BLOC Hotel Gatwick – Spotting Hotel Review

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Spotting Hotels, Spotting Trip Reports, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 27-07-2014

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I recently had the pleasure of staying in the newly opened BLOC Hotel at London Gatwick Airport.

The hotel occupies part of the South Terminal at the airport, and is accessible pre-departures, making it an excellent place to stay before or after your flight without having to worry about transport to or from a hotel away from the airport itself.

But for enthusiasts the BLOC Hotel offers an even greater draw, and that’s fantastic views of the action at Gatwick itself.

Gatwick Airport has been notoriously difficult to spot from since the viewing terraces closed down in 2002. But for those who remember these terraces, the BLOC Hotel actually offers a similar view from many of its rooms, albeit with a further elevated perspective, meaning even more can be seen.

I was offered room 748 at the hotel, which is one of the best for spotting. It occupies a corner of the top floor of the hotel, with panoramic views from the runway to the left, round to the North Terminal and the South Terminal’s satellite to the right.

BLOC Hotel

The view from the BLOC hotel is similar to that of the old viewing terraces at Gatwick.

No movements can be missed from this room, as everything using the runway is visible, as are most stands. Some South Terminal stands are not visible, however. The maintenance area is also not visible.

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The old viewing terraces still exist, but will not be reopened.

BLOC’s concept is modern design, and the furniture and fittings in the room are really unique. In this particular room there was a large bed, TV, bathroom (with equally good views),  and a touch-screen control panel to handle the lights, blinds, temperature etc.

One feature that always goes down well with spotters is Wi-Fi, and at the BLOC hotel it’s free for all guests, regardless of which room you stay in. This is ideal for running Flightradar24 or similar flight tracking websites to tie up distant or night time movements. On my stay I also noticed some Heathrow departures flying overhead, which could be identified on the internet.

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Be careful when booking at this hotel as some rooms have no windows. These are clearly labelled on the website, and naturally will not offer any views of movements. It is best to try and get a higher room facing the airport (west or south) to ensure you can see movements easily; the benefit of Gatwick only having one runway is that all aircraft will be in the same place at some point.

BLOC Hotel Gatwick

An example of the photographs possible from the BLOC Hotel at Gatwick

Photography through the windows was easy on my stay. The windows were clean, and with a 200mm lens I could photograph any aircraft within a reasonable distance. I found, however, that as the light started to fade the windows took on a slight tint which stopped the ability to take good photographs.

The room rates at the BLOC Hotel are pretty good, and in most cases less than £100 per night for all but the VIP rooms. The website handily lists the full standard rate, and the actual rate they are charging over a range of dates. So you can plan your trip well.

This is easily one of the best spotting hotels I’ve ever experienced. I had the benefit of probably the best room for views, but many others at the hotel offer a similar panorama of this notoriously difficult-to-spot-at airport where nothing will be missed. Add to that easy access, comfortable facilities, friendly staff, and good prices.

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To find out more or book a room, visit the BLOC Hotel Gatwick website.

Spotting from the Toronto Sheraton Gateway Hotel

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Canada, North America, Spotting Hotels, Spotting Trip Reports | Posted on 24-05-2014

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One of the best spotting hotels at Toronto Pearson International Airport is the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. Dave Parker recently visited and gave the following report from his time there. The pictures are also taken by Dave from the hotel (see more here).

Toronto View from Sheraton room 846

View from room 846

There Sheraton Gateway is connected to Terminal 3 and offers views across the ramps and active runways. I requested a high room with a view and was contacted by the hotel offering a club upgrade for C$30.  This guaranteed top floor and free Internet, breakfast and evening snacks. I was duly given room 846 and was not disappointed. The views were fantastic across the ramps, and with traffic landing on left and right runways towards he hotel nothing could be missed with either optics or SBS. Although Terminal 1 is not viewable, most aircraft taxi in front of Terminal 3 in transit to and from the runways.  For the photographer, the views through glass are not perfect. There is a tint and you have to search out a sweet spot for best clarity. I have updated my phanfare site so you can view a collection of photos there to get a feel for what is possible.

On the whole I would say is one of the best hotels for views at Toronto. I did check the layout and it looks like rooms in the 827-837 and 843-853 would give similar views and presumably floors 6 and 7, although I suspect level 6 might have some terminal structure blocking some of the views. I do recommend the Club floor as there is 24hr access to the lounge with Starbucks Coffee and soft drinks on tap. Evening nibbles were also good.

