Aircraft spotting
Aircraft spotting or plane spotting is the observation and logging of the registration numbers
Aircraft registration
An aircraft registration is a unique alphanumeric string that identifies a civil aircraft, in similar fashion to a licence plate on an automobile...

 of aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

: glider
Glider aircraft
Glider aircraft are heavier-than-air craft that are supported in flight by the dynamic reaction of the air against their lifting surfaces, and whose free flight does not depend on an engine. Mostly these types of aircraft are intended for routine operation without engines, though engine failure can...

s, powered aircraft, balloons, airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...

s, helicopter
A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine-driven rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards, and laterally...

s, and microlights.

When spotting aircraft, observers notice the key attributes of an aircraft. They may notice a distinctive noise from its engine or the number of vapour trails it is leaving. They will assess the size of the aircraft and the number, type and position of its engines. Another clue is the position of wings relative to the fuselage and the degree to which they are swept rearwards. Are the wings above the fuselage, below it, or fixed at midpoint? Perhaps it is a monoplane, biplane
A biplane is a fixed-wing aircraft with two superimposed main wings. The Wright brothers' Wright Flyer used a biplane design, as did most aircraft in the early years of aviation. While a biplane wing structure has a structural advantage, it produces more drag than a similar monoplane wing...

, or triplane. The position of the tailplane relative to the fin(s) and the shape of the fin are also clues to its type. If it is an antique or light aircraft it might have a tail wheel. Some aircraft types have a fixed undercarriage
The undercarriage or landing gear in aviation, is the structure that supports an aircraft on the ground and allows it to taxi, takeoff and land...

 while others have retractable wheels.

Other features include the speed, cockpit placement, colour scheme or special equipment that changes the silhouette of the aircraft. Taken together these clues will enable the identification of an aircraft. If the observer is familiar with the airfield being used by the aircraft and its normal traffic patterns, he or she is more likely to leap quickly to a decision about the aircraft's identity - they may have seen the same type of aircraft from the same angle many times.

Due to technical development, more and more spotters are using equipment like radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 decoders to track the movements of aircraft. The two most famous devices used are the AirNav Systems RadarBox
AirNav Systems RadarBox
AirNav RadarBox is a Windows PC software and hardware package which allows appropriately equipped aircraft to be seen on a simulated radar screen. A small receiver connects to the PC via USB and aircraft are detected using the small supplied antenna...

 and Kinetic Avionics SBS series. Both of them are reading and processing the radar data and show the movements on a computer screen. Most of the decoders also allow to export logs from a certain route or airport.

Spotting styles

Some spotters will note and compile the markings, a national insignia
Military aircraft insignia
Military aircraft insignia are insignia applied to military aircraft to identify the nation or branch of military service to which the aircraft belongs...

 or airline
An airline provides air transport services for traveling passengers and freight. Airlines lease or own their aircraft with which to supply these services and may form partnerships or alliances with other airlines for mutual benefit...

 livery or logo perhaps, a squadron badge or code letters in the case of a military aircraft. Published manuals allow more information to be deduced, such as the delivery date or the manufacturer's construction number. Camouflage
Camouflage is a method of concealment that allows an otherwise visible animal, military vehicle, or other object to remain unnoticed, by blending with its environment. Examples include a leopard's spotted coat, the battledress of a modern soldier and a leaf-mimic butterfly...

 markings differ, depending on the surroundings in which that aircraft is expected to operate.

In general, most spotters attempt to see as many aircraft of a given type (ie: Boeing 747), a particular airline (Cathay Pacific for example)or a particular subset of aircraft such as business jets (a.k.a Biz Jets), Commercial Airliners, Military and/or general aviation. Some spotters attempt to see every airframe and are known as "frame spotters". Others are keen to see every registration worn by each aircraft.

Ancillary activities might include listening-in to air traffic transmissions (using radio scanners, where that is legal), liaising with other "spotters" to clear up uncertainties as to what aircraft have been seen at specific times or in particular places. Several internet mailing list groups have been formed to help communicate aircraft seen at airports, queries and anomalies. These groups can cater to certain regions (North American Spotters), certain aircraft types (The Biz List) or may appeal to a wider audience such as the Civil Spotters group. Many of these groups originated from the original Oxford.vax group which pioneered this type of communication. The result is that information on aircraft movements can be delivered worldwide in a real-time fashion to spotters.

