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Trials of a “Girly” Plane Spotter

By Aoife Kiernan
September 4, 2009

Aoife Kiernan is a self-confessed airplane nerd who spends her spare time spotting at Dublin’s airport. Tired of the gender wars still raging, she’s launching a suffragette movement to claim equal rights at the end of the runway.


I’ve always been a huge nerd; it’s in the blood. Even worse, I’m an airplane nerd, and for a 24-year-old woman that poses some unique problems. The glass ceiling still exists at the end of the runway where I do my plane-spotting along with the other nerds – all males.

It’s a recent phenomenon, although I always did enjoy my dad taking us out to the airport to see the big green Aer Lingus tails rolling past a fence I couldn’t see over. Yeah, I’m one of those weirdoes who stands parallel to runways saying inane things like “wow look at that Airbus blah blah blah.”

To a non-spotter reading this, I could be a middle aged man named Clive, who lives in anoraks and even has anorak pyjamas and still lives with his mother. Well, I am none of those things. The mammaries I boast are not man-boobs. I own no anoraks, and even have a few friends. I still live with my mother, but that’s a different story.

Ups and Downs of Plane Spotting

Out at the viewing spot at Dublin airport, I am usually the only woman who isn’t getting jiggy in a Honda Civic. I take my stance on the little hillock, amongst the lads. Actually it’s more like I try to blend in so no one driving past recognizes me, which has happened in the past, and was rather embarrassing. But I’ve come out of the aviation closet to all of my friends and family, so it’s ok.

One day, I dragged my mother out because I wanted to see the Air France 777F. I was there, happy as Larry, my binoculars glued to the windscreen, with mother glumly reading her newspaper to combat the boredom that plane-spotting is to “vanillas.” Then a scruffy looking fella raps on the window and says he’s making a film about plane spotters. He likes the cut of our jib and he’s gonna make us stars. There’s somethin’ special about the girly spotters.

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Warp Speed Departure

That day we took off outta that lay by faster than any plane outta Dublin. He really freaked us out. Even though we said “Eh no, we’re not spotters, no” (with me clutching my nerd-oculars) he still set up a camera on my side of the car and started filming. So when I got home I immediately jumped onto A.net and asked did anyone see this guy? Yes, a few replied, adding “But girls aaaaaaaaare unusual!” I’m all like, “come on guys get over it.”

I know there are some weirdoes (apart from me) at places like this, but it’s just crap as I feel more vulnerable being a girl. Another day, I was in a book shop perusing an airplane magazine and this old geezer got all excited and mumbled something about jet thrust. I just backed away, nodding and smiling. Also, I will never be able to drive up to the airport myself, and sit there for a few hours, because I would never feel safe (and also because I can’t drive).

You’re Good for a Skirt

I could swear sometimes when I’m up there doing my thing, spotting away at ninety miles a minute, I can feel them look at me. It’s almost like that old knock “you’re good for a skirt.” I find it funny that even in plane spotting, the girls are the freakin’ underdogs (if I’m there with my dad, they acknowledge only him, and the man knows nothing about airplanes). I mean, come on, a glass ceiling at the runway threshold? That doesn’t even exist in the cockpits anymore as there are plenty of female pilots (indeed, the glass cockpit has been broken!). Because I would never cut it as a pilot (except for in FS9) I’m going to start a spotting suffragette movement. Yeah, I’m gonna prove that I’m entitled to stand on a hill in wind and rain and get deafened by really noisy airplanes. I’ll be there, waving my Prada binoculars, shouting “Dahlings, you simply must catch the flap settings on this Airbus A300, its divine!” to my cowering girl posse in the car.

But first I have to learn how to drive....

Written by
Aoife Kiernan

49 User Comments:
Username: Robborobbo [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-10 03:34:01 and read 32768 times.

Nice piece! I think I can relate to it, even though I am a middle aged male (definitely not living with my mum, definitely no anorak, and no sellotape holding my glasses together!). It's not that I can't/won't come out of the closet, but I haven't been a spotter since I was in my early twenties, and hate being called one by anybody - it's just so seriously uncool. I much prefer the term "enthusiast". As I've worked for an airline for 35 years and partly completed a PPL a few years back, I think can get away with saying that with my head held high and my reputation (?) still relatively intact.