Toronto Air Canada A320 C-FPWE

I stayed two nights (Saturday & Sunday). Activity was fairly constant although after a while repeats creep in. You will not get all of the Air Canada fleet as it tends to be slow to move between bases. That is especially true for the Express/Jazz fleets. You will, however, see a reasonable percentage of the A319s, A320s, E190s and E170s. Beech1900. DHC8-100/200 and DHC-400s, CRJ and CRJ700 all repeated regularly with no new ones noted after midday on the second day. Sunday was very good for Westjet, Sunwing and Canjet presumably due to weekend IT schedules.

Sheraton Gateway Toronto Airport

A selection of US Airlines can be seen mainly using smaller equipment (Delta CRJs, American E170, CRJ7, USAir E170, CRJs, United E170, DHC-8). On the International front, the highlight is the Hainan 787. Others include SATA A310, LOT 787, Cubana A320 (LY-), TACA A320, Caribbean/Air Jamaica B738s, Korean B772s and the usual European heavies.

Visit the Sheraton Gateway Hotel website here: www.sheratongatewaytorontoairport.com

Lockheed TriStar last day of RAF operations

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Middle East, Miscellaneous Spotting, Spotting Trip Reports, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 25-03-2014

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Boarding ZD950Monday 24th March saw the final sortie of the Royal Air Force 216 squadron and its Lockheed L1011 TriStar aircraft.

Many of you will know that these aircraft have a civilian heritage. The TriStar was a widebody tri-jet from the 1970s which competed head-to-head with the Douglas DC-10. Although some TriStars remain in operation as VIP transports and on ad-hoc charter flying, the RAF’s fleet, which came from British Airways and Pan Am in the 1980s, were the last in regular service and I got the opportunity to join the last sortie from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

216 squadron was originally formed 96 years ago in 1917. It found itself operating de Havilland Comets from RAF Lyneham until it was disbanded in 1975. In 1979 it reformed to operate Buccaneer aircraft for less than a year. Then in 1983 it was reformed again as a result of the Falklands War. This time it was to operate the new fleet of Lockheed TriStars as both a troop and civilian transport to the islands, and also as a refuelling platform to help other aircraft on the long journey to the South Atlantic. It was ideally suited to this role, and continued until March 2014 when the new Voyager aircraft took over.

RAF 216 squadron

The TriStar was also a significant force in the first Gulf War, as well as the conflict in Afghanistan. Again, it was vital as a troop transport and tanker, and also played a significant role in training pilots in air-to-air refuelling. Over 1,600 round trips were made by TriStars between the UK and bases in Bastion, Kabul and Kandahar.

Originally planned for retirement in 2017, the end date was recently brought forward to the end of this month as a cost-saving measure, and also because of the new Voyager aircraft coming on line.

On the trip today, our flight was to take us from Brize Norton out over the North Sea for the last refuelling exercise. Two TriStars were taking part – ZD950, which I was on, and ZD948 which was to refuel four fighter aircraft. The two aircraft flew in close formation to allow the best vantage point for those with cameras, and as you can see from the pictures here it was a spectacular view.

TriStar wing

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L1011 TriStar formation

I had missed the chance of flying a TriStar when they were more numerous in airline service, so this was a real last chance to fly the type and experience another classic airliner sadly in its final days. The aircraft still had a number of reminders of its time in airline service, from the curved bank of toilets at the rear to the rows of passenger seating down one half of the cabin. The remainder is an open space for fuel tanks and cargo, with a large cargo door having been installed during the conversion process.

L1011 cockpit

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Up in the cockpit the crew made meticulous adjustments to the controls to keep in close formation as we flew a racetrack pattern alongside the other TriStar and fighters. The Flight Engineer was tasked with monitoring both the aircraft instruments, and the green TV screen showing the aircraft flying alongside. Sadly this role will disappear in favour of a Mission Operator on the new Voyager aircraft.

L1011 tanker

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After each fighter had finished topping up its tanks, it passed underneath our aircraft and up the other side for another fantastic photo opportunity.

