Plane Spotting

I’m a plane spotter. I have been a plane spotter all my life but I only realised it yesterday when I spent five minutes blissfully gazing at a short takeoff video I saw on Twitter. Then I went on Youtube for more and I envied the people who’d shot all these takeoff and landing videos. Yep, I’m a plane spotter.

The first time I saw planes taking off and landing was when I was little, maybe first or second grade. My father occasionally traveled abroad for guest lectures and conferences and my mum and I went to the airport to pick him up. At the time, Sofia airport had a place specially designed for plane spotters in the building. Then they redesigned the airport and there was no place to watch the planes from. I was crushed.

Until last year, I only saw takeoffs and landings from the inside of a plane. Last year, on our way to — and then back from — Denmark, we had a couple of hours of waiting between connect flights, so I had the chance to indulge my unconscious passion.

Have you ever thought about how impossible a takeoff looks? Unless you’re an engineer or a pilot, that is. If you’re an engineer or a pilot you know how the magic works and I envy you, too. For the rest of us, the clueless lot, it is close to a miracle. Just think about it: a passenger plane must weigh several hundred tons… Or so I thought until I Googled Boeing 737. Empty, it weighs 41 tons, which doesn’t make it any less impressive. it gets to over 70 tons during takeoff.

So, you have several dozen tons of metal, plastic and wiring, and people, that leave the ground and actually fly without being a bird or a tree leaf, or another almost weightless object. I’m very hard pressed to find anything cooler, more magical, and spectacular than a plane taking off. Yeah, okay, I know it’s not magic, it’s engineering, but this is a rare moment of me trying to be poetic about something.

Speaking of engineers, I consider them a separate category of human beings, slightly above everyone else. I’ve heard they can be conceited and unpleasant but, honestly, they have a right to be. Can you make a plane that can fly? If you can, I believe you have earned the right to look on mere humans with a certain amount of condescendence. Besides, I actually think many good engineers are cool, not unpleasant. I’m the spawn of two of the good ones, though they weren’t civil aviation engineers. But anyway, back to planes and plane spotting.

I think it’s the idea that several dozen tons of metal, plastic, and flesh should not be able to leave the ground that makes watching takeoffs so fascinating. Same for landings. Will it make it safely? Will it touch the ground oh, so gracefully, the same way it left it? It’s a fascinating sight and the element of suspense — most fatal crashes tend to occur during landing and takeoff, according to a Boeing research — only makes it better.

Adrenaline rush, anyone? No ropes needed! Just take your seat and put on your seat belt. (Oh-kaaay. I just remembered there is a show about plane crash investigations. Now I’ll have to watch it. Because I want to watch it. Isn’t it nice how we can mask our desires as needs?)

Plane spotting seems to be hereditary. Pictured above, as you’ve probably guessed, is Plane Spotter Jr., aka Cat. When she was two, we read to her a Russian children’s classic, Neznaiko, about a bunch of tiny little boys and girls who were having various adventures. One of these involved a hot-air balloon. She wanted to hear this story again and again, and loved to stare at the page with a drawing of a hot-air balloon. She colored it orange. And stared and stared at it.

She’s been wanting to fly since forever and she’s been talking about it since she learned how to talk. She talked about flying so often, in fact, that it aggravated my chronic anxiety related to balconies and fallings. And she loves to watch planes take off, land, and fly. Also birds. And, of course, hot-air balloons. Yep, must be something hereditary. But I’m totally okay with this. Maybe she’ll want to be a pilot when she grows up: she’s already accepted, with some sadness, the fact humans cannot fly on their own (at least not up, and not repeatedly, that is). Maybe it will remain a hobby. I can think of worse ways to spend a few minutes or a few hours.

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