Nfld. & Labrador

Meet the planespotters of Gander International Airport

They've got their telephoto lenses, flight-tracking apps and radio scanners: These are the aviation enthusiasts of the Gander airport.

Gander's air traffic is a photographer's dream

Cameron Gill, 14, shoots photos of the Gander International Airport from the viewing area on Circular Road. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

They're decked out with the tools of the trade — a VHF frequency scanner, a flight tracker app and a telephoto lens.

And as often as possible, they are staked out at the Gander International Airport to capture their targets: unique and beautiful aircraft that stop in on the airport runway.

These are the planespotters of Gander.

Will Vivian shoots photos on his smartphone through the photographer's viewing window at the Gander Airport. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"Ever since I was able to jump on my bike … on my own and come up here, I've been up here on my own," said Will Vivian, who regularly shares his photographs in a Facebook group he created for planespotters in Gander.

"Whenever I am in Gander, I've always taken trips up to the airport. It can be anywhere from three times a day to 12," joked 14-year-old Cameron Gill of Torbay. "That's more of an exaggeration."

The spotters say Gander's unique mix of air traffic keeps their pastime interesting.

An Antonov AN-12A aircraft at the Gander Airport. The Antonov AN-12A was designed in the Soviet Union. This aircraft is being used by a Ukrainian cargo airline. (Submitted by Will Vivian)

"Biggest thing with our airport, is you never know what you're going to see.… You got your normal Dash-8s and everything," explained Cameron Abbott.

"You might go up and see a big military plane, U.S. military, Royal Air Force — there's all kinds of planes that come through here."

And there can be some bragging rights on the line, if you are able to track and photograph a special aircraft.

U.S. Air Force aircraft are parked at the Gander International Airport. (Submitted by Cameron Gill)

"I've definitely seen the world's largest plane, the AN-225. She's been here a number of times," said Vivian. "I've had the chance to photograph her."

In November, Gander's Airport Authority said it had added a photographer's window at a viewing area on Circular Road — a small nod to their devoted photographer fans.

For Gill, the window is another addition to the features that make the Gander Airport a photographer's dream.

"It's not like other airports. You can come along this road and you can see out the whole entire ways," he said. "And you know, on a good day you could see some of the biggest aircraft ever made."

At the ready

A sizable chunk of Gander's air traffic is military planes and private jets — flights you won't see listed on the airport's arrival board.

That's where Vivian's radio scanner can pay off.

A Boeing jet operated by Miami Air at the Gander airport. (Submitted by Cameron Abbott)

Vivian says it can listen in to communications between 16 to 24 kilometres away, and that's good for a 10-minute head start if something interesting is making a landing.

"I've been getting ready for school, when I was in high school, and I left my house and came up here because there was a fleet of fighter jets coming in," he said. "So it gives you that much time."

Family affair

Abbott has been fascinated with aircraft since he was a toddler; his collection of family photos shows him in an aircraft cockpit, and posing in front of an Antonov 225.

A quick family history shows why.

Cameron Abbott, pictured in the CNA aircraft maintenance instruction area in Gander, is following in his family's footsteps by pursuing the program. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"Dad was actually a ground handler and a refueller here at Gander International Airport, and he worked up there for probably 10 or 15 years, or so," he said. 

"And my uncle, which is dad's brother on his side of the family, he was an aircraft maintenance engineer. His son is now an aircraft maintenance engineer, and his grandson is actually now an aircraft maintenance engineer. So it's three generations there, that's kind of in the family." 

Abbott is following in the family footsteps, finishing an aircraft maintenance engineering program himself at Gander's College of the North Atlantic campus.

Cameron Abbott sits in an airplane cockpit as a child. (Submitted by Cameron Abbott)

In fact, family connections are common: Gill is using his grandfather's camera lens to snap photos on a chilly November day, and Vivian says his father was the first to bring him to the airport to see planes come and go.

"And growing up in Gander — like, the town is kind of built on aviation," added Abbott.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador