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 🙂

Last time I promised military aircraft inbound to Northolt. Here you go…..That’s an RAF British Aerospace 146 transport and this……is one belonging to The Queen’s Flight.

There were quite a few Biz-Jets inbound as normal like this Bombardier Global 6000……and this Bombardier Challenger 350… I also logged a couple of nice examples of Beechcraft Super King Air 200’s, one registered in Luxembourg that was doing high altitude aerial survey work and this one flying in to Northolt… There was also a Swearingen Merlin III which did a low level transit of the Heathrow zone en-route to Biggin Hill – If I’d had sufficient warning I might have photographed that too, but it’s the ‘one that got away’!

The past week has seen a big shift in the weather. We’re currently sweltering, which in UK terms means 35+ Celcius in the afternoons and over 20C during the coolest part of the night. There is very little wind and what little there is comes from the east. In terms of what flies over my garden, that brings quite a change too. All the surrounding airports are now using the easterly runways so I don’t get any Northholt inbounds. However, traffic from northern europe going into Heathrow now flies past just to the north of me at between 8000 and 10000ft rather than often turning short and passing some distance to the east. Some flights going into Stansted come over lower if traffic conditions permit vectors for a straight-in approach to land. One pleasant sighting, although a bit fuzzy in the photo due to the heat haze, was this Dubai Air Wing Boeing 747……Technically it’s a government freighter carrying cargo for the Emir of Dubai. Such aircraft tend to elicit some light-hearted speculation about the cargo contents – Racehorses perhaps or the Lamborghini collection. In reality it’s probably shifting medical and other important supplies like so many other cargo aircraft currently flying over.

UFO’s – no, I haven’t got any to report 😦 But this week we have had a temperature inversion most days resulting in a dust layer that restricts visibility in strange ways. For example I may be able to see an aircraft flying at 40000ft but one at 15000ft, whilst clearly audible and present on the ADS-B scanner, cannot be seen. As aircraft move from an area of clear air to one where the dust layer is affecting my line of sight, they fade away. It got me remembering some of the amateur footage of UFO’s that I’ve seen over the years in a variety of documentaries. One of the commonly reported types of UFO is cigar shaped – a long shiny body high in the atmosphere. It doesn’t usually carry out any weird behaviour, just travels in a straight line until it fades out of sight of the camera operator. At the time I always said to myself – that’s a DC-9. You see, those Douglas aircraft had a polished/painted fuselage but the wings were always matt finish, rendering them invisible at altitude. Back then I didn’t know about temperature inversions, I learned about them when I became a pilot. Now I can see how they can cause people to see a plane as something unidentified! None of which says there aren’t UFO’s, just that certain UFO’s are actually normal aircraft pretending to be something else with a little help from the weather 🙂

I have finally broken my duck on USAF sightings after several overflies that evaded me above clouds. I recorded a Boeing Globemaster C17 on August 4th and a Boeing KC-135 tanker this morning. I also saw one of the RAF’s Airbus A400M’s and a Netherlands AF Airbus A330 tanker earlier in the week. A final sighting for this post and an image of an aircraft very high in the sky. This is American Airlines Boeing 767 N384AA……You can just make out the lowest red line of the stylised American Flag on the tail. Photographed overhead my home on 7th August, the aircraft has just been converted to freighter configuration by Israeli Aircraft Industries and was flying from Tel Aviv, presumably is on its way to complete fitting out for a new owner 🙂

The thunder is now rolling around outside so we may get some rain or hail soon. Hopefully, the weather should be back to normal early next week 🙂