Karl Drage's 2011 blogGAR Entries

DEC 14 2011
blogGAR: Martinair MD-11 Hunting at London-Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport is not a place that I've frequented in on a regular basis. In fact, prior to 30 November, it was somewhere that I'd only been once in the pursuit of nice photos - 31 March 2009, when President Barack Obama and Air Force 1 arrived in London.

A decent forecast, Sammy's (my son) school closed due to the public sector strikes, a Martinair MD-11 (which would be my first), two planned British Airways World Cargo (operated by Global Supply Systems) 747 freighter departures (with the first 747-8F having been delivered earlier in the month) and a vague possibility of a sunset, were enough to persuade me into giving Stansted a go.

Now, you don't see a lot of photos from Stansted - least not at this time of year. What I didn't appreciate then that I do now is that the land on the northside of the airfield drops away quite markedly. Even with a full set of steps you would be struggling to get all of the wheels visible in shots of aircraft on the runway, and if you could do that, chances are you'd still have some fence in the bottom of the frame - something I find hugely unappealing. Of course, unless you're willing to pay for parking, southside - terminal side - presents even fewer opportunities.

So I fired up Google Maps and tried to come up with a southside (sunny side) location that was a bit further away from the airfield but that I felt would do the job. The obvious location was the National Trust's Hatfield Forest. I'm sure you could find somewhere along the B1256 that would probably do a similar job, but I liked the idea of being that bit further out, and thus not so 'undersidey' as departing aircraft climbed away.

A quick check of FlightStats before we left showed that the Martinair MD-11 was running a little late, which was just as well as traffic on the A14 was shocking up to the Brampton Hut roundabout due to 'an incident'….

We arrived just after 1030 and the skies were gorgeous - just how they should be at this time of the year. For £1 (£4.80 during the summer season, or free if you're a National Trust member) you can park up and wander till your heart's content in this medieval forest. There's even a shop and a café (only open Wednesday-Sunday, as I learnt on my follow-up visit - on a Monday!) that sells really good hot rolls (pork and apple being my choice and BLT being Sammy's, from a varied menu), chips and a range of hot and cold beverages.

I'd be lying if I said the spot we took up was close to the car. It very definitely wasn't, but that didn't matter. It was a beautiful day and it was just nice to be out in it. Being scanner-less on this occasion (I knew there was something I meant to take!) did make it a slightly nervy experience as we wandered. Breaks in the trees are slightly few and far between so, knowing roughly when the Martinair was due out, we took up camp for a while.

Ryanair and easyJet squarely dominate proceedings at Stansted, and a 737-800 was only filling about half of the frame at 400mm, an A319 a bit less than that, but I was confident it'd be pretty much spot on for the MD-11 and, thankfully, we didn't have too long to wait to find out!

With the sun moving round it had been my intention to try to get some head-on taxi shots of the planned 1330 Global Supply Systems 744F. Yeah right! Good luck with that project! Unless you've got a cherry picker I don't think you could get that shot northside at Stansted, and it ended up departing after dark anyway! The observant amongst you will note that I mentioned that two 747 freighters were due to go…. Well there was only one to be seen while we were there…. Hey ho….

As it transpired, the cloud that had been forecast to build from the west between 1500 and 1800 did so a little earlier than that, and we were 'treated' to a heavy downpour that looked like permanently ending our play for the day. Indeed, it was only when we were driving back towards the terminal to head home that an impressive, complete rainbow appeared before us in the general direction of the approach, persuading me to give Green Street a go, just in case. Typically, by the time we got there, the rainbow had gone, and so too had the sun once more.

I did spend a little time playing around with some wide angle shots, but it wasn't really providing what I'd hope for and, with the bank of cloud approaching from the west looking pretty solid, the prospects for any kind of sunset looked minimal in the extreme. It wasn't a difficult decision to call it a day.

So far as I was concerned it had been worth it to bag my first Martinair, but I did come away feeling a bit dejected that I'd not managed to achieve any of my other targets.

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