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The Long-Lost Observation Deck

In Ask the Pilot "short takes," mourning that rarest of airport amenities: the observation deck. At least Amsterdam still has theirs. ( More...

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David Isaacs 14
Back in the 50's we would go to SDF in Louisville and they had a roof-top deck where you could see the planes at the terminal as well as out on the runways. Now the closest thing we have is a section that is well past the security checkpoint so you must be ticketed to go there. So much for bringing your kids out and letting them be caught up in the magic of aviation. Yes, it is a new world, but we have given in to those who want us to give up our freedoms. What a shame.
David, I remember well the deck at the old Lee Terminal at KSDF, To this day I don't know what made the weird noises in the Canberra engines as they taxied by. I got to see an Air National Guard unit do an aerobatic routine in their F-80s or T-33s, too. My favorite thing was watching and listening to the big radials cough and bark as the airliners of the day prepared to depart!
iflyifr 2
David and Martie. Is Bowman Field still there? Used to park at the very low fence and watch the traffic. A real thrill for a kid back in the 50's. Left KY many years ago but still miss Louisville!
Yep, still there and a busy general aviation airport. Several corporate airplanes are based there, and there are a couple of flight schools, as well as the Areoclub. here is a link that will give you some information:

Sadly, if you liked Mazzoni's rolled oysters from across the street, they are long gone...
My dad learned to fly there after WWII, and I flew a lot with him as a little guy while he was working on his commercial rating.
iflyifr 1
Martie, thanks for the info. Will take a look. I loved Mazzoni's and also remember when they were down on 3rd. St. As I remember, could be 2nd or 1st. Those rolled oysters were the greatest.I live on the NJ shore now and have oysters from here and Maryland but not prepared like Mazzoni's. Now have a C 310, what are you flying?
Mazzoni's last place was out by the Louisville Yacht Club somewhere, I believe, but it's gone, too. Mike Lining's is still out on Cane Run; I ate a great fish sandwich there last summer.
Next time you cross PENNS intersection eastbound, look down and to the left. I live near the Delaware River, a mile south the power plant. A massive heart attack had me selling my PA22-20 several years ago. :(
iflyifr 1
Too bad, sorry about that. I'm 81 and very fortunate so far. But know the time is approaching I will be forced to give it up.
Probably sooner than later because I recognize my mind is not like it used to be! But have been looking at a 340. The A/C and pressuration are attractive to our family who are spread between here, KY and CO.. All of my children are commercial pilots and they could make use of if. Good luck w/your health.
Thanks, and you hang in there too. At 73 I'm the junior member of a threesome (other two are 80) that gets out and tries to find something fun to do every couple of weeks. We've seen a lot of the day trip stuff in eastern PA, and I've photographed right at 100 covered bridges so far. Sentimental Journey was a spot a couple of years ago; this September the Bentonville Fly-in is in our sights.
David Isaacs 1
My fondest memory of Bowman was when my father was flying out on a DC-3 and they let me come on to see its cabin. My not so fondest memory was when I took my check ride for my private license and got a straight in approach to land. I flew at Hap's airport in Jeffersonville and hardly ever flew to Bowman. I touched down at about 70 mph and the nose wheel started shimmying. I figured I had failed. The examiner wrote out my license and then said "Now go learn to fly". That was 1974 and I have only flown twice since then and that was not as PIC.
BTW I sent a link to this discussion to Standiford and got a response that the Cell Phone Lot was free and open for observation. Just don't get too close to the fencing.
Thanks David!
I have a picture of my then 12 year old son standing just aft of the pedestal of an MD-80 that we had just boarded, preparing to head back to EWR. He was peeking in as he went by, and they invited him to step inside and look at all the dials and gauges. That doesn't happen much anymore.
However, even I never got to see a DC-3 cockpit, though...
CLT has a dedicated parking area (with picnic tables) overlooking one of the runways. Also CRW just opened an indoor viewing area with seats overlooking the runways.
Brian Bishop 1
Yes the one at CLT is great, but may be lost when a 4th parallel runway is built. The airport authority has said they are interested in building a new one.
Charles Mills 6
DFW has a really nice observation area near the threshold of 18R. Tower communicationso are played over a loud speaker and binoculars are there to zoom in on the action.
It is called Founders Plaza and is a great place.
Louis Bourcet 5
I fly into Vancouver BC Canada (CYVR) a few times a year and this is an except from the airport brochure. The Vancouver Airport Observation Area is a feature at Vancouver Airport, offering non-passengers a place where they can enjoy viewing aircraft operations and flights in and out of the airport. Aviation buffs and kids will especially enjoy spending some time here and there is no admission fee.

