Some Exciting News!

You may have noticed that the last few months have been pretty quiet around here. A major home renovation project, busy fall work schedule, and many hours spent planespotting (aka getting content for this site) have conspired to gime me less time to devote here. However there has been something else going on as well...

I am very excited to announce that I am joining the staff of NYCAviation.com as a Contributing Editor. Long time readers will know how much of an influence NYCAviation has had on me and I am very proud to be joining their team along with several other great individuals.  I hope to be able to further spread my passion for aviation and planespotting to others through this new position. I have been doing a fair amount of work in the background over there for the last couple of months including publishing a few articles of my own. The most recent of those was released yesterday and it shares an absolutely awesome experience I had back in September.

While I plan to keep plenty of fantastic content coming through this site and blog, some articles which I would have previously posted here will now be published on NYCAviation's website.  I will still publish a lot of my photos as well as most of my technical and  opinion pieces here, however many of the feature-type articles will now be seen over there. I will have plenty of links on this site that will take you to anything that I have written there, and you can always find the latest articles I have written by clicking the link near the top of the sidebar to the right.

In addition to writing, one of my primary duties will be as an editor to help publish the work of others. Ultimately, my goal is for there to be more awesome aviation content for the world and to have it seen by more people. Of course, I will still be posting plenty of awesome aviation photos here, along with many of the opinion, technical, and research-based articles that you have come to know and love. 

So sit back and enjoy the upcoming content on both sites. And as always, thank you for reading. 

Greetings from 34,000 Feet!

I'm on my way to LAX this morning for the NYCAviation/PHXSpotters meetup.  It is the culmination of a month of Avgeek awesome that has included a tower cab tour, aircraft not often seen in New York, a few experiences on airport tarmacs, and a chance to go inside a classic terminal from the 1960s at JFK. Right now, I'm onboard a Virgin America flight somewhere over Wisconsin experiencing their wonderful product.  A little later on, I'll be doing some planespotting with about 100 others from around the country before attending a dinner at the famed (and sadly, soon to be closed) Proud Bird Restaurant at LAX. I know the feed has been a bit quiet the last few months as I have been tackling a few other projects. Stay tuned though, there is plenty of awesome aviation content coming soon,

Spotting During UN Week? Here's What You Need To Know

As mentioned previously, New York's annual UN Week is coming up next week. That makes this weekend the single best weekend of the year for planespotting at JFK in terms of aircraft movements. Thinking about coming to JFK for the first time this weekend? Here are a few pointers to help you along.

What to Wear

The beautiful autumn weather this time of year in New York City, coupled with JFK's waterfront location, can make for a widely varied temperature range over the course of a full day of planespotting. Early mornings this week have been in the mid-forties with highs in the mid seventies. Add in the coastal breeze that is sometimes present and can be quite strong, and your best option is to dress in layers. That way you can add or remove clothing as needed to stay comfortable throughout the day. Since there are some showers in the forecast, some light rain gear is also highly recommended.

Where to go

Unlike some airports where the best planespotting locations remain consistent, at JFK this is not the case. Locations here are totally dependent on the runways in use and time of day, with most locations only being suitable for one or two if the eight possible runways. Most, though not all of the places that we use are listed in NYCAviation's Planespotting Guide for JFK, so it is useful to read through that so you have a general idea of where to go once you know which runways are in use. The large numbers of spotters that come out for this weekend make it easy to follow the crowd if you're unfamiliar with the area. To find the crowd this weekend, the easiest way is probably to follow myself and NYCAviation on Twitter, and to use the hashtag #UNGAspotting. We will be updating where we are and what we're seeing throughout the day.

What to Bring

In addition to your camera, binoculars, scanner, and other planespotting equipment, there are a several other items that you should consider bringing along, three of which I consider to be must-haves. First off, all of the locations are out in the open, and most have little in the way of shade available. Therefore, sunscreen is a must-have item. Apply it early and often and for the sake of the photographers around you, please avoid spray-on sunscreen. Even more important is insect repellant. Several spots are very near to marshland, and the various biting insects can make you uncomfortable very quickly.  The final item that I consider to be a must-have is plenty of drinking water. I typically carry a 70 ounce Camelback with me and it is usually empty by the time I head home.
In addition to those three must-have items, there are a few more thinks that I like to have with me. Near the top of my list here is a fold-up camp chair. Not only does it let me get off my feet, it makes for an excellent "planespotting central" where I can put my bags and scanner. I also like to have a few snacks such as granola bars in my bag. While a couple places that we use have food readily available nearby, the majority do not. It's good to have something to tide you over so you don't miss the 747-SP that will inevitably land while you're on a food run. Finally, I always make sure to have plenty of extra batteries and empty memory cards with me for everything: I carry close to a dozen rechargeable AAs for my scanner and as a backup for my camera, a spare camera battery, and a rechargeable USB battery pack or two for my phone. Nothing ruins a day faster than running out of juice for your devices, so I take out plenty in the way of rechargeable insurance.

