Welcome to Planespotting! Planespotting is your way of enjoying aviation, whether by means of taking photographs of planes, by writing down ?tail numbers? of passing aircraft, or by just sitting back and enjoying the action.
Though the romanticism of flight and celebration of technology is surely enough to entertain just by watching aircraft soar into the air, it’s still more fun to know exactly what we’re seeing; What kind of airplane is that? Where is that airline from? Where is that plane going?
How to Identify Aircraft
Like a license plate, every aircraft has a registration, which is also known as a “tail number” or in the United States as an “N” number. This allows the government and aircraft owners to keep track of each aircraft, and no two are alike. In addition, it allows you to track and log the exact aircraft you’ve photographed or observed. You can also use this info to research the history of the aircraft, such as when it was delivered and what airlines have operated it in the past.
These numbers are always visible towards the rear of the aircraft close to or even on the tail. Some airlines will even add them underneath the wing in addition to the one in the back.
Each country has a unique prefix for its aircraft registrations. In the United States, every registration begins with the letter “N,” in Canada “C,” in Bermuda, “VP-B” or “VP-Q” You can resort use this chart to see the registration code for each country.
There are many different aircraft in our skies today. Each manufacturer makes many different types, the same way an automobile manufacturer makes different models. There are more aircraft builders than you might realize, too, such as Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Saab, McDonnell Douglas, and more.
Aircraft can be identified by type by noting the size, shape and specific features. With a little practice, you’ll soon start to be able to identify a type of aircraft with ease as you develop an eye for those features and proportions.
The first thing to try to notice when you see an airplane is to ask yourself four basic questions:
1) How many engines does it have?
2) Jet engines or propellers?
3) Where are the engines located (under the wing, on the body, etc.)?
4) How large does the aircraft seem overall (small, large, etc.)?
Here are photos of some of the most numerous commercial aircraft types you are likely to see at your local airport.
There are many other types of aircraft to enjoy, such as military jets, helicopters and business jets. We will have identification guides for those soon, too.
Where to Go Planespotting
The ideal places to observe aircraft are in or near airports when they are near or on the ground, but you can try your hand at identifying planes wherever you happen to see them. Feel free to look at a map and explore the areas surrounding your local airport, or check out our airport planespotting guides–we’re adding new airports all the time! Just be careful not to wander into restricted areas and try to avoid private property.
Observing and photographing aircraft is completely legal in the United States, as long as you remain on public property or in a designated airport observation area. There are also certain privately-owned locations, for example a shopping mall parking near an airport, where you can sit and watch planes, but if the owner, an employee or law enforcement asks you to leave such a location, you are legally obligated to do so.
Unfortunately, due to the security climate of the modern world, sometimes fellow citizens who are unfamiliar with the hobby will grow concerned upon seeing someone taking photos or loitering near an airport. Some may approach and ask you what you are doing, and others may actually call the police. In either case, you should always remain polite and respectfully explain what you are doing. Sometimes police officers are not completely familiar with the legalities of planespotting. Be sure to carry identification whenever you go spotting to make such interactions conclude as smoothly as possible.