Plane spotting in the desert - what plane was that?

Submitted: Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 18:56
ThreadID: 103125 Views:3051 Replies:11 FollowUps:20
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Ever been camping 100s of k's from anywhere and seen the flashing red light of a passing aircraft and wondered where it might be going? Lying in your swag, looking up at the stars you imagine that metal tube containing hundreds of passengers on their way to some distant city. Or, closer to dawn or dusk, seen a vapour trail illuminated by the rays of the sun which is well and truly below your horizon. Or heard the faint roar of the jet engines and looked up to see the red light half a sky away. Have you done your sums when it takes a plane about half an hour to cross the sky out in the desert (1/2 by 1100= 550 km??)- that's a very piece of sky you can see!

Firstly, there are apps now that help identify passing aircraft (eg Plane Finder HD) but they need an internet connection (OK when you are near a town or rail line), but useless in the above situation.

I was in an aircraft last night flying from Singapore to Melbourne, and in the reverse situation. With my trusty iPad and using various mapping apps including Hema maps, OzRunways and Mud Map HD, I tracked our flight from overhead Port Hedland at 2300 local time to Adelaide. While most passengers slept my eyes strained out the window to identify towns, mines, headlights on highways or even campfires. Well I can tell you, even though it was a crystal clear, moonless night, there wasn't much I could see.

The first lights I noted were several mines in the Pilbara, Telfer being the biggest and visible for hundreds of kilometers. We passed to the south of Marble Bar, crossing the CSR at Well 17 and Durba Spring. No fires visible guys- more effort need! Then we were on to the Calvert Range, Mungilli Claypan and the GBH near Tjirrkarli. Then the Connie Sue and WA/SA border just south of the Anne Beadell. We crossed the Vokes Hill Corner Road north of Cook and then the train line between O'Malley and Watson. We crossed Googs at the Dog Fence. The next lights visible from the port side of the aircraft where from Whyalla, and Port Augusta in the distance.

How could my fellow passengers sleep with this much going on below us?

I powered down over Adelaide so I could focus on the delicious Jetstar breakfast - Dim Sum, but sadly the microwave couldn't have been working.

Tracking our flights with the iPad had turned our return flight to Europe into a fascinating adventure (so much more interesting than shopping and ruins!). From overflying the island north of PNG where we lived and worked for two years over 30 years ago, to flying over North Korea (some good spy shots!), China, Russia (nearly as far north as the Arctic Sea), then nearly every northern European country. On the way home we overflew Afghanistan (not even a single burst of flak!)

We landed at Melbourne at 0610, to face an hour of immigration, and a surly official who threatened me with a $200 fine because I answered my phone (our lift was worried the customs dog had sussed us!)

Bob
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Reply By: Echucan Bob - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:17

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:17
Contrails over Oz, although the route from Singapore to Melbourne is not depicted. Lots of amazing graphics on this website though.
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Reply By: get outmore - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:31

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:31
2 hrs at immigration?
We need to learn off the yanks. I spent 15min at san francisco getting through including finger printing
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Follow Up By: Lyn W3 - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:46

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:46
I've spent 3 hours going through LAX.

At least if you are an Aussie with a biometric Passport you can go through the Express Lane now when you come back into Oz.
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:06

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:06
Get outmore

One hour to clear immigration,

Plane landed on time at 0610. The situation was compounded because the airbridge operator was late for work and we sat in the plane for 10 minutes. So two aircraft full of people hit the gates at 0630.

So not clear of immigration until 0710

We could learn off the Yanks, the Canadians, the Japanese, the Dutch, the Spanish and the French (exit only) all of which out-perform the local mob.

In all of the above ports, the locals get whizzed though in no time at all. Visitors like us were shot through pretty quickly as well.

Standing in line at Tulla made me think that at least the boat people arriving at Christmas Island get a naval escort.

I suspect there is poor morale and a bad attitude in Australian Customs and Immigration officials.

Bob
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:26

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:26
Lyn, in February we were through LAX like corn through a goose. A few minutes at most. They certainly go in for the whole body scan thingo though. Lucky I had my clean undies on!