But girl "enthusiasts" do seem to be somewhat of a rarity, even though these days there are plenty of female pilots (and even ground engineers - previously the preserve of men only, just like a golf club bar!), which is odd when in my experience, most pilots love their work and presumably chose their career path because of their interest in aviation.

So hats off to you Aoife. I wish there were more like you. I would probably even become a bit more sociable at airfields/airports/airshows and have a "proper" conversation with someone, rather than shuffling away from Clive as soon as he spoke to me......

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-10 03:59:02 and read 32768 times.

As I've worked for an airline for 35 years and partly completed a PPL a few years back, I think can get away with saying that with my head held high and my reputation (?) still relatively intact.

Definitely!

It's girls like me who can't do maths and can't swim end up being the spotters!

Thanks very much for your feedback.

Username: Brandi747 [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-10 09:35:22 and read 32768 times.

I think this is a great view on things and I appreciate you putting your story out there but I am a fellow female plane spotter too and I take pride in the being a spotter. Really why does it have to be nerdy? I personally think it is cool and impressive. I am an Airfield Manager and a young one at that in the USAF and I spend most of my time out on the airfield, in the terminal, at the FBO, on the Flight line, in the Boeing paint hangar to see the 777s being painted, in the tower, at EOR, flying, or in militray aircraft cockpits that come to my ramp and I always have my camera with me. How many normal civilians (I call anyone who is not involved in aviation civilians) can say they have seen half the things that I have or are able to say that they have been in the cockpit of a brand new Air France 777 or have stood 5 feet from the runway while F15s fly after burner over your head? It does not help when they know that it is me down there becuase I work side by side with them everyday so they try to scare me. :)You can feel your whole body shake with excitment and your heart beating fast not to mention it is the beautiful sound of freedom! How many civilians or even pilots can say that the tower controllers refer to them by name on the radio or hey I sat in the cockpit of the Dream Lifter today and got to ride the breaks of an HH60 too? Not many people can say those things and not many women can say those things either!! So to me I think that it is very impressive as a women to be an enthusiast or spotter but I also feel that just because I am a women does not make it any more or less challenging to do what I love to do just because men are surrounding me. I dont think that you are a nerd I just think that you don't take enough credit for being awesome!:) I would love to meet another female spotter one of these days and the guys im sure would love to talk another girls ear off! Thanks for being you and posting that!

Username: EI320 [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-10 14:31:08 and read 32768 times.

Interesting piece Aoife. Whilst I personally don't view female planespotters in the way you've described above, I do see where your coming from. The aviation scene certainly is male-dominated, and I suppose female planespotters can come as a surprise to some. Don't be put off by this though. You've just as much a right to be out there on the mound parallel to Runway 28 with your "nerd-oculars" as anyone else.

I don't view planespotting as "nerdy" as such, but I am an aviation enthusiast and some of the things I've done in the past would be viewed as more than just nerdy. I don't let on how big my interest in aviation actually is to many people for fear that people may think I'm a freak or a "queer". Some of my random day trips travelling between Ireland and the UK and Europe remain a closely guarded secret.

At the end of the day though, I'll still be out this weekend with my camera, radio and binoculars near the threshold of Runway 24 at Shannon. So what if some people think it's nerdy?

EI320

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-11 03:51:13 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for being you and posting that!

Thanks so much for your amazing post. It's really inspiring! I'm so jealous your job sounds amazing! Thanks for reading ;)




You've just as much a right to be out there on the mound parallel to Runway 28

That's the one! ;) Seriously, thanks for your views and for reading.

Username: Western727 [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-12 07:45:59 and read 32768 times.

Love your piece, glad to call you a fellow spotter. It's a good thing being a geek is somewhat chic these days.

Being a deaf spotter, I can somewhat relate while spotting once others realize I am deaf. Further, when I spot with a fellow deaf spotter and sign with him (as we ogle at flap settings as you ever so eloquently put it :)), we sense those glances, though I can imagine if I were a woman it'd definitely be amplified.

True, I don't see many female spotters. I'm hopeful many are soon made to feel like they can come out of the aviation closet as a result of your piece.

Happy spotting, y'all!

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-12 09:50:27 and read 32768 times.

Thank you for your unique perspective, Western 727.

Username: FREDDIELAKER2 [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-21 06:53:45 and read 32768 times.

Good on yerself, get to know some of the lads there and they will look after
you. but dont give up and remember if someone gets a bit lairy.. and kick in the nuts usually offends - but does the biz...

Username: 747girl [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-21 12:28:48 and read 32768 times.