L1011 and Typhoon

Back at Brize Norton, passing over the crowds assembled at the end of the runway to witness the final landings, we settled onto the runway with a rattle (the loose cargo runners and largely empty cabin do nothing to muffle the noise) and taxied to our parking position, perhaps significantly alongside one of the new Voyagers, which are a variant of the Airbus A330-200.

Voyager TriStar Replacement

To top the day off, we were treated to a tour of the Air Tanker Ltd facility, which will now take over air-to-air refuelling operations and training, and also the air bridges to the Falklands and conflicts in the Middle East. ZZ337 was the aircraft in the purpose built docking bay. Having been delivered only four weeks ago, the new car smell and cleanliness was a stark contrast to the L1011. In the cockpit – essentially that of an A330 but with extra space for the Mission Operator and his camera/refuelling controls – it was explained how much of a joy it is to fly… not that any of the guys relish seeing the TriStar (and previously the VC-10) disappear when there are so many fond memories of these classics.

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Voyager Cockpit

A330 Voyager interior

By the time this article is live, the four remaining RAF TriStars will have joined their stable mates at Bruntingthorpe Airfield near Leicester. It is deemed too costly to fund making any of them a museum piece, and so it seems likely all will be scrapped in the very near future. Of the fleet, two remain at Cambridge, one at Kemble, and now six at Bruntingthorpe.

I’d like to thank the Royal Air Force for the invitation to join this special final mission, and especially Flight Lieutenant Rachel McCulloch for running the day so smoothly.

Last operational sortie of the 216 Squadron RAF Tristar aircraft

Spotting at Porto Airport

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Portugal, Spotting Trip Reports, Western Europe | Posted on 05-02-2014

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Porto AirportI recently had the chance to visit Porto Airport in northern Portugal. Whilst at the airport on the return journey, I checked out the opportunities for spotting from within and around the terminal. Here’s what I found.

Outside the terminal the roadway curves up to the departures area on the first floor. At either end, you can get a limited view of the airfield and see aircraft distant on the runway. You will miss most of what is parked at the terminal, however.

Before heading through to departures, there are no views of aircraft from within the terminal.

Once you have reached the departures area, Porto’s modern glass terminal is ideal for viewing the aircraft on the ground. Walking the length of the departures area reveals all aircraft parked at the gates, which are mainly parked nose in or on remote stands a short distance away.

Porto Departures area

From the northern end of the building you have a view along the cargo ramp. Aircraft parked on the opposite side of the runway, such as the DHL Boeing 757 on my visit, are a little too distant to easily read off.

Anything that moves on the runway is easily visible from the departures area.

Air France 747 at Porto

Porto’s traffic is made up primarily of TAP Portugal, Portugalia, and Ryanair aircraft. A number of European scheduled and low cost airlines also fly to the airport. On my visit, cargo movements included the DHL 757, a Swiftair ATR, and an Air France Cargo 747-400.

Porto is a Ryanair hub

The airport has a single runway, and a large modern terminal with jet bridges, and a lower floor area for walking to aircraft which is used by Ryanair.

Greatest Flights – World’s Shortest Commercial Flight

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Greatest Flights, Miscellaneous Spotting, Spotting Trip Reports, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 22-12-2013

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Papa Westray AirportHere’s a look at another of the world’s greatest flights – a new series about trips you can make on a commercial airliner today which have great appeal to enthusiasts, or other significant reasons for taking them.

This post is about the world’s shortest commercial flight, between Westray and Papa Westray, in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland.

The distance between the two airports is 1.7 miles (2.8km), and flights are operated by Loganair currently with a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft.

WRY-PPW route map

To date the record flight time between the two airports is around 50 seconds, although the schedule allows a generous two minutes (including taxi time) to get to your destination. It all depends on the wind conditions and runway direction in use.

Here’s a video of the flight as seen from a camera on the aircraft’s wing.

Along with the world’s only commercial beach runway at Barra, Scotland is a great place for flying adventures. Whilst the flight between Westray and Papa Westray certainly doesn’t give you long to enjoy the experience, it is certainly up there in world’s greatest flights.

Museum of Aeronautical Science, Narita, Japan

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Asia, Japan, Spotting Trip Reports | Posted on 03-10-2013

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Boeing 747 at museumAlec Wilson recently visited a little-known museum close to Tokyo’s Narita Airport in Japan and provided this report.

