Perhaps the thing I like the most about running this blog is that besides sharing my stories with you, I get to remember and “relive” my previous aviation experiences while writing the posts. Early next year, I will be writing about the happenings in 2016, but given that I have not documented my early years of spotting, I decided to also start a “a decade ago” annual post series.
There is probably no better year to start this series in than 2016 – a decade after I started taking spotting and being an “avgeek” more seriously in 2006.
My interest in aviation was growing just as I was growing, arguably starting with my first flight in 1992 when I was one year old. However, it was on April 24, 2006, my 15th birthday, that I got my first “spotting camera” – the 6 megapixel Panasonic FZ-7 with 12x optical zoom.
With the camera, I was ready to venture into the “wilderness” of world’s airfields and airports!
My Spotting Beginnings at Vienna Airport
While I have been to airports countless times before, April 28, 2016, was the day I went to the airport for the sole purpose of watching and photographing the traffic. At that time, I was living in Nitra, a small city in western Slovakia, and the two nearest airports to my house were Bratislava (about 45 minutes away) and Vienna (about 100 minutes away).
The airport of choice was, of course, Vienna which offered much more interesting traffic. I spent several hours at the airport’s parking lot with my father watching aircraft take-off and land in rainy weather. While a lot of the traffic was similar to what it is nowadays, Austrian Airlines still relied on a fleet of A330s and A340s for large part of its long haul network.
I visited the airport once again about two weeks later. To my surprise, besides the usual traffic, there were quite a few unusual aircraft – Polish Air Force Tu-154 and Aerolineas Argentinas 747-200 among others. Later, after returning home and doing some research, I found out that the traffic was related to EULAC 2006 – European Union, Latin America and Caribbean Business Summit – that was being held in Vienna.
I also found out that besides the aircraft I saw, also Brazilian Air Force 707 visited the airport in relation to the summit – I wish I saw that one!
Seeing the Tokyo Heavies for the First Time
A couple of months after the start of my spotting “career,” it was time to head for what was then an annual family visit to Japan. Except, this time it was different – this time, I had my FZ-7.
After getting off an Air France A330 at Narita, I was amazed. Back then, it was still a 74Heaven – there were Jumbos everywhere. As my grandparents were waiting for us, I did not get to hang out at the airport for too long…
…however, later during my stay I visited Narita once again for a day full of photography. Not knowing any other points around the airport back then, I sticked to the Terminal 1 observation deck. Besides all the other 747, the one that caught my eye the most was the 747SP of Iran Air – an aircraft that would play an important role in my hobby almost ten years later.
Before heading back from Japan to Slovakia to start a new school year, I also had a chance to visit Haneda airport for a couple of hours. What an excitement it was when the Pokemon 747 taxied by!
A Daytrip to Zurich: My First Flight Alone & My First Spotting Trip
While nowadays, flying for the sake of flying or to spend time around an airport is nothing extraordinary for me, until my first “spotting trip” it was unthinkable.
On the morning of August 13, 2016, I boarded a Swiss Avro RJ100 in the now gone Zurich Shopper special colored aircraft, and headed to Zurich. Besides taking me on my first spotting trip, it was also the first flight I took on my own.
Most of the day before heading back on an evening flight to Vienna was spent on the excellent observation decks that Zurich airport offers. Besides that, I have also taken the airport tour to be able to see aircraft up close not only from the bus, but also from a fenced off area at a runway intersection. It was incredible seeing the aircraft take off with all the condensations being formed in the rainy weather.
Czech International Air Fest 2006: My First Airshow
Even though I am not a big fan of military aviation, I still enjoy the occasional airshow. The first airshow I ever went to was CIAF (Czech International Air Fest) in Brno, about 2 and a half hours by car from my home. Not having seen a display team perform before, I was very impressed by the show put on by Frecce Tricolori!
More Spotting at “Home:” JAL 747 at BTS and More
Besides the trips to Zurich and Brno, I also had a chance to visit both Vienna and Bratislava airports, as well as a small airfield in Nitra a couple of times during the second half of the year.
At Bratislava at that time, the now-defunct SkyEurope was dominant with its growing fleet of 737s. However, the sight that is engraved in my mind the most is the sight of a Japan Airlines 747-400 sitting on the Bratislava apron. It was a summer charter flight to Tokyo, and I was indeed very happy to see a direct flight between “my” two countries – Slovakia and Japan.
Looking Back at My Early Days
The quality of photos or amount of flying from 2006 cannot be compared to what followed in the next years. I didn’t care about fences in photos, about weather, about anything – except for the aircraft itself. Looking back at some of the photos, I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe.
However, with 2006 being my first year of “being a spotter,” it was an unforgettable year, and all the photos have an important place in my collection.
It was a year of enjoying every single aircraft – no thoughts like “oh, it’s just another ANA 777.” It was a year of learning photography and aviation. It was a year of surprises.
Perhaps the surprises are what I miss in spotting the most nowadays. With most of the aircraft that I care about appearing on Flight Radar, and with information spreading publicly and fast, there are not so many surprising moments while photographing around airports nowadays.
Not that it is bad – it certainly helps with catching rare aircraft and being at the airport at the right time.
All I am saying is that I miss the occasional “wow, I didn’t expect to see an Aerolineas Argentinas 747-200 at Vienna” moment.
When did you start with spotting (and flying for the sake of flying) and what led you to it?
What do you miss about the hobby compared to ten years ago?