>Can anyone tell me what plane spotters do. Ive heard they go
>around and collect seriel numbers off planes. But I cant
>figure out how that can be a full time hobby.
Well, they usually have a life apart from planespotting too, with jobs and sometimes even wives/girlfriends
Indeed, the hobby of the planespotter is writing down the serial numbers (and/or construction numbers and sometimes other airframe-specific features) in order to collect them. Just because it might be interesting to know that a certain Su-27UB you saw a few years ago in Belbek later crashed at Lvov airshow. And also because it's fun collecting them: there is a certain gratification in knowing you have seen all Tu-160s in existance, for example.
Often it starts very low key, a young kid on a bicycle with a 7*50 binoculairs borrowed from dad going to an airbase nearby. After a while you've seen all of those, you start visiting other airbases, and before you know it you're having spotter's trips, travelling for a week or two (or three) in one or more countries, using all daylight hours to visit as many bases as possible just to see (and take note of) more aircraft. Airshows are also often visited, not to see the Patrouille de France for the 263rd time, but most often to see as many aircraft as possible of the locally based unit (long live the French Army airshows where a bit of sneaking&peaking could give you near 100 of helos!).
Apart from the actual planespotting, a lot of time is also often consumed by the administration: filing the sightings, planning future trips, updating your database, and of course a lot of the stuff most aviation enthusiasts do for their hobby: reading, keeping up with the news, stuff like that.
An article published a few years ago in a Dutch spotter's mag gives a nice overview of all the aspects of being a planespotter. Perhaps it's an interesting read... My comments are in italics.
Source: Spotting Group Volkel’s Aviation Info Magazine (AIM 94/1)
(this is a better translation of the original Dutch word 'erkenning' as the one on http://www.sgvolkel.nl)
The other day I was at a birthday party. One of the ladies present had to laugh at the thought that we (read: spotters) were little kids that go aircraft watching. However, to the question I asked about what her husband’s hobbies were then, I got a very reassuring answer: he builds miniature Ferrari cars! Her first reaction shows, though, that we should still occupy ourselves with the everlasting struggle for understanding and recognition for our hobby.
In a time in which even radio programmes are being dedicated to the homeopathic treatment of phantom pregnancy with dogs, it cannot be that there still are people walking this earth who are classified as homo sapiens, but still do not know what our hobby really entails.
In the light of the struggle for recognition and understanding we will deal with the various qualities, skills and insights spotters own in this issue of this series of “nonsensical stories, written on Friday nights”.
When you build Ferraris the required skills do not stretch further than knowing where to buy the specific red Ferrari paint, knowing your own order of the assembling (apart from the manual how to build them), developing of the insight that the glue will run out during the weekend, so that this would have to be bought on Saturday afternoon. Apart from this, you can just keep watching RTL4(a not-so-high-levelled TV channel)
To be an aircraft spotter, on the other hand, you require a large variety of skills and capacities. In order to prove this beyond any doubt I will give a number of examples, each time comparing with the example of the Ferrari builder (Ferrari man) as a reference.
There are people who need to set up a complete travel plan for their trip to Terschelling (a small island in the North of the Netherlands). The ANWB (Dutch cardriver's association and the neighbours are being consulted to discuss the best route. Spotters, on the other hand, usually have no problem at all to cover the first few hundreds of kilometres to their destination without a map. Depending on how familiar the destination is, sometimes a map is not even taken on trips to airfields abroad. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that at the most deserted places in an inaccessible forest in Germany two Dutch cars meet. It does not matter whether an airbase in Finland, Turkey or one of the States of the US are being discussed, in his mind the spotter is in the right on the map straight away. A logical result is that the big and small towns of a country or region may be considered to be part of ready knowledge as well.
Our Ferrari man probably sticks to the knowledge that the Ferrari plant is somewhere in Italy. Of course all spotters know that it is based in Maranello.
Sense of direction
Besides the not insignificant navigational skills a spotter also has a well-developed sense of direction. Naturally, when talking about a hobby that concerns military matters, it is not the case that an airbase is always neatly signposted. Finding an airbase therefore is quite a task for someone’s sense of direction. Using a good map you can more or less determine where an airfield can be situated and where not. When approaching a base that needs to be found one usually starts with pinpointing red-white coloured electricity pylons or other poles. It sometimes helps to follow a military vehicle (50% chance). Apart from that aircraft that are landing or taking off are used a lot for navigational purposes (at the same time determining whether an aircraft is landing or taking off). The direction and altitude of the aircraft gives you the route to follow. The sun can also be used as a last resource.
(Take note that very fierce discussions have taken place very often on what way to go to find the airbase, in a case i remember well at less than 50m from the fence at Annino helobase in the southern suburbs of St. Petersburg, Russia.)
The sense of direction of our Ferrari man is most likely limited to the observation that he is messing about in his boring hobby room again.
The sporting qualities of the spotter are best witnessed during airshows, at not very accessible bases or during a narrow escape. Walking, running and climbing are used most in this respect. At an airshow it is not uncommon to cover approximately 10 kilometres walking between the parking space, the static show and the runway. Depending on timing, part of this needs to be covered running sometimes. This running is also seen at actions during which the local authorities show that they do not endorse the legal character of the hobby. Also climbing is part of the standard activities (remember ‘the tree’ at Bitburg, may it rest in peace). Of course all this is undertaken in full kit.