Thank you for this piece! I totally sympathise, as a female planespotter (relatively ungeeky) myself! I often feel the 'odd one out' when clutching my camera and binoculars at LHR, but I have such a good time, it doesn't usually bother me too much!

I'll definately join your spotting suffragette movement!

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-22 01:19:51 and read 32768 times.

Thanks guys! your comments really make my day!

Username: Jcamilo [User Info]
Posted 2009-10-15 14:03:39 and read 32768 times.

this place is really cool!!

Username: Cc2314 [User Info]
Posted 2009-10-19 05:18:54 and read 32768 times.

Very nice article,i never got to see the af777f.I must dust off the camera and get back up to DUB

Username: G38 [User Info]
Posted 2009-10-20 14:56:49 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for posting that. It made me laugh. Well written. Until I read you story it had never crossed my somewhat narrow mind that a girl would ever be interested in planes.

Username: Jayeshrulz [User Info]
Posted 2009-11-04 10:46:45 and read 32768 times.

very very nice article,
and btw if plane spotting is "nerdy", the we are are together in it!!!!
Excellent.

Username: Eldeanio [User Info]
Posted 2009-11-05 01:18:00 and read 32768 times.

WOW! I didn't even think such a thing exsisted?! Girls liking aircraft with the same passion and enthusiasm as I do? Yay for you girls who get out there and have a gander with us other planespotters. Sure, it can seem a little dodgy at times but Im glad to hear it hasn't put you off. We don't get much interesting stuff here in little old NZ to post or write about, so count yourself lucky, geographically. Keep up the spotting!
Slainte! :-)

Username: Thu2344 [User Info]
Posted 2009-11-13 14:14:18 and read 32768 times.

Da*n girl, you rock!

I can relate to so much of what you say, from the "coming out of the closet to your family" as well as feeling like the odd one out on the hill. I am myself 20 years old, a blonde girl, with a camera and one hell of an unexplainable love for airplanes.

As a matter of fact, I would love to hear more from my kind, so if you have any tips about where to find a place where there are more female spotters to chat with, please inform me :)

Username: Aviatrix [User Info]
Posted 2009-11-22 18:33:01 and read 32768 times.

I'm glad you wrote this, I didn't really think there were too many other female spotters out there. I always feel like a nerd when I'm at the airport with my eyes glued to the aircraft as they take off. I've even gone as far as being a line crew person at an airport to get closer to aircraft. I get a lot of funny looks and often times people say they've never seen a female fueler before. That really makes me feel like a nerd, but I love aircraft so much.

I'm with Thu2344 one this one, if you ever find more female spotters I'd like to know! :)

Username: Muzyck [User Info]
Posted 2009-12-02 18:16:48 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for the post! Hang in there, even if it takes time. As a young teen (male) in the late 70's I used to listen to the flights on approach to JFK from 50 miles out on a multi band radio while using an OAG and binoculars to spot the flights coming into JFK. I did not hear any female voices on those flights in ATC or in the air .Fast foward 30 years and I rediscovered my passion through Flightaware and LiveATC.net, and that is no longer the case.

Username: Ptrjong [User Info]
Posted 2009-12-03 03:59:04 and read 32768 times.

Hey Aoife, you can write, but I guess you know that. Peter.

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2009-12-06 05:18:21 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for reading, everyone

Username: Upcfordcruiser [User Info]
Posted 2009-12-30 19:18:02 and read 32768 times.

Excellent article, I've only met one female spotter (wife of a very well known and respected spotter) and was surprised to see she enjoyed it as much as her husband. Good luck to you and don't let the glass ceiling deter you from doing what you love!

Username: AirIndia [User Info]
Posted 2010-01-13 01:11:45 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for posting this.

Trying to convince my wife that women can like airplanes too........

Username: TriStar1845 [User Info]
Posted 2010-02-04 01:16:49 and read 32768 times.

I'm a girl spotter myself. I don't think there is anything wrong with women loving aviation, nor do I feel any difference when I spot... Maybe I'm just too ignorant..

Username: Aztec01 [User Info]
Posted 2010-02-23 17:42:50 and read 32768 times.

You should talk to Red-n-Gold. That woman is an amazing repository of aircraft lore! Met her up at KCLE a few years back. I thought I knew a bit about aircraft. I was like a drooling child at her knees!

