An afternoon of watching airplanes (pictures)

Standing near an airport and watching airplanes can be a lot of fun, especially when you bring you camera. CNET shows you why.

Kent German
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
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Welcome to LAX

On the edge of Los Angeles International Airport, just at the end of the north runways, is an amazing spot for watching airplanes land. Officially called "spotting," it's a hobby shared by enthusiasts around the world. Some, like me, just bring a camera while the more dedicated keep a log of the various airlines and types of aircraft they see. For all of us, it's a fantastic way to spend a day, and there are few better places than this street corner to indulge in my love of commercial aviation.

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It's what a landing is all about

My favorite spotting spot also is just across the street from that Southern California staple, In-N-Out Burger. So, while you're waiting for that next aircraft to land, grab some lunch.

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Be quick or go home

Even when you see the airliners coming from far away, you have to be quick with your camera. I barely caught this Air France Boeing 777 as it descended for touchdown on Runway 24R.

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She's a big one

The largest aircraft, like this British Airways Airbus A380, fill your entire frame.

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Willkommen zu San Francisco

Spotting locations aren't as accessible in San Francisco, where I've lived most of my adult life. The only way I was able to capture this Lufthansa Boeing 747 landing at SFO, was because I was touring the airport's new Runway Safety Areas while on assignment for CNET.

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Be patient...

Since flights to San Francisco International approach the airport over the bay, you can't get directly under the landing pattern. Coyote Point Park just south of the airport gets you close, but not quite there. This Air New Zealand is arriving from Auckland.

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and put in the effort

I had to trek to one of the stations for San Francisco's intra-airport train to capture this Lufthansa Airbus A340 landing from Munich.

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Now departing

San Francisco is better for shooting departures. A great spot is the end of West Area Road, which is next to the rental car lot. This JAL Boeing 787 is off to Tokyo. The aircraft's unmistakable silhouette is lit by the setting sun.

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Gear up

There you can still see the landing gear retract, as on this United Airlines Boeing 747.

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Off she goes

And turn around fast to see where the aircraft are going. This KLM 747 immediately turned east on its long flight to Amsterdam.

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And in London

London's Heathrow has one of the most famous airport spotting locations on Earth. Walk about 15 minutes from the Hatton Cross Underground to reach Myrtle Ave. At the end of the suburban street is a small park usually filled with spotters watching planes land on the airport's busy south runway. Like this British Airways 747, they pass low overhead and come every few seconds.

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Up close

A long-range lens can help for close shots. I could almost wave to the pilots of this Emirates A380 arriving from Dubai.

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On approach

Look east from Heathrow and you'll see a long line of aircraft on approach. Larger planes like the A380 near the bottom right corner are visible when they're still over central London.

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At the airport

My camera is also ready when I'm at the airport boarding a flight. This is the tail cone of a Lufthansa A340 parked at a gate at Frankfurt's airport.

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First flight

One of the great things about working for CNET is that they've indulged my passion from time to time. For example, I got to cover the first flight of the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental near Seattle on March 20, 2011.

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Building these machines

On a different trip, I had the chance to take a tour of the factory floor. This Boeing 777 under assembly is on order by Emirates.

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A dream of an aircraft

I also saw the first flight of the 787 Dreamliner on a bitterly cold day in December, 2009. Here's that aircraft parked at Boeing Field in Seattle just after it landed.

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