(The CIS added a new dimension to climbing: building cranes and industrial smokestacks. Not for those suffering vertigo!)
Ferrari man limits the sports events to climbing the stairs to his hobby room and running to the shop just before closing time.
A spotter does not have to complain about his weather resistance. Depending on the airfield and season a climatologic adaptation follows that would send shivers down the spines of both warm and cold blooded animals. It does not matter whether it is somewhere in the middle of a desert with a scorching hot sun and temperatures well over 40°C or in the middle of winter where a frozen river saves a few miles of walking. Also a hardboiled spotter is not averse to rain, snow or wind, and the humidity may vary from 1 to 99%. And during all this the spotter stays alert, binoculars and camera conditioned nearby, so he can get into action anytime.
(A note: heatwaves (which also occur over large concrete aprons when it's freezing!) and rain seriously deteriorate the ability to read aircraft numbers)
It will not surprise anyone that this is all beyond Ferrari man. At most the little window of the hobby room will be opened during the summer, and an small electric heather will be used in the winter time.
Resistance to stress
A spotter’s stress resistance is tested in all sorts of ways. The planning of a trip is roughly messed up by oversleeping travel companions, traffic jams because of the fact that Sunday drivers in fact should not be allowed to drive cars or because the Germans have decided they should have a go at another stretch of Autobahn. Furthermore, there are local authorities who are of the opinion that the hobby is not part of accepted activities in general and therefore put a lot of time and effort into making their point very clear. And then of course you have these beautiful days on which no flying takes place. The most painful is when you hear that the most interesting time of the day started just 10 minutes after you had left, or when a very cool aircraft starts its engines but forces them to shut up again after a while of engine testing. And all of this is experienced with laughter; so that’s being stress resistant.
Mister Ferrari does not only test his stress resistance when something goes wrong for the umpteenth time (the little steering wheel does not stick, the decals are coming off, etc.), but in his case he only has himself to blame for it.
It would go too far to discuss all possible qualities and skills in great detail, and this would not be very nice for our Ferrari man either. In order to prove our point a bit better still, this is a short list of other skills:
All-terrain driving skills
Being decisive skills
Antisocial skills (very important)
Reading off registration numbers skills
The power to be able to ignore (VERY important)
The ability to do without sleep for a long time skills
The ability to sleep anywhere skills
The ability to do without food for a long time skills
The ability to push back one’s own limits
The ability to assign one’s own free time skills
The ability to assess international realationships skills
The ability to assess authoroties skills
Having eye for detail skills
Telling tall tales skills
Defecation postponement skills
Just slightly not telling the exact truth skills
Photographic memory skills
This list is not complete and should be completed with perhaps the most important aspect: the capacity to explain the hobby to others. That this is not working is clearly not because of us, but down to the opposing party. Unfortunately, it will remain like this for some time to come that only a select part of the over 5,000,000,000 people on this earth can grasp the essence of our hobby. Despite the fact that more and more people get to know about it, only very few convincing successes have been booked when it comes down to understanding and appreciation. Last year it just seemed that things were going in the right direction with the F-117s at Gilze (in 1993, eight F-117s deployed to Gilze-Rijen AB in the Netherlands, which aroused some 15.000 spectators on the day of arrival, including a lot of complete families), but alas, the people were only there because otherwise they should have spent another night at home.
And when other hobbies are being considered tears come to your eyes and your pants drops to your ankles. Why does nobody find it strange that the entire Netherlands are watching tv at 18:45 on Sunday nights to see 22 overpaid children playing with a ball for two times 45 minutes? Why is it normal that a lot of people go sit on a horse when they have time off so they can ride in a circle? Why would watching a sinker be an accepted pastime? Why are not people laughed at when they say that they are removing weeds from their gardens every Saturday from 7 am? Why does someone enjoy great appreciation because he has a little stamp that cannot even be used to send a letter? Why can someone spend hundreds of hours restoring an old car that cannot be parked safely anywhere after completion?
And then why is it that a spotter still has to confess his passion for his hobby in an apologetic way (sort of mumbling and while looking away)? Are you being confronted with cocked guns in the abovementioned hobbies? Do you have to be familiar with the current political situation in a certain country for the abovementioned hobbies? Is it important for the abovementioned hobbies that you can dig out a rental car from the mud with your bare hands? Do you get to places where barely anyone ever comes while performing above hobbies? Does it ever happen with above hobbies that you want to go to Poland and eventually end up wading through the sea on a beach in Brindisi? Does it happen with above hobbies that you get a phone call and are in a car on your way to France with four people 30 minutes later? Surely not!
But not to worry, the greatest scientists and discoverers from the past were not believed in the beginning. A couple of hundreds of years ago everybody believed that the earth was a flat disc from which you could drop off. Someone who claimed the earth was round was ignored and abhorred as a heretic. When his words proved to be right he was praised for his discovery. The same fate was for the people who claimed that the earth had not been created by a god, they also were proven right. Years ago flying was only for birds, nowadays everybody can take to the skies for a small amount of money. Four years ago the Russians were our enemies, now they receive financial support for disarming.
That is why we can trust that the public opinion towards spotting will change in due time.
Feel like trying?