The Museum of Aeronautical Science displays artefacts that are relevant to the aviation history of Japan, including a number of full aircraft exhibits.

The museum is located to the south of Narita airport.
Access from the airport is by bus from stop no.30 outside the south wing of terminal 1 – there are only 4 buses out per day (5 return).
To Museum: 0935; 1135; 1335; 1535.
From Museum: 1010; 1310; 1410; 1610; 1710.
Trip takes about 20 mins. JPY200 each way.

The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday 1000 – 1700. Entry fee is JPY500.
All the exhibits are outside. Inside there is various regalia etc.

Also of note is that the museum offers an observation deck with views over Narita Airport. From here you can watch aircraft landing and departing, log numbers, and take photographs.

Exhibits include:

JA3007 Cessna 195 7870
JA3117 Piper PA-18150 18-6626 (Storage shed at back of main building.)
JA3440 Beech E33 CD-1196 (Code 440)
JA3848 Fuji FA-200160 294
JA3944 Cessna 172P 172-74964
JA4177 Mooney M.20M 27-0121
JA5074 Aero Commander Twin Commander680E 872
JA5151 Cessna 411A 411A-0280
JA5159 Beech 56TC TG-77
JA5238 Cessna 421B 421B-0602
JA5258 Fuji FA.300 30001
JA7758 Robinson R22 0961
JA7990 Kamov Ka-26D 7303804
JA8611 NAMC YS-11 1001/2001
JA8628 Mitsubishi MU-2B 005
JA8711 NAMC YS-11 115 2048 (Nose only. Storage shed at back of main building)
JA8767 Mitsubishi MU-2G 520 (Nose only. Storage shed at back of main building)
JA9156 Mitsubishi S-62A M62014
JA9298 Hughes 369HS 04235 (Storage shed at back of main building.)
JA9512 Aerospatiale SA.330F 1141
N67HB Learjet 25B 25-189
N642NW Boeing 747212B 21942 (Nose/cockpit section outside with small cross section of fuselage inside.)
JA8001 Douglas DC-832 45418 (Small cross section of fuselage inside.)

 

Farewell VC-10 (and other RAF transports). Brize Norton day

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Miscellaneous Spotting, Spotting Trip Reports, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 24-09-2013

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Brize Norton VC-10 L1011Last weekend I was one of the lucky few who got to pay my respects to some of the RAF’s workhorse transport aircraft, coinciding with the actual retirement of the Vickers VC-10.

The open day was organised by 216 Squadron, with the intention of giving access to the VC-10, Lockheed L1011 TriStar, and the C-130 Hercules, all of which are to be retired in the near future. It was also an opportunity to raise some funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The last two remaining VC-10s flew their final tanker missions on Friday 20th September, and upon arrival at Brize Norton ZA147 was parked ready to receive guests, whilst ZA150 was visible in the distance.

Brize Norton VC-10Also parked on the apron were L1011 ZE705 and Hercules XV303.

Visitors were permitted to enter each of the aircraft and look around, and also to sit in the cockpit seats to have their picture taken. Helpful crews were on hand to answer questions and explain the aircraft, with many being asked what their future holds personally. “easyJet” one said, whilst others announced “Desk job. I’ve done plenty of tours now!”

It was interesting to see the interior of the VC-10, which is fitted out with huge fuel tanks for refuelling other aircraft. It still retains a small section of rear-facing crew seating behind the cockpit. One of the two remaining aircraft is flying to Dunsfold today (Tuesday 24th September), and the other to Bruntingthorpe tomorrow (Wednesday 25th) on what will be the last ever VC-10 flight. The first ever flight was 51 years ago in June 1962. Both of these aircraft are likely to be scrapped, although the Dunsfold aircraft may be sent by road to a museum.

Brize Norton L1011Whilst I’d been inside other VC-10s before (albeit in museums), I’d never set foot inside a L1011 TriStar before, so it was just as interesting to get inside ZE705. This aircraft was built for Pan Am as N509PA and flew with them for four years until the RAF bought them in December 1984.

Many of the fittings remain as they would have been when in civilian use, including a large area of ten-abreast seating. The forward cabin is set up with stretchers to transport injured personnel. The crew told me the type will be retired from the RAF in 2014, but the fate of the aircraft is not yet known.