With over 5000 square feet, this area has seats for over 150 people. Over 130 linear feet of floor to ceiling windows provide an expansive view across the west side of the busy airport. Complimentary telescopes by the windows are great for catching up close views of the arriving and departing aircraft. A large interactive model of the airport, and interactive touch-screen kiosks provide all kinds of interesting information about the development of Vancouver International Airport and its day to day operations. There are also stations where you can listen to the live communications between Air Traffic Control and the aircraft that are operating in the area.
MaryJo Flicek 5
At MSP, there is an observation deck inside the entrance to the D concourse across from gate D5.

The one on the F concourse was closed some time ago.
There is currently an observation deck at KMSP, but you'll have to ask the right folks for directions - Not advertised.
David Barnes 4
They've added signage, but only in the immediate vicinity of the deck. It's above gate D1.
Few years ago IAH built a new tower. The old tower has been demolished (just in the last few months) but I sure wish they had turned that into a public observation location. Yes, put security there. I'd even go for a reasonable fee to help pay for AC, but no, demolition got it in the end. :(
Les Price 3
If you ever find yourself in Montreal with a few hours to kill. Have a look at this and enjoy.
Andy Roberts 3
At BWI there's a park called the Thomas A. Dixon Aircraft Observation Area. It's just outside the airport grounds near the start of 33L. There's also a playground there, so you can bring your kids and let them play while you watch planes land.
Norman Howes 2
BWI has an inside observation deck that has binoculars and seating for relaxing. Also has a 737 cockpit, partial 737 fuselage and wing parts and landing gear. Very cool!
Joe Russo 3
The best place on the planet to watch planes landing is at the In and Out Burger at 96th St. and Sepulveda Blvd. at LAX. You can sit outside munching on fries at the end of Runway 24R.
Imagine an A380 right in your face.
Best place for take offs is the small park of off Imperial Highway in El Segundo on the south side of LAX.
Maho Beach. St. Maarten. sitting in the water 90ft away from the runway as a B744 lands over your head. Additionally, the beach is next to the airport perimeter fence, where you can literally stand behind that B744 as it takes off.

Skiathos, Greece. Like St. Maarten, only a small road separating you from the airport perimeter fence and runway, with the beach to the south of the field.

Two of the best places in the world to watch planes land.
Carrie Wooley 1
You are absolutely correct! Just saw SXM landings last month with the big draw being the KLM 747. Unfortunately I heard that KLM is stopping 747 service in October 2016. Does anyone know if this is correct?
Parking there is absolutely horrendous. That and Imperial Hill gets patrolled so much that the police kick everyone out of there at any time of the night.

Again, I'd rather have a dedicated parking area like LAS, where at least you wouldn't have to have your own scanner to hear ATC.
BlueBass 1
The National Rental Car facility at KORD is another great place to see planes landing - just 1000' short of 27L. Great for watching crosswind approaches while you finish your rental paperwork.
IN & OUT burgers at LAX has a grass area across the street with great approach views and photo ops
Al Palmer 1
Agreed! Now that they have finished work on 24L, takeoffs are even closer to In and Out.