Bob
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Follow Up By: Lyn W3 - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:40

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:40
LAX is a real throw of the dice, I've seen it good and bad as I've done 78 flights from Oz to USA in the past 35 years.
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Reply By: Member - John - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:35

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 19:35
Bob, hi, a good read, thanks.

No smart phone for me, was flying from Singapore to Melbourne a year or so back and was looking out over Western Australia, thought I recognised Lake Disappointment on the CSR, asked the lovely young hostess if she would mind asking the pilot for the name of the big salt lake out to Port and she said "of course", came back soon after and happily said, "Western Australia". I thanked her kindly, lol.

Checked later with Google maps and yep, I was right. Might have to get one of these new fandangle phones before travelling o/s next year.
John and Jan

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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:16

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:16
John, I used to use a Magellan Sportrak Color with just a preloaded world map. At least I knew where we were. Make sure you pre load your maps - its no use relying on the internet 12 km over the Tundra. Although having said that the KLM plane from Osaka to Amsterdam did have WiFi available. It was 15 Euro for the whole flight and money well spent - I thought. I sent spy photos of North Korea to my son.

Bob
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Reply By: HeyCharger - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:40

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:40
Hi Bob. In a previous life, I used to sit up the pointy end and turn the instrument lights way down low and do exactly what you did, spot the towns. It's both an awesome and surreal feeling. Miss it.
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 21:25

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 21:25
HeyCharger

I can see how it must have been interesting. But then I guess a lot of it might have been pretty mundane as well. They say giving anaesthetics is 95% boredom! Its the 5% that keeps you on your toes.

Many years ago I heard a segment on Macca's Sunday morning radio programme (haven't listened to him for years now). A pilot was talking to him as he flew in toward Brisbane over western QLD, describing what he could see as the sun came up and the various towns. He had grown up in Roma, I think, and was flying over it as captain of a 747.

Poignant.

Best flight I ever had was coming back from Japan at night with a full moon over the Pacific. The massive cloud formations, the reflections off the ocean - never forget it. Awake all night (as was the guy down the pointy end - I hope).

Bob
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 10:45

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 10:45
Had a memorable flight from Darwin back south a few years ago. Had been to a conference where we had heard a lot about Lake Eyre. The previous year we had been exploring up around Mt Dare, Palm valley etc. So it was a real thrill to fly over that area and be able to identify some of the landmarks, including the green ribbon marking the Finke north of Mt Dare. The MacDonnells and dunes look great from the air. And then we were flying over Lake Eyre itself, and from that height the salt crust was brilliant white with some blue water in the middle - spectacular. There was a bit of seat shuffling as other conference goers lined up for their look.

Cheers,

Val.
J and V
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Follow Up By: Nargun51 - Monday, Jul 08, 2013 at 16:38

Monday, Jul 08, 2013 at 16:38
In April 1989 on a flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong, the pilot remarked that if we looked out the windows, we would have the opportunity to see Lake Eyre in flood. It seemed to take ages to fly over the lake (my memory was at least 15 minutes).

After crossing the lake, I could just pick up the lines of green between the dunes.

May 1991, on a Singapore Paris flight and the pilot directed us to the glows in the distance of the oil fires in Kuwait, still going after the 1st Gulf War and watched sunrise over Turkish mountains.

Watching ABC24 a couple of weeks ago, when they were reporting the 6 hour long Russian rocket flight to the ISS. Virginia Trioli observed that it takes longer than that to leave Australian airspace
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Follow Up By: Member - Barry P (VIC) - Monday, Jul 08, 2013 at 20:35

Monday, Jul 08, 2013 at 20:35
if you ever get the chance to go to kazakstan to see the soyuz launch to the iss with crew on board,at 2.30 in the morning take it ,its spectacular,4 launches a year,have just been to the launch on may 29,takes a little organising 2 months plus, dont send money to moscow direct you have no control over it ,1 used a good agent in nz nobody here in melbourne could do it,but you had to do you visa in oz,bye now barry
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Reply By: Member - John - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:43

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 20:43
Thanks Bob, won't see you any more online, the North Koreans' will be picking you up shortly...................
John and Jan

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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 21:29

Saturday, Jul 06, 2013 at 21:29
John, its the Oz Customs and Immigration people I'm worried about :-)
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 06:39

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 06:39
John

I'll be a night in Seoul for 1 night next week, the North will probably start a war while I'm there.

