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“Up in the Sky! It’s a bird! It’s a…”

By Mark Lopa | STC Member

People will sometimes see me look up at the sky, then down at my phone, then back up at the sky, then down at my phone again. Finally, I’ll enthusiastically point upward and yell, “there it is!” As it turns out, I have a passion for tracking airplanes. I’ll be standing outside in our yard or in a parking lot or anywhere I can see the sky, and whenever I hear an airplane, I jump into action. I have a gift of being able to hear airplanes loud and clear further than 40,000 feet high and 50 miles away. This gives me plenty of time to do what I need to do.

My father used to take me to the airport when I was a kid to watch planes take off and land, and today I do that either alone or with my son. He loves it as much as I do. Then, one day a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon this smart phone application called Flightradar24 that tracks airplanes. It tells you where the plane is, where it came from, where it’s going, how high it is, how fast it’s going, what kind of airplane it is, and it even has a picture of that exact aircraft. I instantly downloaded it.

Soon after that, I heard a plane in the sky. Using the app, I zoomed in on my location, and there it was. It was in real time and passed over my head just as the little icon was moving over my blue glowing location dot. It was going from Orlando to my home airport in Hartford. A few minutes later, another plane came by, and then another, and yet another. Something stirred inside of me. This was the coolest thing in the world.

Whenever I hear a plane, I instantly take out my phone and check it out. It’s fascinating to see how many different places these planes take off from and where they’re going. There is a plane traffic route right over our house used by aircraft flying from New York City airports to Europe. There are no end to these planes. By the time they fly over my house, they have been in the air for 16 minutes and at an altitude of about 32,000 feet. We live exactly 100 miles from New York City, so 100 miles in 16 minutes isn’t all that bad!

My favorite planes to track are planes coming from the south going to Bradley International Airport, following a route just to the left of the Connecticut River. Sometimes these planes are only at 3,500 feet and fly right over our house. I feel like I can reach out and touch them. It’s easy to identify the airline since they’re so close. The craziest time was when a FedEx plane from New York to Hartford flew by. It was the lowest plane I had ever seen, and my app said it was at 2,000 feet. It was so low and loud I was certain something was wrong, but my app showed that it landed safely.

Once, at my parents’ house, I took out my phone to check out a plane going by. My father had observed me do this many times and finally asked, “What does that do for you?” It’s my hobby! I guess you get it or you don’t. My son and I evidently do, and I’m glad we do, because it’s a lot of fun. Give it a try sometime. You might surprise yourself.

MARK LOPA (mark@lopa.net) is a technical writer from Newington, Connecticut. His career started with a co-op job while still attending Central Connecticut State University. As a contract worker, he has been employed in various fields, including healthcare, utilities, manufacturing, government, finance, and technology. Besides tracking airplanes, he enjoys playing hockey; vacationing on Cape Cod; anything Disney; and spending time with his wife, children, and dogs.

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