner, directing pilots and their aircraft into and out of your local airport. 

All of the above will help you paint a picture of where you might go on the day.

The next thought is...

What type of shots am I after?

With your understanding of the weather complete, the next thought goes towards the type of shots you'd like to get on the day. Here in Sydney, we have an Airport curfew between 11pm and 6am 

  • Interesting to know - SQ, BA and QF are the only 3 airlines who have historically and are currently been allowed to land prior to 6am. SQ and BA arrive from Singapore between 5am and 6am, and QF8 from Dallas is also allowed to land if it arrives within this timeframe, due to the extreme distance it's travelled and inability to stay in a holding pattern for long with fuel concerns. 

The Sydney curfew compresses the vast majority of the International arrivals into a 4 hour window between 6am and 10am, At which point they all start departing again. This provides a bounty of aircraft types and airlines for us Avgeeks to enjoy.

Golden Hour (a.m. & p.m.) is my, and many photographers favourite time of day.. With the warm golden light glancing sideways on the airframes, and no shadows to speak of, the results of sunrise and sunset photo's are often the most visually stunning and memorable. But no matter what time of day, the type of shots your after and weather conditions, will take you to your best known location, and perhaps into "explorer mode" to seek out new spots to shoot from. 

FlightRadar24

Possibly the greatest tool in the Avgeek toolbox. This app allows you to plan, track and learn about a huge spectrum of aircraft in the skies all over the world, and specifically in your area. When I'm out taking photo's this app will be running constantly and by my side.

Even when I'm at home and the aircraft are buzzing my rooftop on their approach into Sydney Airport, if I'm curious, this app will tell me the Registration, place of origin, flight number and duration in the air within seconds. 

It allows you to set up alerts for your favourite aircraft, so you can follow their movements around the globe, and specifically when it's on route to you. 

An undeniable must have!! 

Camera Gear

There's no point doing all of the above if your camera isn't in tip top shape! The night prior is spent ensuring your batteries are charged, your lens' are clean and your memory card at the ready.. (cause there's nothing worse than driving for an hour to discover you've left them at home, which I have done, 3 times!!!!) Triple check everything! And make sure you have the right lens' to catch the shots you are after. 

As a final sanity check, i'll always double check FR24 to see what's on the way already, and see if any special liveries are making the journey down under.

Stay tuned for "Avgeek - A Day with the lens" coming soon. 

Please leave your comments below, and pass on any idea's you might have, or stories you'd like to see on my website. 

Happy Snapping!

Lush