Karl Drage's 2012 blogGAR Entries

FEB 06 2012
blogGAR: Steamy Arrivals and Topside Departures - Runway 09 Operations at London-Heathrow Airport

It was touch and go as to what time I set off from home. The BBC forecast was predicting heavy fog until around lunchtime, but a quick check of the TAFs (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) the evening before suggested there was only a 40% chance of that happening. The odds were therefore in my favour of it not being like that, and, what's more, with the forecast cold temperatures and damp air, there was a very good chance of there being some steam on the landing heavies.

I got away just as the sun was coming up and found myself in position in the field under the approach to Runway 09L for 0920. As I prepared to exit the M25 an American Airline 777 had flown tantalisingly down the approach, with intermittent flashes of vapour appearing on the tops of the wings as it did so. The temperature had hit 0C (having been -4C when I left home) and visibility was pretty good and would only get better. This had got potential.

After a couple of BA 777s I repositioned slightly, so that I was more head on, in the hope that it would produce some quite dramatic shots of anything that was 'steamed up'. Somewhat frustratingly, I had to wait a fair while for the next big 'un'. In fact, 30 minutes passed before I shot the first Jumbo of the day, which produced a moderate cloud, albeit not as much as I'd hoped for.

As the temperature slowly climbed up to 2C, there was a brief window that saw even A320-sized aircraft clouding a little, but again this coincided with something of a dearth of heavies.

With the steam apparently gone, I once again moved further back in the field.

As those of you that have read my editorial in Issue 5 of Global Aviation Magazine will know, one particular arrival had caught my eye when looking at FlightStats the previous day. United Airlines' Flight 930 from San Francisco was scheduled to be operated by a 747-400. My plan for later in the day was to shoot 09R departures from Feltham Park, but I couldn't possibly up sticks until I'd shot this beauty arriving - my first United 'Lump', and it was particularly pleasing that she was still wearing the ultra-smart blue and white United scheme rather than the new 'hybrid' United / Continental colours, which are nowhere near as easy on the eye, IMHO.

Despite being well ahead of schedule, she was kept in the hold for what seemed an eternity, eventually landing a good few minutes late. She was well worth the wait though.

An Air India 777 appeared to depart the hold whilst I waited for the United, but despite giving it another 20 minutes, I never did see her land And so it was time to switch locations.

There are few more satisfying sights in airliner photography than seeing a heavy showing off the top surfaces, and when the skies are blue and Runway 09R is being used for departures, opportunities to shoot such scenes can be quite plentiful. While not everything plays ball (smaller aircraft tend to go up like rockets, meaning less pleasing angles, aside from filling only a fraction of the frame, and some heavies bank left almost immediately on departure, ensuring you only see the underside), those that do play ball make it well worth doing. Equally, it's visually impressive to see a Jumbo coming around the corner, seemingly hanging in the air, defying gravity and logic.

Chris Muir joined me for a while, and I later discovered that Mark Kwiatkowski and Ian Older had been stood behind me in the field too. Conditions, such as those we were presented with, simply have to be exploited!

If they were handing out awards for the most spirited departure of the day, that would surely have gone to the handling pilot of the Qatar Airbus A346, which was already in the turn as it emerged from behind the trees and houses that provide the foreground at our chosen location.

Rob Laker had very kindly given me a heads up on Facebook that the Etihad Formula 1 special was due out during the afternoon and a brilliant seven-minute window saw that, the United 744, an Air Canada A333, an Air India 772 and an Arik Air 738 all get airborne and perform for the camera in various ways.

Getting the United 744 showing off the topsides was even more satisfying when I found it it normally banks left on departure, and indeed did so the following day and the day after that; a very welcome slice of luck!

With the prospect of a sunset being scuppered by a big bank of cloud on the horizon, the light faded quite quickly. The Qantas A388 finally got away, considerably later than scheduled, and I elected to return to the approach end to try to capture some shots of multiple aircraft joining the ILS, before meeting up with Kev Jackson for a pint and a curry ahead of our fantastic sim session.

All told, a quite excellent day!

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2012-02-06 - Tony Nicholls
Cracking set of shots there! Reminds me of the varied array of airlines and aircraft we actually have at our little airport!!

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