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Plane Spotting April 2, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

I didn’t know a lot about airliners back in the day, but perhaps a couple of times a year, starting in the late 1960s, my father used to take me out to a road at the end of Greater Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) to watch planes take off. I suppose this is an acquired taste, but to me, a homebound youth with a travel bug, it was how I connected to a larger world at the time.

I wasn’t good at identifying planes, now 40-plus years ago. There were few resources for youth and aviation at that time.  I think I might be marginally better today, at least with the aircraft manufacturers in the Western Hemisphere (okay, Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, and Embraer; I can even do an occasional Gulfstream and LearJet).  I probably know something of the general aviation craft too, but those have changed substantially from the basic Piper (no longer in business), Cessna (mostly commercial), and Bellanca (no longer in business).  Many are now of European origin; it has become prohibitively expensive to produce small planes in the US these days.

I grew up near Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. It had a small airport where the high-wing Volair 4-seaters were manufactured.  I understand from my decades-long subscription to Flying magazine that it was an early progenitor to the Rockwell Aero Commander.

I also became a pilot. In fact, I soloed the day after I got my driver’s license, at 16, in a Piper Cherokee 140 (for those of you who are counting, this was 1973).  I got the license, but rarely flew after that.  My eyesight precluded flying for the Air Force, and somewhere along the line I lost the bug.  I did have one wonderful afternoon with a commercial Britten-Norman Islander in the Caribbean in my 20s, where the pilot let me fly right seat and take the controls.

Today, I primarily engage in plane spotting when I travel.  Sometimes (I live close to one of the final legs of MHT Runway 36) I can pick out the Southwest 737s coming in, mostly because of their distinctive paint schemes.  And in the summertime, when it’s light out and I’m jogging in the early morning, I can see the old yellow DHL Boeing 727 or the FedEx Airbus 318 as they come in around 5AM.

I care about commercial aircraft in part because I want to know where to sit when I fly. But I will also sit in the Delta Sky Club in DTW, or ATL, or wherever my travels take me, and watch planes taxi, take off, and land.  I lost the car bug early in my adulthood, but the plane bug still holds a grip on me.



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