Username: Trustypaul [User Info]
Posted 2010-03-13 10:34:26 and read 32768 times.

Lovely article Aoife,your just a short hop from me in Manchester EGLL ,over the water
there are plenty of spotters there with there wives,kids ,a really good spotting platform at tghe runway edge,shop, cafe, and even Concord to visit,so come along and enjoy a great day out,yer ma can go shopping, if she wants ,you'll be safe till she is ready for home
Paul

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2010-03-14 12:49:46 and read 32768 times.

@ Trustypaul

lol, actually been wantin to get over there, isn't there a pub where you can sit and & watch the planes? I'd love that, and to see Concorde too.

Username: Misststyles [User Info]
Posted 2010-04-02 23:18:30 and read 32768 times.

Thank you for writing this article, Aoife! Very well written!

I am a 22 year old female spotter. I wear make-up, and get my hair and nails done. I am the girliest girl you will find, but I am out there at LAX spotting with the men, binoculars around my neck and all.

Thank you for representing all the women out there, as few in number as we may be! Cheers!

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2010-04-06 06:33:39 and read 32768 times.

@ Misststyles
yeah me too! Love me make up. And I'm so jealous, I'd say LAX is amazing! Would to love to go to the In & Out and watch A380's.

Thanks for reading.

Username: VHECA [User Info]
Posted 2010-04-13 22:23:44 and read 32768 times.

Absolutely fantastic! Great article and a great perspective. May your spotting days be long and enjoyable!

I have a funny feeling my daughter will turn out to be someone just like you and the other women on this awesome site!

Hats of to all the women in aviation, spotting included!

Cheers

vheca

Username: Anipilot [User Info]
Posted 2010-04-30 08:50:26 and read 32768 times.

On a different note...but are most spotters also Microsoft Flight simmers?

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2010-05-03 07:35:11 and read 32768 times.

Hmmm, I don't know. I am!

Username: Susanbrown [User Info]
Posted 2010-06-24 13:49:30 and read 32768 times.

i know exactly where you are coming from im a female who is just plane crazy and i do feel a little out of sorts at LHR with my binoculars and note pad and pen. its nice to know that there are other women out there who are spotters just like myself. thankyou.

Username: 747girl [User Info]
Posted 2010-07-06 14:43:34 and read 32768 times.

I love the comments about 'coming out' as a plane spotter! I revealed my passion to a friend recently and surprisingly discovered that he enjoyed talking aviation too.

Username: Zipsy [User Info]
Posted 2010-07-28 17:05:32 and read 32768 times.

Hi,I just joined this place and found this interesting article.I'm also a female spotter.Well I'm totally nuts about airliners and I do feel so alien when I spot at Heathrow or sometimes at Manchester.Here In Southampton we only get little props which is soooo boring.Can't beat that roaring jet engine.Love to meet fellow female plane nutters like myself.

Username: IwantaBBJ [User Info]
Posted 2010-08-25 07:47:41 and read 32768 times.

Hehe, I know these problems just too well... I am married to a female spotter originating from Dublin as well and when we are out at the airport here in ZRH and she is with me, then she is surrounded by our friends almost immediately.... It almost makes me wanna say "Hey, I am here too!!" LOL

Only prob we have that she is more of a military spotter while I am more into the civil stuff, guess I will be hanging more around army-bases in the future... What a PAIN;-))

Have fun spotting'

Mike


Username: Dc8Girl [User Info]
Posted 2010-08-29 13:26:23 and read 32768 times.

From one female aviation enthusiast to another - great to realise I'm not the only one! It can be a lonely world for a female standing by the runway with lots of men, but I hold my chin up. I know my Airbuses from my Boeings, and am happy with my skill! I never had the opportunity to get a career in aviation, but I love my hobby :o)
Pauline.

Username: Dc8Girl [User Info]
Posted 2010-08-29 13:29:01 and read 32768 times.

ps - my territory is GLA, but when I can, I visit LPL and the amazing viewing park at MAN, complete with Trident, BAE-146, Concorde and half a DC-10!!!

Username: 747girl [User Info]
Posted 2010-09-09 15:08:50 and read 32768 times.

Its great to see there are lots of other girly plane spotters!! I agree, MAN viewing park is fantastic; LHR is pretty good too!

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2010-09-12 05:00:14 and read 32768 times.

Prices for flights aren't too bad to MAN, defo when I get a few bob I'm headin over there!

