Passenger 747s are few and far between these days but the freighter world still has plenty of them. Even so, seeing a 747 is coming in is a nice addition to an afternoon. Heathrow’s arrivals included a Cathay Pacific Cargo 747-8F which was a nice bonus. I haven’t had much luck with the Cathay 747-8Fs over the years so was looking forward to it showing up. I had positioned a lot closer to the approach path when it came in and I wondered whether I might have too much lens since the 8F is the longest variant. Fortunately, it all worked out just fine and the sun played ball too.
Aviation enthusiasts are an odd bunch. They love aviation but they can really hate certain types. The emotions can really run high and no type exemplifies this more than the A380. The project hasn’t been a success by modern standards and production has now ended. This provides much glee for some people for some reason. I’m not sure why they feel the lack of success for a plane makes their life better but whatever.
I have flown on the A380 a couple of times and it was a great experience. I always like seeing them. Variety is sadly lacking in modern aviation and anything different is welcome as far as I am concerned. The onset of the pandemic resulted in many airlines parking all sorts of types and the A380s were clearly a target. If there are no passengers, the largest capacity jet is not going to be helpful. The death of the A380 was widely proclaimed. However, it turns out that this was a bit premature.
A few airlines have been reinstating their fleets and more are coming back out of storage. British Airways has their fleet back in action. Emirates is using theirs heavily. At Heathrow, I also saw Qatar and Qantas using theirs again. (Qatar might be more related to their spat with Airbus over A350s and the need for any capacity they can get.) It is good news that they are still around. We shall see what the future brings for some of the other jets that are still stored.
Lufthansa was a launch customer for the A320neo and took delivery of some of the earliest airframes. They now have an extensive fleet of the jets and they seem to be flying in to Heathrow very frequently. I ended up shooting a bunch of their jets in my brief excursion. I am not a big fan of their newest livery but, while it looks dull on the bigger jets, I actually feel like it suits the A320 a little better.
Shooting at an airport you don’t normally get to shoot at means you have the opportunity to shoot airlines that you wouldn’t see otherwise. What can be even nicer is if you get a special livery on one of these jets. (There is a small element in the back of your head that worries about not having shot the normal livery and that you still won’t have because of the special but that churlish thought needs to be suppressed!) Three of the jets coming in from overseas were in special finishes as was one of the locals. British Airways had an A320neo in a paint finish that was sky blue. I actually watched it depart too when waiting to board my flight home.
Kenya Airways flies their 787s in to London. The jet that came in on this day had a graphic of rhinos on the rear fuselage. Not a totally different livery but a nice addition. Brussels Airlines flies their A320s in to Heathrow and the airframe I saw was in a Tintin scheme that covered the whole airframe. It looked really good. Royal Jordanian was the last of my specials. Its 787 had a graphic advertising the city of Petra which covered the side of the jet. All nice efforts by the respective airlines.
Arriving back in Seattle from our UK vacation, we got to use the new international arrivals facility. This includes the bridge from the South Satellite. This crosses the taxiway between the two terminal buildings. It’s not like you have the time to hang around in the area and I imagine they might discourage you from doing so. However, you can grab a few shots of the aircraft beneath you while crossing. The reflections were a bit of a problem but I am not going to be there very often so make the most of it!
While walking along the Thames, there were plenty of aircraft overhead making their approach to Heathrow. I wasn’t too focused on them and was instead photographing the scenes along the river. I did look up as one jet came over and it looked like it was in a livery I didn’t recognize so I grabbed a shot with the 24-105 fitted. Turns out this was a Rwanda Air A330. That is something I don’t see every day. I wish I had been using the longer lens but this will have to do.
The Embraer E190 is the most common airframe to be seen flying in to LCY these days. British Airways’ Cityflyer operation uses a bunch of them on its services. Anything flying in to LCY needs to be approved for steep approaches. This usually involves a modification to the controls for a steep descent mode. As I watched the E190s descending on the approach, I could see that the spoilers were deployed all the way down. I assume that this is a higher drag configuration that makes the descent angle needed achievable while controlling the speed.
The thing that was more impressive than the descent profile was the departures. The runway at LCY is not long. Watching the jets spool up for departure, I wondered how much of the runway that they would use. As it turned out, they rotated really quickly and the climb out angle was very steep. With the buildings of Canary Wharf ahead, they need to climb quickly but I was quite taken by just how fast they climbed.
I wanted to explore some parts of London that I haven’t been too much before so I headed east. Before I started getting my real exploration underway, though, I took a visit to London City Airport. I haven’t been there for years and things have changed a lot including the types that can access the airport. I had seen some photos from the airport but I wasn’t sure about the options for photographing there. I was also not timing it well with things being far busier in the early morning and late afternoon. Still, it was worth a visit.
I headed to the east of the airfield where a road bridge crosses the water. I was hoping that this would give a good view down the runway but the runway lights obscured things a little. An offset helped a bit. It also was a good location for some approach shots.
I then headed back towards the terminal and got some touchdown shots from alongside the runway as well as a few shots of jets taxiing out and departing. It was quite something to see the Embraer E190s climbing out so quickly. They got airborne very swiftly and climbed away like homesick angels. The majority of traffic was British Airways Cityflyer Express so not that much variety but a few bizjets came through too.
Later in the day,when crossing the Thames in the Cable Car, I got a good view down towards the runway. It would have been great if a jet had taken off while I was crossing but one took off just after I got back on the ground. As I walked to the Excel center, I saw a high level footbridge that looked like it might have a good alignment with the runway. I planned to check it out later but, having spent a long time with a friend and needing to get back, I completely forgot until it was too late. If anyone knows whether this spot works, please let me know.
One of the things I was looking forward to seeing at Heathrow was A350s in new liveries. I have seen a lot of A350s but I have never seen the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic A350-1000s and, since they are based at Heathrow, I figured I would get a chance. As we landed and taxied in, I saw both operators’ aircraft but, because of where I was sitting, I wasn’t able to get any shots. The end of the journey and the return to Heathrow allowed me to address that.
I got to shoot an arriving BA jet while outside the airport and there were some parked up on the gates when we were getting ready to board our flights. Virgin was a bit more elusive. I could see one parked up behind a Cathay 777 but that was it. Other operators were also helping out though. Amongst the arriving jets were examples from Malaysian Airlines, Finnair and Iberia. All nice additions to the A350 collection for me.
The day before we left the UK for home, we headed to a hotel at the airport since we had an early departure in the morning. We got there early in the afternoon and I figured I had a little time to make my way to Myrtle Avenue. I have seen plenty of photos from this location but have never actually shot from there. They swap runways at 3pm and I had about an hour before that time. Not a lot but the conditions were great so time to try.
What I didn’t count on was the Piccadilly Line. I stood at the station under Terminal 5 for 25 minutes before a train finally left. I was only going to get to Hatton Cross with less than half an hour to go and I wondered whether it was worth it. However, I didn’t have any other plans so why not. Some rapid walking along the A30 to Myrtle Avenue with planes arriving over my head and I joined a large crowd of people hanging out enjoying the afternoon. Plenty of photographers were there but there were also loads of families just out enjoying the sunny afternoon and the planes.
It was worth going with a few interesting arrivals before 3pm arrived and they switched runways. At this point, I was tempted to head back to the hotel. Not having ever explored the east end of the airport, I didn’t know what was possible. However, as I mentioned above, I didn’t have any other plans so I wandered along the eastern perimeter road. I bumped in to a couple of other photographers – one of whom was visiting from Vancouver. There were a few spots where good shots were possible and the conditions were getting better and better. It proved to be a well worthwhile exploration which will get its own post at some point.