I never ever thought I’d live in a time where you couldn’t go places, visit a friend, or a neighbour, have a meal out, go and watch football. But, it happened, and, it’s had different levels of effect on everyone.
Both of you who read this blog will know that I try to write either what I call comedy, or write about something interesting, rather than dwelling on negativity or sadness. There’s enough of that in this world for all of us. So, this week the blog voted the 57millionthbestblogintheworld.com looks at one of my hobbies I’ve taken up during Lockdown. Yes, following planes on FlightRadar24.
‘Boring saddo’ I hear you cry. ‘You were cutting edge Dave……now this!’ I hear you shout. ‘Your chances of a book deal are gone now mate’ I hear you groan.
I’m pleading with you at this point not to give up and go do something more interesting like mow the lawn, empty the dishwasher, watch paint dry etc. Stick with me for at least a couple of minutes and be amazed (well, maybe amazed is too strong a word 🙂 )
It starts with my wife Fran. She enjoys flying and her various roles have seen her travel the world from Moscow to Sao Paulo, the USA to Australia. Lockdown meant she couldn’t travel so she took to watching the planes flying over our house and checking to see what plane it was and where it was going. I should point out she doesn’t check every single plane. That would be a bit weird. 🙂
One week when I’d forked out for a larger lens for my Nikon I managed to test it out on the odd plane at 30,000ft after Flightradar had warned us they were coming. As the lens was quite big, it took a bit of getting ready. The first day, whilst kneeling at the front door, I was struggling to focus on a tiny plane overhead, when the postman arrived, and asked if I was ‘alright’. I was about to say, ‘See that tiny dot of a plane at 30,000ft….I’m trying to take……’. , when I realised he already thought I was crazy, why add to his vision of my mental state. 😳
I was actually surprised that I could make it out….
Run the clock forward into Lockdown and Flightradar became a minor bit of entertainment. Following RRR’s and ASCOT around the UK became a daily exercise. As normal flights disappeared due to flight bans there were only military and cargo planes flying around. The excitement at discovering a Hercules transporter or an Airbus 400M was going to be flying overhead had us running to the patio to see if we could even see a dot in the sky. Most days we could only hear their engines above the clouds.
It started to get a bit ‘geeky’ when, instead of finding my wife watching television during her lunch break, I’d find her glued to Flightradar instead….. ‘There’s a Hercules just left Brize Norton and it’s flying north!’ I rolled my eyes. Even worse was to come when I discovered she’d joined the Brize Norton Facebook group, where plane geeks share tip offs on flights, sharing photos/videos of planes taking off and landing. I returned to my home office wondering if I would ever have my wife back 🙂
My views changed on my birthday. Fran had joked the day before she’d dropped a note off on the RAF Brize Norton Facebook page to say it was her husbands birthday the next day, and any low flier up the valley would be a perfect way to celebrate in Lockdown. I smiled and returned to my dismal thoughts of spending a birthday in November in Lockdown. I roused myself and reminded myself I wasn’t working on the NHS frontline like so many souls, still had a job, food in the fridge and wood for the log burner. Life wasn’t bad at all compared to many peoples plight.
It was about 2pm on my birthday when Fran came running through ‘They’re coming…they’re coming!!’
I was hoping it was the socially distanced postman (who still probably thought I was a nutcase ) with a brand new I-Pad birthday present. Instead she dragged me outside to the patio. I heard the noise of engines first. Oh God, it was another plane and it was misty, so we wouldn’t even see it. The noise got louder. I was about to go back indoors when two Typhoon fighter jets floated slowly out of the mist and drifted noses up across the field right next to us. It was almost as if they were giving me a birthday flypast. I probably had time to get my camera and get a shot but I was mesmerised. They floated past us and disappeared into the mist. Surely not. Surely they hadn’t read the Facebook post and visited Carthat Hill for my birthday. We’ll never know, but it was some coincidence. From then on I started checking Flightradar myself. I was sort of hooked. I even managed with a bit of FL8RDR warning to get a poor pic of a Chinook from our patio…. (we’re half way up a hill above the valley so we were above the Chinook 🙂
Chinook from our patio
I then managed to get a decent shot of a Lockheed Hercules at the top of the hill…
and a couple of weeks ago another one in the valley….
As I started to follow the RRR callsigns each day, I discovered the RAF operate these planes all over the world. From checking on Russian activity around Crimea to operating in Kosovo, Jordan, Africa and even across the pond to the USA, the RAF is n the go every single day. Yesterday I found one similar to the picture below landing in Greenland. On the App you can even switch to a simulation of the pilots view as they fly!! (yes – that’s what Lockdown can do to you)
Having succumbed to Flightradar geekiness, I should point out a positive spin off that everyone should go for. Having been sucked in to following planes (not just military I should point out 🙂 ) , I’ve found myself investigating some of the geography and history of the places planes go over. As I followed flights across North Africa, I was amazed at how much of the land appears to be, well, desert. I knew the Sahara was there, but, just the sheer scale of it. I started to think about the tiny /housemartins who return to nest at our house, who travel all the way to the Tropical forests south of Chad. Amazing feat. I zoomed in on Fada in Chad. It looked like nothing until you zoom right in on the satellite view. In the middle of the desert there is life!!
It turns out Fada is the capital of the Ennudi region of Chad with a population of over 23,000!! Chad and Lybia were at war in the 1980’s……..
It turns out Fada is an amazing place, both on the ground and from space……
So, by only scratching the surface, a desert hides a myriad of more interesting facts.
One other thing I discovered, when you zoom in on Russian villages, as well as the street names, they reveal the house numbers. I’m wondering what would happen if I sent a letter to some random Russian 🙂
Luckily we are coming out of Lockdown and I’m sure I will find other time wasting activities, but, who’d have thought a flight searching app would educate me on other aspects of our world.
I’d write more but I have three Hercules C130’s in the air at the moment……………. 🙂
‘Lockdown Hobbies :-)’ was brought to you by David Linden aka @qosfc1919 on Twitter ©️Dodo Productions 2021
I started getting hooked on flightradar during the pandemic. I was blown away by the lack of aircraft! It was like life had disappeared from the planet. The rest of your post about Africa and Russia was fascination. I will have to go back to flightradar see what I find!
Spot on 🙂 When I started following certain planes and wondering why they were flying to some strange places it was an eye opener. The more I looked the more fascinated I became. Might write more on the geography & history that I find on the way 🙂
I look forward to it! 🤗