After the personnel on hand kindle removed all equipment for an hour to allow visitors ‘clean’ pictures of aircraft, I visited Hercules XV303 which features seating along the sides and central area of the cabin, and a huge rear door. These aircraft are likely to be retired by the end of 2013.

Brize Norton HerculesWhilst enjoying these older aircraft, it was good to see the modern replacements active in the background at Brize Norton, including the Airbus A330 Airtanker and various C-17s. There were also two white HiFly Airbus A340-300s parked in between troop charters.

Thanks to 216 Squadron for their invite to the event – something very memorable and a last chance to experience these classic aircraft, particularly the VC-10 which will never again be seen in our skies.

Here’s a selection of pictures from the day:

East Midlands spotting hotel – Radisson Blu

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Spotting Hotels, Spotting Trip Reports, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 17-08-2013

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Radisson Blu EMAA hotel I recently stayed at was the Radisson Blu at East Midlands airport, and got to check out the spotting opportunities there.

I had requested a room with a view of the airport, and upon arrival this was confirmed. My visit was planned to make the most of the evening cargo flights, which are busiest on weekdays. Odd-numbered rooms in the range 301-319 and 401-419 all face the airport and are close enough to read off aircraft registrations. All airport movements are visible, however after dark a SBS or flight tracking website is required to log the aircraft identities. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi with all room rates.

Radisson Blu East Midlands

Photography is also possible from the rooms with a 250mm lens, particularly in the daytime when aircraft are landing or departing on runway 09. However, the glass may cause distortion in some cases.

The photos on this page are from my stay, and show the views that are possible from the room. All movements on the runway are visible.

Manchester Airport spotting hotel – Radisson Blu

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Spotting Hotels, Spotting Trip Reports, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 30-07-2013

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Radisson Blu SpottingI recently had the opportunity to check out the Radisson Blu hotel at Manchester Airport in the UK, spending a night in an airport view room.

The hotel is known as probably the best at Manchester Airport for spotting, since it is located between terminals 1 and 2. It is linked via walkway to both, and also to the airport train station.

I was surprised to get a good rate for a room when I booked. It was around £65 for a Saturday night in July.

Unfortunately I was only able to get a room on the fifth floor, but with an airport view all the same. At this level, Terminal 2 partly blocks the view. However, I was still able to see some of  the parking stands at Terminal 1, and all movements were visible on the runway. Combined with SBS or Flightradar24, you won’t miss anything from here.

Radisson Blu Manchester

To try and catch what was parked opposite Terminal 2, I checked out the stairwells at both ends of the building. This let me see some aircraft on the remote stands and cargo ramp, but not those parked at the terminal.

The best rooms to try are even-numbered ones, on as high a floor as possible. The check-in staff are helpful and able to give you what you’re looking for if it’s available.

Although the hotel was going through renovation when I stayed, I still enjoyed eating at the restaurant, and the room was adequate and comfortable.

The pictures in this report are from my stay.

Spotting at Stansted – Belmer Road

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Spotting Trip Reports, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 18-06-2013

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I recently visited London Stansted Airport and chose to use the Belmer Road spotting location as a base for watching the action.

Whilst there are no official spotting locations at Stansted Airport, this spot is kept in a good condition with cut grass and car parking permitted alongside the road. ‘Plane Watch’ signs attached to the fence also hints that the airport know this is a well-used spot.

After parking up alongside the road (there are usually other cars parked there, particularly at weekends), it is a short walk through one of the gaps in the trees to reach the open area which runs alongside a significant part of the fence on the northern side of the airport.

The airport’s runway runs in front of you, and it is possible to take pictures through the fence or as aircraft climb above it.

Most aircraft movements can be seen from this location, however you’ll usually have to wait for aircraft to move away from the passenger terminal before they can be identified.

Belmer Road Spotting

Directly opposite the spotting location is the cargo ramp, which is often home to a number of Boeing 747-8s. To the right is the VIP terminal and parking area. The aircraft can not be seen from Belmer Road, but it is a short drive or a 20 minute walk to reach the area.

To reach Belmer Road by car, follow directions for the Long Stay Car Park, but continue past their entrance along the narrow country road (Bury Lodge Lane). It eventually becomes Belmer Road, which has the postcode CM24.

The pictures on this post are from my recent visit and show what is possible from this location.

Air Berlin A319