Whatever happened to the observation deck on top of the Theme Building at LAX?
Here in Bangor there isn't a spotting deck, but there are several areas for viewing and the airport even has a spotters club. The Maine Air Museum has built a beautiful spotting platform, though access is only when they are open. Like Gump said about the box of chocolates, the same goes for BGR, you never know what you're going to get. A380s and Dreamliner diversions, F-35s and other fighters heading over/coming back and a ton of C-17s and the resident KC-135Rs.
Joao Ponces 3
ALL Japanese Airports have very nice Observation Decks! It is indeed a great amenity! My home town, Lisbon, Portugal, LPPT had a very nice OD. Now also long gone. Now in Pt, Madeira still has a nice one LPMA
kennedye 3
If you're in the Seattle area with some time to kill, head north to Paine Field in Everett and visit the Future of Flight Aviation Center, where you can get a spectacular view of the Boeing factory and ramp, and watch 747s,767s, 777s, and 787s doing testflights and taxi/brake tests.
YVR has an indoor enclosed viewing area at the main terminal,and an open air viewing deck at the South Terminal.
There is also a park that aircraft fly over on landing or take off,depending on wind direction.
Brian Bishop 3
Not a huge airport nut RDU has a really nice one with historical displays and aircraft ID charts etc.
Loyd Enochs 2
The Boston Logan (KBOS) observation tower was indeed a fabulous place. It was a great place to see all the activity airside and from the other side of the building all the activity in the city. A sad loss, even after all these years.
Zurich Airport has two observation decks. Deck B is a quite elaborate affair, designed to appeal to families.
Braniff77 2
Years ago, the parking deck on top of the Pan Am terminal at JFK was a fantastic place to watch planes, especially since it was maybe a thousand feet off the side of the main runway (4R-22L??). The International Arrivals Building also had a very large observation deck.
ralph greener 1
yes until they put up 10ft fences. at the worldport lga in the 70s watched braniff with their flying colors from top of the central terminal for 10 cents trurnstile full lenght of the building also resteraunt up there.
Colin Seftel 2
Johannesburg OR Tambo (FAOR) has two observation decks!
jaymeinen 2
There's one at NRT. FRA has a hill built up so people can easily see over the fence for takeoffs and landings on 7R. BZE also has a rooftop viewing area. IAH has a parking lot under the approach path of RW27 that always has a lot of cars parked.
David Barnes 1
Belize City? Where's the access? I was down there in February and must've missed it!
JetChaser 2
HPN has an observation area on the top floor o the terminal, I was surprised it was actually upgraded over eliminated through renovations a couple of years ago. Room to stand at the window or there are also seats. With a single jet runway you can't miss a thing from there and it overlooks some of the gates.
Along one of the NW/SE runways at the MSP airport is a cell phone lot where one can wait for someone's arrival and watch airplanes land and takeoff, or just to watch airplanes. It's not an observation deck but it is a fun place to kill time from the comfort of one's car.
kc0rzw 2
MSP also has a dedicated observation area along cargo rd, it sits at the intersection of 12R/30L and 4/22
zennermd 1
How difficult is it to access MSP's observation area and is it worth the trip?
David Barnes 2
It sounds like there are two at MSP. If you're flying through, there's an indoor observation deck above Gate D1. There's one sign to direct you up the stairs. I've never experienced the one kc0rzw mentions.
kc0rzw 2
It is relatively new, I think they added it a year or two ago, probably 30 or more parking spots, and benches and picnic tables. Much better view than the cell phone lot.
zennermd 1
Thanks! I think I will be checking it out sometime this summer.
kc0rzw 2
it is easy to access, they actually have directions on the airport website, and i believe google maps will take you there.
This is what I love about LAS and one of its satellite airports, VGT.

Both have dedicated parking areas (for LAS, adjacent to runways 25L/R; for VGT, tucked in the corner pocket between the approach ends of runway 12R and runway 7) where you can sit and watch planes land and take off. Additionally, they broadcast the Tower's feed over normal FM radio at both locations (IIRC, 101.1FM) so you can listen to ATC over your car stereo.

