A guide for aircraft spotting

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  • A guide for aircraft spotting

    So, this Monday I went plane spotting (yeah, that's what I did for Thanks Giving :lol: ) just by runway 36 of the airport so I’m writing this guide for those who are also interested in it!


    First, what is plane spotting? It is the observation, jotting down of the registration number and taking pictures of aircraft.

    I’m going to talk about the airplanes registration and its uses later, let’s concentrate on taking pictures for now.


    What to bring:

    Aviators (because aren't they awesome? :D )

    Radio scanner (capable of hearing the aviation frequencies)

    Notebook (with pens too)
    Portable chair


    Before heading out

    Prepare your items: Make sure that your electronics (camera, radio, etc) are charged and have enough free space. Also, depending on the day and how much time you want to spend taking pictures bring snacks, drinks, sunscreen, extra clothing and etc.

    Check the weather: This is very important and will play a major role for aircraft spotters, you MUST check the wind direction! It’s the wind direction that determines where the planes are going to land. The simplest way is to type “Winnipeg weather” on Google and select the “Wind” tab:

    image 1.jpg

    This screenshot was taken just before I left home, the wind was coming from the northwest to the southeast that means that the airplanes would come from the southeast to the northwest (airplanes ALWAYS land/take off against the wind!).

    By knowing the wind direction you can figure out which runways the airplanes are going to use. So, in this case they would be using runway 36 and 31 (see airport map).

    Another thing that you can do before heading out is obtaining the schedule of arrivals and departures. It’s very helpful to know which airplanes are coming, who’s flying them and when they come. This information is easily accessible on the airport site (waa.ca).

    • Batteries charged
    • Available space on camera
    • Wind direction
    • Arrival/Departure schedules


    Selecting a location

    image 2.jpg
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    I chose to stay just by runway 36 because it is the longest runway (therefore the larger airplanes tend to land there) and is easily accessible (it’s just a walk from Tim Hortons on Ness Avenue).

    image 3.jpg

    So I walked through the open field to the first approach light for runway 36. If you do stay on this position the airplanes will pass directly overhead.

    image 4.jpg
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    So it is better to move a little to the side where you can get a better view of the plane, its registration number and also the paint scheme.

    image 5.jpg

    I went a little bit to the side (see the approach towers on the back) to get a better view.

    image 6.jpg
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    Using the cameras:

    image 7.jpg
    image 7.jpg (102.16 KiB) Viewed 195 times

    Camera settings for pictures
    Shooting mode: RAW
    Camera Mode: Tv
    Focus: Auto Focus
    ISO: either leave it in automatic or put it low (because it’s daytime)
    Shutter speed: select a high shutter speed (1/800 worked fine for me)

    I also used a GoPro mounted on top of the camera for video recording.

    Using the radio scanner:

    Although it won’t help you taking pictures it is pretty fun to have the radio tuned in the tower frequency when a plane is just about to land! A radio will give the information of who’s coming, when and most importantly which runway they will use! When I went I didn’t have to worry about setting the camera when a plane was coming to the other runway. Also, a radio gives you that professional look and will also call the attention of those passing by! :lol: :lol: :lol:

    You can either scan the radio frequencies when you’re there or have them ready. Frequencies can be found in the Canadian Flight Supplement and for the international airport here in Winnipeg they are:

    ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service – they broadcast weather, including the wind!) – 120.2 MHz
    Ground – 121.9 MHz
    Tower – 118.3 and 125.4 MHz
    Arrival – 119.5 MHz
    Departure – 119.9 MHz
    Military Operations – 121.0 MHz

    Using the binoculars:

    The binoculars are useful to spot planes from far way and also to watch movements inside the airport (taxiing, parking and etc) because using the camera’s zoom wouldn’t help much.

    They also give that professional look :lol:

    Using the notebook:

    The notebook is to be used to jot down the aircraft registration numbers but it is optional because you can take the registration from your pictures.

    • Is your camera in the correct settings?
    • Are you in the correct radio frequency?
    • Is the airplane coming to your runway?


    After taking the pictures

    So, you saw the planes coming and going and took pictures as well, but it is not over yet. It is time to process and organize the pictures!

    Post Processing

    Remember what I said about shooting in RAW? We are going to use the RAW files now on Photoshop to enhance the pictures and adjust them to your liking.

    TIP: I’ve been successful in increasing the contrast and shadows in the RAW window, I recommend that you try and see if you like. Increasing the values for the shadows is especially helpful to bring the details in the bottom of the plane.

    Before and after

    image 9.jpg

    Organizing the aircraft list

    Now that your pictures look great you can also organize them in a peculiar way. By using the pictures you can find the registration number of each aircraft. Look for the tail and see what is written in it.

    image 10.jpg

    For example, in this plane it is “C-FMZB” and you can find almost everything about this aircraft just with its registration number!

    Registration: C-FMZB (all Canadian registered aircraft start with "C-")
    Aircraft model: Embraer EMB-190
    Airline name: Air Canada
    Rollout: 08-07
    Delivered: 24-09-07
    Construction number: 19000111
    Airfield based: Montreal-Dorval, QC, Canada
    (I got the data from planefinder.net)

    You can also track the plane live on flightaware.com just with its registration number!

    Also, another piece of information that you can see from your pictures is registration number of the airline, most of them found top of the tail (close to the front landing gear in some cases). In this example it is 334, so it means that this is the aircraft number 334 in Air Canada’s fleet. Large companies tend to do this as a better way to organize their own fleets.

    image 11.jpg


    This was my guide for aircraft spotting, I hope you have enjoyed. Feel free to contact me! :D
    Derek F. Magalhães
    Posts: 11
    Joined: 08 Sep 2014, 09:22

  • Excellent guide Derek! This is great information for any aircraft enthusiasts out there.
    Are the photos in the article yours or did you find them online?
    Either way, good work... keep it up!

    Mr. R.
    Site Admin
    Posts: 146
    Joined: 08 Feb 2014, 23:31

  • Thank you, Mr. Rogowy!
    Except for the two first screenshots all the pictures were taken by me on Monday.
    I also took pictures of some different planes and different companies like WestJet, Calm Air and United Express.

    We should definitely make a field trip to the airport!!! :lol: :lol: :lol:
    WestJet Boeing 373-700 C-FXWJ.jpg
    Air Canada Express Bombardier CRJ-705ER C-GJAZ.jpg
    WestJet Bombardier Dash 8 C-GWEP.jpg
    WestJet Boeing 373-600 C-GBWS.jpg
    United Express Bombardier CRJ-200LR N926SW.jpg
    Calm Air Fairchild-Dornier 328JET C-GBEU.jpg
    Derek F. Magalhães
    Posts: 11
    Joined: 08 Sep 2014, 09:22

  • Excellent guide Derek! You are super passionate about Aviation and it shows.

    Keep it up!
    Mr. R.
    Site Admin
    Posts: 146
    Joined: 08 Feb 2014, 23:31

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