Useful Tips and Tricks for rookies and pros
Here we want to share our tips & tricks with you which we collected over the past years and maybe some of them can be quite helpful sometimes. With the following websites and applications you can find out about the wind direction, the exact position of the sun, incoming traffics and much more. That will certainly make your trip smoother and hopefully successful.
We recommend to read some trip reports from the airport/country which can be found on the internet, so you know what to take care of and miscellaneous things. There a plenty of aviation forums where you find reports.
Our last tip is, of course, to look on our website if we offer you the right spotting guide for the airport you’re planning a trip to. If not, we are really sorry and we would be very keen if you can write us so we can display the guide after your visit.
- Never forget to carry an ID-Card or Passport with you, so you can prove who you are. Especially for airports in dangerous/critical countries where spotting isn’t really welcomed. Otherwise your spotting stay might be shorter than planned or you’ll have problems with the local police – that’s what we want to prevent. That’s why we often watch out for experiences before visiting a new airport.
- Avoid going in groups to high risk country unless those are locals, otherwise you will draw attention. Usually there’s a security note in every guide.
- Furthermore it’s useful to carry an aviation related book or magazine with aircraft photos with you in the case someone around asks you “what are you doing here” so you can show them what is all about. Keep in mind that most people just don’t know what our passion is.
- Never cut holes into fences or destroy any airport property! The victims are the locals spotters who use the spots regularly. They have a problem with the security, not you.
- Always keep your environment clean and take the trash with you! Be respectful and don´t destroy mother nature.
- Usage of airband-scanners is not allowed to use in most countries. So its up to you if you accept the risk to pay a fine if you get checked by security. Otherwise at some airports its highly recommend to use a scanner if a runway change happens. Usually we mention this in our guide if one is necessary. If you don´t have an airband scanner you can have a look at liveatc.net. They offer air traffic live streams from many airports all around the globe but mainly from the USA.
DATA ROAMING – WIFI
One of the most challenging cost of any spotting trips outside of your home country will always be “Data Roaming – WIFI”. Especially the flight tracking tools use a lot of your mobile phone’s data. In order to reduce the cost we are recommending two options:
- While arriving in the country go to a local provider of your choice and ask them for a “data chip”.
- Nowadays if you rent a car, most if not all of the car rental “Avis, Europcar, Sixt, etc.” provide a “remote WIFI” device that you can carry with you like at any time. It is mentioned in the accessories or has to be requested separately. Therefore you pay only a “fixed price” and you can use it as much as you wish along your stay. Two of our members have already experienced this service in the US (Miami), United Arab Emirates (Dubai) and Thailand (Bangkok/Phuket) and it works absolutely fine. An important note is that potentially you can negotiate the rate.
By choosing one of the two options you’ll certainly be able to enjoy without moderation the following tools.
FLIGHT TRACKING TOOLS
Flightradar24 is the #1 tracking tool with the best coverage and even the best mobile app.
Unfortunately, very often you are unable to see the business, governments or military jets registration and wonder what it is. However since 2020 we are seeing more military jets popping up. So if you encounter this issue, we recommend to use Planefinder or ADS-B Exchange, because these programs can show you registrations for most of the Biz-Jets, governments and even military that Flightradar24 can’t! But they don´t cover as much as FR24 does.
If you’re hunting a special (livery) aircraft and you don’t know where it has landed in the past days or it will be in the future, or you just want to see a route, you can use the Flightradar24 history. It works for most of the freighters, civil aircraft and for some business jets, too. Just enter the registration here and you’ll find a list of the past flights and sometimes also the coming up trips. If you want to see the route, which was flown by the plane, you can start a playback. This tool shows you the exact route and apart from that the altitude, speed, actual and average flight time, the exact time (UTC) and many more information which are updated every minute. You cannot just search for a plane, rather for a flight number, too. Then you can see a list of all the planes, which flew the route. Of course you can start playbacks here, too!
The playback is also useful for airports with several runways so you can see which flight prefers which runway. It’s useful if you are chasing something special so you know where it has arrived in the past days.