Wish other airports did this.
ToddBaldwin3 2
D/FW has a nice observation plaza just north of the UPS ramp.
Most airport parking have top decks were you can get a great view
Also below the Rental center at SFO / free temp parking just below the departure end of 28 L & R
paul trubits 3
Lots of hotel rooms on the Las Vegas strip give fantastic views of the KLAS operations.
At the Hard Rock Hotel, everyone wants a pool view, so your guaranteed am airport view if you ask,
and all rooms have full opening french doors, the planes are almost eye-level on approach.
Edward Dexter 1
As noted by Mr. Allen below, at BWI Thurgood Marshall there's a nice park just south of the field. There is also a bike path that circles the field, and there are several locations along the path that are good, including a grassy hillslope overlooking the west end of 15R from which you can see a lot of the field. And my recent favorite is the 3rd floor observation deck they added between B and C concourse - has a somewhat restricted view of the field, so you can usually follow a plane taxiing very far, but it has a nice view to the south over the main runways, and the wine bar has a lovely prosecco...
Mao beach at St Martins, and St Barths and Saba are both a 10 minute flight away. Saba and St Barths you are actually above the aircraft landing!
Pam Taylor 1
We have one here at MFR (Medford, Oregon).
John Cotton 1
Anyone remember the observation deck at Friendship Airport in Baltimore? For that matter, does anyone remember Friendship Airport at all?! Fond memory for me.
David Isaacs 1
My father flew into it, our family flew into it once back then, and I think it may still have been friendship in 1976, when I connected through it. I think it used to be a destination for Eastern.
James Carlson 1
It was renamed to BWI in 1973:
craig mccleaf 1
Still one at BWI,I was just there last week.
Mark Gahwiler 1
We have a viewing area at FLL next to 10L with loudspeakers for the Tower frequency, and a Greenbelt Park on the south side that overlooks 10R.
Ric Wernicke 1
South side of LAX has a hill in El Segundo that over looks the center of the terminal buildings. The city has thoughtfully provided benches and tables in what has to be the longest thin park in existence. A perfect afternoon consists of a box of chicken from nearby Dinah's, an aircraft scanner, and decent binoculars.
ralph greener 1
albany ny has a parking area at the south end with signage of types of aircraft
Allan Fromm 1
Delta Sky Club in ATL on Concourse F has an outdoor "Sky Deck" overlooking the Tarmac. It is very popular on nicer days. Since Concourse F is mainly for international departures there are generally larger aircraft around.
James Simms 1
North of the main BHM runway is a road up on a ridge before the coporate & ANG hangers where one can park & watch. Haven't been there in years so I don't know abt today.
nf45 1
DCA has a lot which has a great view of the airport, the river and DC that's in an area at the end of one side of their runway.

CMB had one way back, which was closed after the civil war began. Not sure if a new one has opened or if its in the works.

HKG had a very up close view of landing aircraft as they made their rooftop approach to Kai Tak from over the city thanks to a recreational park located on La Salle road, KWLN - Hong Kong. Kai Tak International closed in 1998.
There aren't any observation decks in BOS and haven't been for many years, even prior to 9/11. That said there are many areas surrounding BOS to photograph aircraft arriving and departing. If you conduct a Google search you will see what I mean. MassPort is still and will always be in post 9/11 mode. After all the aircraft departed from BOS.
Does anyone know if there is a good observation spot for Orlando Intl (KMCO).
TaxmanBOL 1
I was touristing in Washington DC maybe 15 or 20 years ago and we stumbled upon this area that was right on the glide path to the runway to DCA. We got so close to the runway that you could literally feel the blast and smell the smoke from the jet engines. It was a total blast. That doesn't seem like the sort of thing that they would still allow but I wonder if anyone is familiar with this area and if it is still accessible.
You must be referring to Gravelly Point on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It's 1/4 mile north of the north end of the runway at DCA, separated by water. When the planes land from north to south, they come in very low over the spot. There is parking for about at least 100 cars.
TaxmanBOL 1
Yeah, that sounds like it. I must visit there again someday before they shut it down. As I recall it was near some other touristy attraction we were trying to locate and that is how we stumbled upon it. Thanks
J.J. Lasne 0
I remember visiting the Orly airport by bus when I was a wee lad. Most fun and interesting. Then the terrorists decided to use a bazooka against a El Al aircraft from the platform and that was closed for good.


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