Spotters, who are they?

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I have to confess to the evocation of a warm feeling when, recently, I came across the attached photograph which, I believe, was taken on the public terraces at Gatwick Airport in the 1960s. They must be archetypal spotters - anoraks, woolly hat, binoculars and telescopes, tatty note book and pencil. The only thing missing is a copy of the current issue of Ian Allen's Civil Aircraft Markings! I wonder who are the individuals in the photograph. Could one of them be you? And if so, are you willing to admit to being one of those prototypical anoraks!

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It was taken at LAP and they're on the Queens Building, I think.

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10 years 11 months

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Yes defo the Queens building at LHR. Too early to be me. Nowadays us spotters are more likely to on a phone seeing what is on its way.

Profile picture for user l.garey

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Oh very nice! Couldn't have been me, Equipment far too sophisticated. And I would have been on the old North Side at London Airport, as was.

Laurence

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This was missing from your photo AA (an earlier version at least, 1952).

(Oo, it's a bit big)

civ ac marks

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And what, I wonder, attracted their attention so avidly? Was it that Luxair Lockheed Starliner that so rarely appeared on the Luxembourg to Heathrow flight? Or was it something more rare still, so rare that it didn't even warrant an appearance in the Overseas Airline Fleet Lists, at the back of CAM, thus necessitating digging deep in the duffel bag for a copy of JP Airline Fleets - if the largesse of your parents was such that your pocket money stretched to this!

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I'm not certain but I think I saw this photograph attributed to the Heathrow Information Centre (i may have got the name wrong), in which case it was probably staged by the photographer :- 

"Now, you four at the back, just look hard through your telescopes and binoculars and, you, sonny,  at the front, pretend to write something in your notebook so you don't block your mates. OK, get ready, lads. Here we go!   --- That's great. Now, one more time just to make sure".

Well, something like that, anyway.  As one gets older, it becomes harder and harder to stop one's natural scepticism becoming just mere cynicism - but it is very nostalgic shot, I have to say..

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1958 JulyFilmed for a Pathe Pictorial, I was coming up for 13, at Heathrow.

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The remaining bit of the QB/T2 terraces surprisingly survived into this millenium (just)...closed with the 2nd Gulf War (not 9/11 surprisingly)... in its last days it wasn't publicized you just had to know the labyrinthine route there up a fire escape and between the air-con machines top of T2..... date Dec2002LHR terraces

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As a person who facilitated many spotters, I'd like to know if what became of the spotters...in other words, did they do anything with their hard-won experiences/knowledge?

 

As the PAO/PIO at Bentwaters/Woodbridge and Dyess, Texas (plus a major B-52/B-1 deployment to Fairford), I spent many hours and walked dozens of miles so spotters could note that they saw a particular airframe. I love aviation...I have hundreds of books, hundreds of transparencies, too many models, prints, autographs, flown GA aircraft (and a warbird),  helped restore vintage types, worked for an airline...all in addition to my twenty years in the service...so I think I qualify as an enthusiast, but I fail to see the allure of checking numbers in a book. I'm not criticizing spotters, just stating it's not my cup of tea.

I told my staff to accommodate spotters whenever possible, and often did the escort myself.

It was not a popular duty for the NCOs, I could certainly see their point, considering the parking ramp at Dyess was 95,000 square meters...and there is no place warmer (or colder) than an aircraft ramp.

 

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Yes some of us spotters did do things with all that info, but most didn't.  Having written two books about my local airport, pretty much all the photos came from spotters, as well as using their notes on what was there when.  They recorded history that was genrally not kept by the official channels. Pretty much all the official information on movements at UK airports pre 1960 was destroyed without thought. 

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It's fascinating to compare the ages of the 'spotters' in the original photograph and that posted by TerryP to that posted by longshot. One has to deduce that 'spotting' is not a pastime with an appeal to youngsters today. I suspect that many of the 'spotters' of my generation are the diehard aviation enthusiasts of today, without whom many, if not most, aviation museums, airshows, publications, etc. probably would not be sustainable - from a participating and visitor perspective. If so, that hardly bodes well for the future. 

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Someone official seems to have thought that the spotters' lists of numbers could be of interest, in a bad sense. I recall that in the famous Ian Allan books there was a warning paragraph that said something like: Don't forget that lists of aircraft serials could be of value to the enemy, so national security is more important than fulfilling your collector's urge. Not an exact quote as I can't get at my books at the moment.

Laurence

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Lots of interesting film clips of LHR on the British Pathe website, jut search London airport site : British Pathe.

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Yes spotting, as in number collecting, is a dying hobby. There are young people taking photos, but not numbers. I find many of those do not have anywhere the depth of knowledge of the number takes as its more about getting a good photo, that what the subject of the photo actually is. 

Yes note taking of military aircraft was very much frowned upon in the 50's/60's. Of course cameras were banned at RAF displays until the late 50's(but not at USAF and FAA ones!). I have a friend who was in the RAF in the 50's and he had to to to great lengths to disguise serial taking on duty. Particually when faced with training at St Athan and being faced with trying to record dozens of rotting Mosquitos, Spitfires and the like!

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Yes it looks staged, but from my experience 60 odd yrs or so "spotters" were looked down on as are train spotters, but how many of those early spotters crowding Heathrow/Gatwick terraces and other fields grew up to be in the aviation industry all from that early interest?. I did from my interest in railways, but grew into aviation, and can't imagine the money spent on magazines, books, optical, radio's, in all these past years., and don't forget as soon as that registration/serial is written down its history, and is at hand for those requests for information on the different forums... lastly the spotter is a joke and hinderence to airports/airfields but they are eyes for security, also needed signatures for petitions to try and keep airfields open... it doesn't seem to be a young persons hobby now, so will probably die out when us old uns hang up our bins...

 

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As we get into the realms of reminiscence, I have a lump in my throat as I am in the process of sorting out all my magazines, from the 1950s on, for recycling. I can't even give them away.

Laurence

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I was a spotter in my younger days. 1960s. Loved every minute of it. Kept me amused and developed my interest in aviation to this day. Also developed my geographical knowledge of the UK and the world.

About 25 years ago I took my young nephew down to the local GA airfield. I remember telling him all the aircraft had a registration number on them, and that you could buy a book which had all the registrations in. From that you could look up the type, the owner , and from where it was based. You could put a line under it to highlight you had seen it. I was hoping he would take an interest so I could take him around the airfields.

He looked up at me with a puzzled look on his face and said "WHY". Oh well fair point I suppose.

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FAO L Garey et al....This is what John WR Taylor said on 'Military Registrations'  in the back of the 1954 Civil Aircraft Markings.........

." Finally, a word of warning...Collections of military serial numbers...except for those listed in the next three pages*...could be of immense value to enemies of this country, as they give a clue to the number of each type that we have in service, where they are based and so on. For that reason we ask our readers to be careful. Collections of civil markings can hurt nobody, current military markings might. So remember that the safety of our country is more important than merely satisfying your collector's urge!  *There was a supplement including prototype/development military serials and temporary 'trooping' serials

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Yes spotting is certainly now the older mans sport. I popped into Manchester vieiwing park on Monday morning for a bit of nostalgia. I was the youngest spotter there at the age of 54! Everyone seemed older!

Anyhow the way I look at it is that spotting kept me out of trouble as a kid.  I thank spotting for me not getting a criminal record unlike many of my contemporaries from the same housing estate! 

Manchester Airport must now be one of the few places in the U.K with an area reserved  for spotters??