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Reply By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 06:37

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 06:37
I use this website to find out where planes are heading as they pass over Orange,

http://flightaware.com/
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Follow Up By: landseka - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 19:41

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 19:41
Unless you pay for Premium service I think there is a 20 - 30 minute delay on what you see on there.
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 20:36

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 20:36
landseka

Not what I see there's no delay, I see a con trail heading West on the screen ..I go outside and there it is. I see the 3 in a row Melbourne - Brisbanes , they are usually about 5 minutes apart.


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Reply By: gbc - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 10:25

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 10:25
Back in the 80s on the trawler up the gulf it was more a case of holy cr&p what was that! Unlit light aircraft coming in from a country to the north, low enough to get caught in the rigging, and flying to god knows where carrying god knows what. Wasn't an isolated experience either. I'll bet the government would have liked an app for getting those dudes.
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Follow Up By: ao767brad - Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 20:02

Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 20:02
As someone who lived in borroloola in the late 80's and early 90's you are not the only one to see this type of thing. I often got phone calls from the government asking about reports of this type of thing as I was one of the few pilots flying around this part of the gulf. I would often fly early in the day and witness aircraft landing tracks on very remote parts of the gulf beaches, often on the mornings after full moons. Many unexplained, un flightplanned movements.
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Follow Up By: gbc - Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 20:46

Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 20:46
Yep, that'd be them. Our prawn spotting planes were blamed for a bit but they were generally too busy for playing silly buggers ;)
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Reply By: Member - Talawana - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 12:40

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 12:40
Hi Bob
Thanks for a great read, we often sit watching planes flying over head whilst sitting at the camp fire and discussing where the have come from and where they are going.

Cheers
Marion
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 14:49

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 14:49
Marion,

I omitted to note that I looked down at the Talawana Track as we passed the SW corner of the Rudall River National Park. Probably overhead Talawana ruins at about midnight. I couldn't see any lights though. Are you near there?

Bob
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Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 14:41

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 14:41
This one's good, including a Google Earth cockpit view . . .

http://www.flightradar24.com//t_blank

Often watch planes on it coming in nearby, when it's looking like overhead, I go out and just check . . . it's usually there : )
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Follow Up By: Lyn W3 - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 16:18

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 16:18
On the Airbus A380 there is a camera set on the top of the tail and you can watch on the inflight TV screen. Unfortunately on the SYD-LAX flight it's nearly all at night but it is interesting to watch the landing and coming around Sydney early in the morning.
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 20:50

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 20:50
Les

Thanks for that link. That's similar to the Plane Finder app but much better on the big screen. The app uses your built in GPS for current position.

Bob
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Reply By: Member - John (Vic) - Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 16:17

Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 16:17
The ability to see a campfire from 10 kms away, even if its straight down, wish my eyes were even half that good :)
Would want to be a bloody big campfire.

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Reply By: ao767brad - Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 20:08

Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 20:08
If you are looking for a good app to follow your flight over Australia try Air Nav VFR, and download the Australian WAC (world aeronautical chart) it provides one continuos map of Australia with the major landmarks you can see from the air on it. One of the best free apps available for aviation enthusiasts. We use it all day at work when you ask the hosties what is on the left/right.
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Thursday, Jul 11, 2013 at 07:25

Thursday, Jul 11, 2013 at 07:25
Brad I couldn't flnd that app. I have been using OzRunways with the WAC charts.

Bob
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Follow Up By: ao767brad - Thursday, Jul 11, 2013 at 15:01

Thursday, Jul 11, 2013 at 15:01
The full name is Sentient Air Nav VFR, available for free in the app store. The only difference to Ozrunways is that for people interested in aviation but not flying daily the air nav vfr app is free unless you use the flight planning function, where ozrunways is paid after a 30 day trial as I understand. Air nav Vfr requires the maps to be downloaded individually but has not asked for a paid upgrade in the 7 months I have used it, and has a "stitched" WAC chart where the chart continues seemlessly all the way around Australia. The only downside I can see is the map downloaded may not be the latest one available but not a drama for an enthusiast not relying on the accuracy of update.
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