The hobbyist might travel long distances to visit a different airport from their usual one, to see an unusual aircraft or to view the remains of aircraft withdrawn from use. Some aircraft may be placed in the care of museums (see Aviation archaeology
Aviation archaeology
Aviation archaeology is a recognized sub-discipline within archaeology and underwater archaeology as a whole. It is an activity practiced by both enthusiasts and academics in pursuit of finding, documenting, recovering, and preserving sites important in aviation history...

) - or perhaps be cannibalized in order to repair a similar aircraft already preserved.

Aircraft registrations can be found in books, with online resources or in monthly magazines from enthusiast groups. Most spotters maintained books of different aircraft fleets and would underline or check each aircraft seen. Each year, a revised version of the books would be published and the spotter would be forced to re-underline every aircraft seen. With the development of several aircraft databases (Airline Data Unlimited, Aviation Databases, Quantum Aerodata etc.) , the spotter was finally able to record their sightings in an electronic database and produce reports that emulated the underlined books.

During hostilities

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and the subsequent Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 some countries encouraged their citizens to become "plane spotters" in an "observation corps" or similar public body for reasons of public security. Britain had the Royal Observer Corps
Royal Observer Corps
The Royal Observer Corps was a civil defence organisation operating in the United Kingdom between 29 October 1925 and 31 December 1995, when the Corps' civilian volunteers were stood down....

 which operated between 1925 and 1995. A journal called The Aeroplane Spotter was published in January 1940. The publication included a glossary that was refined in 2010 and published online (see

Air shows

Air show
Air show
An air show is an event at which aviators display their flying skills and the capabilities of their aircraft to spectators in aerobatics. Air shows without aerobatic displays, having only aircraft displayed parked on the ground, are called "static air shows"....

s usually draw large numbers of spotters as it is a chance to enter airfields and Air Force Base
Air Force Base
An Air Force Base is a military airbase of any of a number of air forces, such as the United States Air Force or South African Air Force ....

s worldwide that are usually closed to the public and to see displayed aircraft at close range. The most popular event in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 is the Royal International Air Tattoo
Royal International Air Tattoo
The Royal International Air Tattoo is the world's largest military air show, held annually over the third weekend in July, usually at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom in support of The Royal Air Force Charitable Trust...

 in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...


Legal ramifications

The legal repercussions of the hobby were dramatically shown in November 2001 when fourteen aircraft spotters (twelve British, two Dutch) were arrested by Greek police after being observed at an open day at the Greek Air Force base at Kalamata. They were charged with espionage, and faced a possible 20-year prison sentence if found guilty. After being held for six weeks, they were eventually released on £9,000 bail, and the charges reduced to the misdemeanour charge of illegal information collection. Confident of their innocence they returned for their trial in April 2002 and were stunned to be found guilty, with eight of the group sentenced to three years, the rest for one year. At their appeal a year later all were acquitted .

Fight against terrorism

In the wake of the targeting of airports by terrorists, enthusiasts' organizations and the police in the UK have co-operated in drawing up a code of conduct. This attempts to allow enthusiasts to continue their hobby and to increase security around airports, by asking enthusiasts to contact police if they believe something they see or hear is suspicious.

The organization of such groups has now reached over to North America. For example, the Bensenville Illinois Police Department have sponsored an Airport Watch group at the Chicago O'Hare Airport. Members are issued id cards and are given training to record and report unusual activities around the airport perimeter (members are not permitted airside). Meetings are attended and supported by the F.B.I., Chicago Department of Aviation and the T.S.A who also provide regular training to group members. The Bensenville program was modeled after similar programs in Toronto, Ottawa and Minneapolis.

Extraordinary rendition

Following the events of 9/11 information collected by planespotters helped uncover what is known as extraordinary rendition by the CIA
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

. Information on unusual movements of rendition aircraft provided data which led first to news reports and then to a number of governmental and inter-governmental investigations.

See also

  • Bus spotting
    Bus spotting
    Bus spotting is a pastime in which one seeks to see all buses in a particular fleet or those produced by a particular manufacturer. A person who engages in these activities is known as a bus spotter, bus fan , bus nut or bus enthusiast...

  • Train spotting
  • Satellite watching
    Satellite watching
    Satellite watching or satellite spotting is a hobby which consists of the observation and tracking of Earth artificial satellites. People with this hobby are variously called satellite watchers, trackers, spotters, observers, etc....

Further reading

  • Eden, Paul and Dave Windle. Civil Aircraft Recognition. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK: The Crowood Press Ltd., 1992. ISBN 1-84037-253-2.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.