It’s a freezing morning out there today with a glistening layer of frost on the cars. We have a forecast for snow later moving in from the south west and despite the still dark outside, I can see the veil of high cloud that precedes the weather front gradually hiding the stars as it moves slowly east. All of which is at odds with the current aircraft traffic pattern – aircraft are using the easterly runway at Heathrow. A quick check on the LHR weather reveals that there is an easterly breeze below the advancing clouds. So the cold air from the east is pushing under the warmer air from the south west, forcing it upwards, which will probably result in precipitation at some stage later today.

Although it was dark when I started writing this, it is still possible to record inbound aircraft that pass over my garden, not least because they form an orderly queue! British Airways G-ZBKR was first sighting for today, inbound from Manama, Bahrain. Following closely behind was Virgin’s G-VNYL from Islamabad, Pakistan. It was slightly lighter when the first unusual flight of the day passed over. This was Azur Air’s Boeing 767, VP-BRA. More of a mystery to this one – inbound from Krasnoyarsk in Russia, it appears to be a positioning flight rather than a passenger service. If you want to see images of these aircraft, open up the Jetphotos website and search for the registration.

The wind direction prevents me from seeing any inbound flights from the US and Canada this morning as they will have a straight-in approach to runway 09. The weather affects what I can see from home quite a bit. Ignoring the localised cloud base which can mean that nothing is visible some days, even global weather can have a significant affect on my spotting. The Polar Jet Stream moves in latitude, driven by changes in heating by the Sun and other factors like Ocean temperature. Commonly during the summer months it is further north and transatlantic traffic comes in via Bovingdon and passes over me on the way to intercepting the glideslope for runway 27. In the last few weeks the Jet Stream has been more to the south and this results in those transatlantic flights taking a southern circuit to approach Heathrow’s runway 27, so I haven’t been getting my early morning United, American and Air Canada flights anyway.

In a previous ‘Watcher’ post I mentioned the disappearance of passenger Boeing 747’s from the skies as airlines cut their costs in the face a huge fall in passenger numbers. Most have gone into storage and I doubt that many will return to the skies though some will be converted to freighters. Long haul passenger flights will almost certainly become exclusively twin-jet operations using the likes of Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 aircraft. It’s not just the Boeing 747 that has been disappearing. The Airbus A380 is also going out of service with most of its operators and production is due to cease this year. However, Emirates are still flying their A380’s into London Heathrow, here’s A6-EOT turning from Lambourne to take up a vector to intercept the glideslope for runway 27…

…I estimate it’s overhead Chigwell – that’s over 10 miles from me and gives some idea of the size of these behemoths of the skies. It’s worth looking up the Airbus A380 on Wikipedia to read about the design concept and how changes in the way airlines operate have killed it. Also slowly disappearing is the Airbus A340 – once a very economic option for long haul, it too has been overtaken by the twin-jet revolution. Lufthansa was the largest operator of the type with 62. Their fleet has shrunk to 24 and the airline is upcycling one of its withdrawn aircraft as aluminium luggage tags! I was lucky enough to see D-AIGV pass high overhead just last Friday, inbound to Frankfurt from San Francisco.

Northolt has been relatively quiet recently but I did get to photo French biz-jet F-HBZA, a Cessna 550 Citation II as it passed overhead…

Anyway, it’s now light outside and it’s time to go feed aviators of the feathered variety 🙂

When I first posted about returning to my old plane-spotting hobby I suggested I might do a weekly update. That might be a bit too frequent though for a ‘this is what I saw’ type of post. So here we are nearly 3 weeks later with an update which conveniently ties in with Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge of Jets and Planes.

Since the last post I have refined my knowledge of ADS-B websites and how they function, my spotterscope has arrived and I’ve actually taken a couple of photos too! I mentioned in that first post that FlightRadar24 obfuscates some data from ADS-B. I have now started using an enthusiast website called ADS-B Exchange which doesn’t. It’s a bit clunky compared with the professional site with a slower refresh rate but all the key info is there. I had some examples of FlightRadar24 hiding, not just info but the existence of flights this very morning – Airforce 2 was noted departing London Stansted and 2 KC-135 tankers were also noted passing over east London. So using ADS-B Exchange makes sense for the enthusiast. However, FR24 is still a very useful site and it’s sometimes good to crosscheck between the two.

Last post, I expressed some concerns about the accuracy of the aircraft registration info recorded in the ADS-B data displayed. I had seen some debate about this on the website forums. That debate seems to be old – dating to 2016-17. I now have quite a lot of ‘confirmed’ registrations that tally with the ADS-B data. It appears that the ADS-B is required to transmit the aircraft ‘Tail Number’ as part of its response. That would make absolute sense to me as a pilot because the full details of an aircraft can be very important to ATC in an emergency situation. Another thing that suggests this is the case was a 2019 law change in the US where aircraft working on Homeland Security can turn off the ADS-B transponder for security reasons – quite how that benefits flight safety at a time when ADS-B has become mandatory and is due to completely replace normal Radar for flight control I don’t know? In the words of Buffalo Springfield “Paranoia runs deep!” Anyway, my conclusion is that the information received is probably 99% accurate – at least within European jurisdiction. And that means that anything I can get a good look at with my ‘scope to confirm operator and type is going to be logged 🙂

The last couple of weeks have seen some good days for watching the skies and others that were best spent driving trucks or farming on the computer. Today started good and I logged an ACE Belgium Boeing 747 freighter passing over on a flight from Liege to New York. In a week when most passenger airlines are retiring their 747’s – BA announced this last week and Qantas flew their last one today on a farewell special – it’s good to see one flying and to note that one of UPS’s 747 800’s was flying out of Stansted to Hong Kong as well.

Flights over my garden are generally in 4 different altitude bands. The ACE 747 was at 29000ft, so lets call that the 30kft band and is usually aircraft transitting UK airspace from Europe to the US. Then we get the 15kft band. This is where we get aircraft inbound to Stansted, Luton, Kidlington. Sometimes I also get military aircraft transitting in this band on their way to Brize Norton and Upper Heyford, for example an RAF C17……apologies for the quality – heat haze becomes an issue in the middle of the day as evidenced by this shot of an Etihad Airways Boeing 777 freighter in the turn at around 7000ft inbound to Heathrow……that represents our 3rd band – most Heathrow bound flights that come over my house are descending through 7000ft.

The final flight band is between 500ft and 4000ft – this is occupied by general aviation types including the Air Ambulance, Police and TV helicopters as well as some private flights. It is also where I get aircraft inbound to RAF Northolt like this Bombardier BD-700……with a KLM flight passing above at 32kft, and this Embraer Phenom……both representative of business jets or biz-jets as they are commonly called. There are also some RAF aircraft but I haven’t got a photo of one to show in this post, maybe next time 🙂