Aviation .. there is a connection somewhere
People often ask me “why planes?” – I don’t know do I? comes the reply. I haven’t a clue to be completely honest. I seem to recall speaking with two good friends at school at the age of twelve. Neil Ross and Brendan Jurevicious (apologies if I have spelled that incorrectly Bren. They had been to Manchester Airport on a Wallace Arnold bus service that operated from Bradford Interchange direct to the airport bus station. What had they been doing I often wondered. After building up the courage to ask (well it was a lot for a 12-year-old) I was then introduced to the hobby of “Plane Spotting“. As a 12-year-old I had never considered the implications of what been
a “spotter” actually were. This is looking at it from a negative point of view thirty plus years after the event but it doesn’t come across as the most interesting hobby or even more importantly the coolest hobby that you could brag about at school on a Monday morning. As for the opposite sex, well what 12-year-old ever turned down a snog behind the classroom after school, that is…unless you were a plane spotter “apparently”. So maybe my ambitions at getting involved in this new hobby were flawed from the very start. Oh the irony…the irony of my thoughts about being cool, how they were to come back and bite me on the arse twenty years later.
I was a mad cyclist in 1980 and bike and I went everywhere. At one point in 1982 I even cycled to our holiday destination in the Lake District Peninsulas. This was a mammoth 200 mile round trip, so the cycling wasnt an issue, just second nature. In those days we all had bikes, you know the types…the 10 speed, drop handled bar racer style. Way before the invention of the MTB or Mountain Bike the 10 speed was the way to go.
It came as a real surprise when Neil & Brendan informed me that they travelled to Leeds & Bradford Airport (known then as Yeadon Airport) on the number 647 bus that stopped quite close to the school we attended and went straight for the bus after school. I was really expecting them to say they cycled to the airport. This was another one of those “in hindsight” moments because it wasn’t until the first time I actually went along with them on the bus that I realised why the bicycle probably came second best to the bus. The six-mile journey from Hanson Upper School to Yeadon Airport by bike involved a steep climb out of the school, another steep climb up to Bolton Junction, a long descent in to Greengates and Apperley Bridge and then an enormous ascent from Rawdon Meadows up to the Airport; which whilst on that subject is the highest commercial airport in the United Kingdom at 681 feet above sea level. Whilst I was writing this piece I felt quite proud that I had achieved the 681 foot climb until it struck me that the actual lowest lying point on the journey (which coincidentally happens to be the foot of the climb) might not actually be at sea level..and upon checking guess what? No it isn’t…Rawdon Meadows are 193 feet above sea level so that kind of dampened my success line but never mind. The bus stop was no further than a five-minute walk from the school gates so it was a non starter really unless the cashflow was short and then it was back to the trusty steed.
The bus fares in 1981 were strange; the bus left the stop at 15:37 and as long as you had your half-fare pass with you the journey to the airport was a huge 15p in each direction. However, if the bus was late and arrived after 16:00 then no reduced fares were allowed. This put a real spanner in the works once or twice I can tell you.
So then, plane spotting…what was all this about. This was one evening in September 1981 and it was still very light as the clocks had not yet been changed to GMT. Why did planes need spotting and how did you do it? I was informed by Neil and Brendan that each aircraft had a unique number and it was displayed on the side of the fuselage. I don’t think it was the fact that I was looking at planes or even the numbers that did it for me, it was more the fact that I was somewhere that made me feel I shouldn’t actually be without my parents; almost like I shouldn’t be there unless I was going on my holidays to Mallorca. It felt quite alien seeing everyone around you in the departure lounge, sun hats at the ready, loud coloured t-shirts, beach wear and suitcases with Thomson luggage labels flapping about like washing on a line …
Brendan showed me the ropes, well I probably muscled in actually. He had a maroon coloured notebook and accompanying that was a paperback book called Civil Aircraft Markings by Allen J Wright
This looked interesting, there is more to this than meets the eye. I found out that plane spotting involves recording the serial of the aircraft in your notebook and then underlining the entry in the Civil Aircraft Markings Book. I could only assume that this is a crusade to see every aircraft in the world and fill the book. My mates’ books were full of red lines, so many in matter of fact, that if you turned the book on its side to look at the pages when book was closed, all you could see were hundreds of red dots where lines had been drawn. There are so many permutations on this hobby but after seeing my first British Midland Vickers Viscount at Yeadon Airport I appeared to be hooked. It got interesting as the evening wore on, more aircraft arrived, more “reggies” to note down and it got dark too. It was then I started to question myself about how long we would stay? We didn’t have mobile phones, the only way to keep in touch was to put 2p in a telephone kiosk and call home. I remember ringing my mum and telling her I would be home on the bus that left the airport at 7pm. For my first venture to the airport, she seemed quite ok about it
The airport became a place to do my homework; to sit in the terminal and watch the passengers coming and going and to build an interest in aviation. It seemed all the “spotters” did this .. Bren, Neil, Nobby, Moose, JC, Fingers, Winnie, Twinny 1, Twinny 2, Acky and Mooncat to name a few. Yes, it appeared that this was a male dominated hobby. My father loaned me a camera, it wasn’t like my grandfathers Zenith Single Lens Reflex but it was a camera never the less. It was a Voigtlander Vitesse. One memory I have of the lads at the airport that stays in my mind is them all sat in the outdoor viewing area that used to be adjacent to the terminal; reading photography magazines and discussing SLR cameras and feeling a twinge of jealousy. I think the SLR camera was the way to go as they had zoom lenses. It’s quite amazing to think that the technology I have available to me today as a photographer would have been like a dream come true back in 1982. It was good to make friends, and that I did. And years later, when I returned to Yorkshire, it felt just as good to catch up with these people again after such a long time.
The plane spotting lasted. It lasted a long time, until 2008 to be precise. I had a few breaks in between where perhaps my interest wasn’t as “in-depth” as it used to be, but that was a result of working in the industry. Having the aircraft all around me whilst stood on the apron at Manchester Airport would have been a dream come true at the age of thirteen. When I was later to do it for a job, it was exactly that…a job. As much as I had an avid interest it was difficult to find the energy or enthusiasm to continue that when I had been at work for twelve hours since six in the morning. So I let it slip a little, but the technology and records available today have helped fill in the gaps for what I have missed.
In 2004 I obtained my first Digital Single Lens Reflex camera and started to do all the things with aviation photography that would have been totally impossible with a film camera. You name it, the world was my oyster. In another post I will go over my experience in learning about photography but obtaining a DSLR was like starting from scratch. You could shoot continuous frames without worrying about running out of film, you could delete anything you didn’t like. You could even manipulate images in Photoshop…oh yes, this was living the dream. I had learned from my extensive education in photography how to adapt my style of image making, so I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to get stuck in a rut with aviation photography and that I could try anything. In the years that followed I continued on the aircraft theme but trying to introduce low light photography and slow shutter speed instead of the same old standard shots. Over the years sunsets and sunrises have been my forte, and introducing these in to the aviation aspect is a challenge in itself. But I have never yet been afraid of a challenge, and its one that continues today. My aviation photography has taken a nose dive, not because the interest has gone; but because I have learned to be selective. Something you will see for yourself as you read this blog. Thank you for getting this far, I will leave you with one of my favourite images from this year. Oh, and yes….its on an aviation theme. Surprise eh ?