Scanners 201: Getting the Most Out of Your Scanner

Recently, I wrote about the basics of buying and using a scanner. However there are several helpful features and accessories that go beyond the basic functionality and were beyond the scope of that article as a result.  So let's dive right in and take a look at some features that you mind helpful.

Using Lockout and Primary

In part 1, I mentioned listening to different frequencies such as approach, ground, and ATIS at various times. However if you leave the ATIS in your scan it is all you will hear (it broadcasts in a continuous loop) and the others will just create clutter. A great way to program these channels in but not always have them actively being scanned is to lock them out, keeping them in the scanner's memory for a later time.  I program many different frequencies into my scanner, many of which I hardly ever listen to, and keep them locked out.  That way they are there if I need them.  Operation may vary from scanner to scanner, but to unlock a channel, I simply press the button for manual mode and page through until I find the channel I want to unlock.  Another great use for lockout is to temporarily remove a channel that is catching too much interference or which is monopolizing the feed. Another great feature found on many scanners is 'primary' , which scans one particular frequency more often than everything else. I typically set the main tower frequency as primary as that is mostly what I want to listen to.

Get a Better Antenna

Sad to say, but the "rubber duckie" antenna that came with your scanner is crap compared to what you can purchase as an aftermarket accessory.  The included antenna is designed to be cheap and receive a wide range of frequencies, however it sacrifices range and reception quality in order to accomplish that. Fortunately, there are far better options available that aren't all that expensive.  Look for either an aviation band antenna or a "gainer" or "super gainer" antenna for the best results.  The super gainer that I use is about 16 inches long but is fairly flexible.  Gainer or airband antennas will be somewhat shorter, in the eight to nine inch range.  One thing to be careful of is that there are two different connector styles used on scanner antennas, BNC and SMA, so you want to be sure to get one that matches your scanner.  If you don't know which one you need, take a look in your manual.  Look to spend $25-$35 on a good quality antenna. And then stash that stock antenna away as a spare.  I keep mine around for when I am at an airshow or other event and have my scanner stashed in my bag out of sight.

Better Ways to Listen

Lets face it, airplanes can get be loud, even on final approach when the engines are idling. For situations where the scanner cant quite put out the volume level that I need, a carry along a battery powered external speaker that I purchased off of Amazon. It uses AA batteries just like my scanner does and I always have a few sets of those with me. Pretty much any battery powered, portable speaker should work just fine.  Look to spend $20 or less on one of these.  There are speakers marketed as external scanner speakers, however with a street price in the $30 range there are many less expensive options.

On the other hand, sometimes you don't want to interrupt others with radio chatter or attract extra attention from a suspicious public. For times like that, I keep a pair of cheap earbuds in my bag. You don't need anything fancy, just something that is comfortable and which will stay in your ear.  If you don't already have a pair lying around, look to spend $10 or less.  One thing to keep in mind with both speakers and headphones is that scanner communications are not exactly high-fidelity audio streams so you don't need anything fancy or expensive.

More to Listen To

The listening fun doesn't stop with the approach, tower, and ground frequencies.  There are channels for different airlines at many airports, and even ramp control channels at many of the larger airports.  I can personally attest to the fun times that can be had listening to the JFK Terminal 4 (International Arrivals Terminal) ramp control during the evening.  There are lots of aircraft from many different places, most of which don't speak English as their native language, and that can make for some very interesting discussions on busy frequencies. While these sorts of communications may not be your first choice to listen to while spotting, they can be a fun change of pace.

I hope that this series of posts has helped you to better understand how to use a scanner for spotting.  They are an invaluable tool for any spotter and can greatly enhance your aviation experience.