You should also not forget to check the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) before you start to learn if a runway is inactive or going to be closed for maintenance for example.
FlightStats offers you the possibility to see regular operated flights (arrivals and departures) for almost every airport all over the world! The advantage is to see the arrivals and departures for the past 3 days, today and the following 3 days – very great tool! Sadly its no longer free of charge and you need a subscription plan to see the arrivals and departures. Apart from that, FlightStats offers you many other tools like an Flight Tracker, Delay Maps or similar things.
If you don’t know if a flight will be operated in future at the same days or even the same times you can use Flightmapper. This website is very useful for difficult and tricky situations like the change from Summer flight plan to Winter flight plan or the other way around, then you can look up, if the flight will be flown in the other flight plan, too.
Flightaware is a great website for operations in and out of the USA. You see all flights, even small props, business jets and freighters that are not shown on FR24 or flight stats. Especially perfect if you visit a regional or municipal airport.
The most important thing if you are taking pictures during your plane spotting session is the position of the sun. Simple rule, sun has to be behind you. If you look into the sun, then you make something wrong. In our guides we have a “time” row for each spot where you can find the approximate hours where spotting is perfect from this location. If you wanna know the exact time and elevation of the sun, then we recommend these two tools:
SunCalc.net, is very easy to handle, but of course not that exact and it shows just a few information. They have also a good app available for android and ios.
Sunearthtools is a powerful tool with the exact sun position, the angle and many more features. But it’s quite complicated and complex. Click on the images below to enlarge and read the description.
If you are at an airport and don’t know which runway will be in used? Then you can visit Windfinder and look it up. They offer a great tool, where you can see from which directions and how strong the wind is coming at the chosen point. From this data you should know which Usage is preferred, but sometimes (if a runway is closed for example) it might be different, so we recommend to inform you about possible constructions on/around the runway(s) before you visit the airport.
At windfinder you can use the “wind statistic” to learn which is the preferred monthly wind direction.
PHOTO WEBSITES AND DATABASES
There are tons of different websites/apps where you can share your pictures. Some using a screening process which means someone will have a look at your photo if it meets the websites standards before it will be displayed. In this section, we are going to present you the most common photo databases with there pros and cons.
- airliners.net – this was used to be the most popular and biggest photo website (3. Mio plus) for many many years but it was overtaken by Jetphotos. They have still a very huge aviation community/forum and a massive database with high quality photos. That´s why they are still the #1 in the aviation scene. Their screening process was used to be one of the strongest from all websites which use the same process but nowadays it is the same standard like all other.
- jetphotos.com – now the #1 aviation picture database with more than 4 Mio pictures and thousands of uploaders. The website belongs to Flightradar24 and once a picture got accepted after the screening process at JP it will be shown on the radar. That´s the main reason why JP is so popular these days.
- planespotters.net – they have a pretty huge production list with detailed information for most aircraft types. Furthermore they have a growing picture database where all pictures are screened
- planepictures.net – with around 1.4 Mio pictures in the database it is one of the smaller photo databases with a screening process. This website has been around for a long time and continues to be popular with aircraft photographers
- airplane-pictures.net – if you are belonging to the creative photographer and bored of the same 90 degree side shots this is your place to be.
- netairspace.com – This page is slightly different than the above. All images are displayed immediately after uploading, but will be screened and flagged as “eligible for the homepage” if they meet certain criteria. If not, the picture will not be deleted and you can still share it wherever you want.
If you want to avoid the websites mentioned above you can create an account on Flickr or Facebook and Instagram, which have a very fast growing aviation community, too, and pictures can be shared easily. Planespotting.be is a photo database with a less strict screening process as it intends to guide less experienced spotters. Same as for the two flight tracking websites flightaware.com or planefinder.net where you can easily upload your pictures too. They show your picture to anyone who is using one of their tracking tools.
If you are interested in beginning with plane spotting, but yet are clueless how to get started, have a look at this video! It was created by Juan Artigas and he probably has answers to a lot of your questions.