Introduction to aircraft discovery

What is plane spotting?

Plane (or aircraft) spotting is an observational hobby. Enthusiasts note details about the aircraft they spot, such as the type of vehicle, its registration number (also known as its tail or “N number” in the US), and any distinguishing marks. The information collected is recorded via a notebook and can later be added to a spreadsheet or online database.

What are some things that aircraft spotters notice?

  • What type of engine does it have (jet or propeller)?
  • How many engines does (2, 3, 4) contain?
  • Where are the engines located? Are they on the fuselage or under the wing? Is there one on the tail?
  • What kind of tail does he have?
  • What type of wing?
  • What is the wing position (high, medium, or low)?

necessary supplies

The supplies you choose to use can vary. Basically, you will need a notebook and a pencil to record the planes you see.

For the more advanced, you’ll want to invest in a decent camera to take pictures. You will likely use apps on a smartphone (such as those listed below) and record your scenes using a computer.

In any case, it would be wise to carry your ID, if you are being questioned by airport security or the police.

Airport codes

While aircraft spotting can technically be done from anywhere, it will generally take place near an airport. No matter where you see it, you’ll keep track of where the plane is headed and/or where it’s coming from. Therefore, it will be useful to know that there are two coding systems for identifying airports: IATA & ICAO.

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

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

Plane finder app

plane finder It gives you information about planes en route. Although I use this service almost exclusively via the smartphone app, it is also available on the computer.

When using the service, you will see a map with flat icons that move in real time. To find out more about a particular flight, click on that plan’s icon and (if available) you’ll see the following information:

  • call sign
  • to rise
  • Title
  • position
  • squawk no
  • Speed

Live ATC app

live atc is a nifty service that allows you to tune in to local air traffic control. As with Plane Finder, this service can be accessed via a computer or via a smartphone app.

Plane spotting databases

The two online aircraft spotting databases are Spotting & Spot2Log. These online databases allow you to record information on the aircraft you have seen as well as any photos you have taken. In addition, each site integrates with social media. These are huge benefits over using traditional spreadsheets!


Spotting planes is a unique hobby that can be done alone or with others. It is an intersection of many different subjects (aircraft, photography, cartography, radio communication, etc.). Sharing will definitely broaden your horizon!

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