Aoife

Username: Fca767 [User Info]
Posted 2010-09-18 11:37:33 and read 32768 times.

Nice Read...Is it the fact that you're uncomfy with males liking females, I think if there's more female plane spotters then the attention will be spread out more :)

I like to chat to females as well erm usually it's just human nature...But I don't speak to males either while plane spotting, I just stay in my own world.

Username: Aleutianman [User Info]
Posted 2010-09-28 23:50:43 and read 32768 times.

Here in Alaska I have seen only 1 female spotter and she asked me about the type of plane that flew over? She was right about the type. But wrong on the model. I told her about studying on A.net and to not give up. Most of the other guys there wouldn't have given her the time of day. So Aoife keep up the good work.

Username: Zipsy [User Info]
Posted 2010-09-29 18:17:03 and read 32768 times.

Just enjoyed a great day at the viewing park in Manchester,Saw the Emirates A380 and Virgin B747-400 and many others.I was the only female there but met a very friendly male spotter who told me alot about Manchester.How I wish that I lived closer to Manchester.I can only afford to go there once or twice a year as I have to fly there from Southampton.

Username: Magcheck [User Info]
Posted 2011-01-09 12:43:10 and read 32768 times.

Great article! And good for you for getting out there and staking a claim, you've got the same right to be there as any guy does. I think a lot of us guys secretly wish that more women appreciated aviation the way we do......and wish that the women in our lives wouldn't glaze over when we start yapping about aerodynamics and flight controls and here's-why-I'm-completing this-checklist-item-does-that-make-sense?

Aviation is interesting....you kinda either get it or you don't.

Happy spotting-- and recruit some more ladies!



Username: Suzi1991 [User Info]
Posted 2011-01-19 02:27:38 and read 32768 times.

Hi Aoife, thanks for your article! I'm a plane spotter at LHR (and whichever other airport I land at) and my friends think it's weird that every time I hear the sound of an aircraft I immediately look up at the sky and whip out my camera. I'm a 19 year old blonde female and I love aviation and plane spotting!! Everyone has a hobby, be it normal or different, and I don't think it's anything to be ashamed about. I am currently studying ATC in my spare time and hope to someday be in a tower looking at pretty aeroplanes :)
Suzi

Username: Gonzalo [User Info]
Posted 2011-01-24 06:37:26 and read 32768 times.



Great Article !!! You know something ? ...Many of my MALE friends ( if not all ) has given me "the look" when they see my camera ( or my computer, or my office ), full of pics of airliners, airlines logos, mock ups, books of aviation, flight maps, I even have a checklist sticked at my office wall to help and reinforce my "memory items". So, don't feel bad for being a planespotter, or an aviation nut.., in fact, I feel sad for those who pass by a shiny airliner and ignore it ( Sadly I have my wife included in that ominous list :(..., but with love and respect we can live with that hahaha ).

Congratulations and keep the good mood !!!

Rgds.
G.

Username: Skyways170 [User Info]
Posted 2011-02-06 01:14:36 and read 32768 times.

I am a 56 year old female plane spotter in New Zealand and it can be very lonely...the guys huddle together and tell each other what special flights are coming in and all the latest gossip but they don't include me. If the information is passed on to me by someone I have to keep it secret as to who passed it on or they would then be excluded for telling the girl!
But I am out and proud (to be a female plane spotter)

Username: Dergay [User Info]
Posted 2011-03-04 14:55:25 and read 32768 times.

Hi Aoife.
Great story - I sometimes spot at DUB, but mainly at SNN. Great to see the ladies arriving - you girls fly planes, control planes, maintain planes, so why not spot planes! Can you try to do something about the facilities though..........

Username: Aerdingus [User Info]
Posted 2011-03-19 09:08:44 and read 32768 times.

@ Dergay:

Thanks for reading. Yis seem to get good stuff down in SNN! Unfortunately nothing we can do bout facilities lol.....my advice is bring a camping chair & yer set!

Username: Reffado [User Info]
Posted 2013-01-31 17:07:00 and read 7624 times.

This is quite a nice story! I must say I share some of the feelings, even if I am not female. I'm a 17 year old boy, actually. But nearly everyone I see thinks I'm a freak when I tell them I like to go to the airport and just watch and take pictures. I thought that was just Brazil, but even at MIA, where a lot of spotters were waiting for the A380 to arrive, I was getting weird looks from the older fellas!

Keep up the good work, Aoife!

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