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Would it be likely to be seen as odd or suspicious for someone who is not a pilot to stand outside the fence around a GA airport in the US watching the aircraft?

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    $\begingroup$ If you're lucky sometime will show you around and/or let you hang out for a flight. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2023 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ Binoculars may make you look less suspicious. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2023 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ @DaveGremlin Those idiots were actually on the premises of the airbase, and trying to hide from security. Never a good idea. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Mar 6, 2023 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting Also, there's a BIG difference between a military base and a GA airport. You'd get a similar reaction hanging around at any military base, regardless of whether it had an airstrip. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2023 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman true, but usually if you just hang out outside the airbase perimeter you're left alone, you'll at most be watched from a patrol car or other security staff. These guys in Greece had breached the airbase perimeter and were walking on the grounds, knowingly, then fled when approached by guards. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Mar 7, 2023 at 6:23

3 Answers 3

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I mainly fly in the UK and Europe, however I trained in the US and have flown there a few times since. I have probably 50 hours in total in the US.

I can tell you that almost without fail, every airfield I have ever flown from anywhere in the world has always had some level of plane spotting activity. It is a hugely popular pastime with both photographers and people who just like watching.

I don't think there's anything particularly suspicious about it, so long as you're not trespassing, not touching anything you shouldn't be, and not causing any interferrence.

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It depends on how you go about it.

Don't wear all black or camo with a face mask. Don't sneak around in the grass, or run from building to building seeking cover.

Plane spotting is a somewhat common hobby -- you might check out some plane spotting forums for tips on not getting hassled. You might think having a camera with a lens as long as your arm would be suspicious... yeah, it is still suspicious.

Many GA airports have a restaurant or a designated viewing area. My local small airport (KSBP) has both of these. It also has a picnic table along a back road near mid field at a particularly good vantage point. At the other end of the field, there is a wide spot in the road directly under the ILS approach path that people frequently use.

You should be able to find some contact information for an airport -- either a local airport authority, an FBO, or some other on airport business. Give them a call, they can probably tell you the best vantage point.

Of course, the best place to watch planes on approach at my airport is from one of the wineries under the approach path. Tolosa has a lovely garden with some seating areas. You can take your tasting outside and watch airplanes land from a couch. I realize that is not a solution that works for everybody, but it is good if you can get it.

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    $\begingroup$ Any of those sound great. Realize that people who work at an airport are likely airplane people -- they love watching airplanes too. Call up the flying club and they'll tell you the best places to watch from. I was joking about the camera, plane spotters have a stereotype of wearing a camera vest with lots of equipment and several huge lenses. Use whatever you'e got. Have a great time! $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2023 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ And if you just came from the hardware store where you bought a 4' section of black 3" PVC pipe, leave it in the car. Don't watch planes with it across one shoulder. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2023 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. Asking the people in the flying club with both likely get you good advice for the specific airport you have in mind and also will make your intentions known to them. As long as the airport involved isn't something like Edwards AFB or Groom Lake, the local pilots are generally going to be understanding and friendly to people who stand around and watch planes because they probably do that, too. :) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 3, 2023 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall Yes yes, that gets filed in the same category as "Don't put candles wrapped around an alarm clock or a bowling ball with a rope sticking out of it in your luggage" $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Mar 4, 2023 at 3:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Someone The clipboard thing is a joke: if you look official with a high-vis vest and a clipboard, then people will assume you are allowed to be there. I suspect you would need a hard hat and new-looking steel toe-cap boots to complete the outfit. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2023 at 11:40
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Being from Arizona, the only major airports I know of are Gateway and Sky Harbor. Both of which have plenty of plane watchers. As a previous answer has stated, don't touch anything, don't be sneaking around, and don't suddenly dart away as soon as you are seen, as people may think you're planning to hijack a plane, escape security, or commit a crime. Try not to wear all back or camouflage clothing, especially if you do happen to be sneaking around, darting off, and touching stuff, as that will make you even more suspicious. Other than that, most people aren't suspicious of plane watchers.

EDIT: As for GA airports: the only one I know of is in Iowa and I barely remember going there (I was about 2 or 3 at the time) but according to my father, the fences surrounding the airport were lined with plane watchers so I'd think from that information it's totally fine.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, Welcome to Aviation.SE! Not sure if you're familiar with the term or not, but the "GA" that the question is referring to means "general aviation," which is more-or-less FAA-speak for "not commercial or military." When people talk about "GA airports," they normally mean small regional airports used mostly or exclusively by private individuals or companies for their light aircraft or business jets, so generally airports that are much, much smaller than Sky Harbor with no passenger terminal. Generally something more like the Sedona airport. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 3, 2023 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ and oh, stay outside the airfield boundaries unless the spot is a clearly marked dedicated spotting area, and don't even touch the perimeter fence. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Mar 6, 2023 at 7:13

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