Tag Archives: plane-spotters

One for the spotters

As a former pilot, I ought to loathe reggie-spotters.

There’s this airfield, y’see, just outside London, and there I was on final approach, with the trees and the sewage farm (there’s always one of these; it’s doubtless a CAA requirement; it was in Those Magnificent Men, so it must be) safely behind me, and only the road across the runway threshold, with its low fences, between me and another ‘performance landing’.

And there was a reggie-spotter, his car pulled up on the road, and he himself standing exactly on the runway centreline. With a child on his shoulders, neatly lined up for today’s propeller decapitation incident.

Regrettably the Cessna is not equipped, as was the very desirable Il-2, with a reinforced propeller, and so I was obliged to throttle up, flap up and climb away for a go-around. Also lacking cannon and PTABs I was then obliged to land normally rather than go looking for the idiot’s now-departed car (ideally this would be done in pairs, two Il-2s making repeated opposing and very low firing passes across the road, the tactic being allegedly due originally to anarchist leader Nestor Makhno, who also invented the tachanka or fast maxim-gun cart with which it was first done in the early 1920s, and called nozhnytsi, ‘scissors’).

However since I stopped flying I have become a little less unsympathetic to this curious breed. It’s not fair to call them walts, as the Army might; they’re not frustrated pilots at all. More like frustrated air-traffic controllers, if anything. Like the train spotters, they only want to know.

“They can’t take what we know, can they?” [Gibson & Sterling: The Difference Engine]

The spotters were embarrassingly correct about the CIA’s ‘special rendition’ flights in and out of the UK, and have also exposed a number of other aeronautical shenanigans.

In that category I would place this. In summary, secret flights are delivering migrants to minor German airports in the dead of night; East Midlands airport is also mentioned in this context.

Night flights in poor conditions obviously tax the skills and resources of the spotter to the limit, but I know that our boys (I’ve never met a female one) will rise to the occasion. There’s all that new gadgetry to test, after all, and we mustn’t forget the DIYSIGINT community who so diligently record the outrage of ‘special’ pilots at ATCOs who ‘don’t know who I am’.

Answers on a postcard, please.