What is airplane sighting?

Spotting planes (or planes) is an observation hobby. Enthusiasts jot down details about the aircraft they observe, such as the type of craft, its registration number (also known as a tail or “N number” in the United States), and any distinctive markings. The information collected is recorded in a notebook and can then be added to a spreadsheet or online database.

What are some of the things that airplane watchers notice?

  • What type of engine does it have (jet or propeller)?

  • How many motors does it have (2, 3 or 4)?

  • Where are the motors located? Are they in the fuselage or under the wing? Is there one in the queue?

  • What kind of tail does it have?

  • What is the type of wing?

  • What is the location of the wing (high, medium, or low)?

Supplies Needed

The supplies you choose to use may vary. At its most basic, you will need a notebook and pencil to record the planes you see.

For the more advanced, you will want to invest in a decent camera for taking photos. You will likely use apps on a smartphone (like the ones mentioned below) and record your sightings using a computer.

In any case, it would be wise to carry your identification with you in case you are questioned by airport security or the police.

Airport codes

While airplane sighting could technically be done from anywhere, it will generally take place near an airport. Regardless of where you look, you will be tracking where a plane is going and / or where it is coming from. Therefore, it will be useful to know that there are two coding systems for identifying aerodromes: IATA and ICAO.

IATA is a three character code generally used by the travel industry. You will see these codes when purchasing tickets and on luggage. The IATA code for my regional airport, Spokane International Airport, is GEG.

ICAO is a four-character code used for flight plans, air traffic management, and weather reports. In the United States, IACO codes always begin with “K.” The IACO code for Spokane International Airport is KGEG.

Plane Finder App

Plane Finder gives you information about airplanes en route. While I use this service almost exclusively through the smartphone app, it is also available on the computer.

When using the service, you will see a map with airplane icons, which move in real time. To learn more about a specific flight, click on the icon for that plan and (if available) the following information will be displayed:

  • Call sign

  • Altitude

  • Vault

  • Position

  • Screech number

  • Speed

Live ATC app

Live ATC is an elegant service that allows you to listen to your local air traffic control. As with Plane Finder, this service can be accessed through a computer or smartphone app.

Blueprint location databases

Two online aircraft sighting databases are SpottingLog AND Spot2Log. These online databases allow you to record information about the aircraft you have seen, as well as the photos you have taken. In addition, each site is integrated with social networks. These are huge benefits compared to using traditional spreadsheets!


Airplane watching is a unique hobby that can be done alone or with others. It is an intersection of many different topics (airplanes, photography, cartography, radio communication, etc.). Participation will certainly broaden your horizon!

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *