it's a grey january saturday afternoon, and everyone on the ground at Queen and Spadina stoically ignores the noise from the police helicopter hovering a few blocks north and a couple of hundred feet up.It's been parked there for close to half an hour, and at 85.4 decibels and more than $6 a minute, the Bell Ranger is definitely getting on people's nerves.
"I never thought I'd want to see an aircraft fall out of the sky," the licensed pilot I've been gallery-hopping with mutters sarcastically. "This could make me change my mind."
It's a pretty radical statement coming from someone who has never seen a flying machine he didn't love.
Over the years we've been hanging out together, we've spent a lot of time tooling around landing strips and airports, ogling fuselage everywhere from Toronto City Centre to ex-military base Shearwater, Nova Scotia, and back to corporate jet central at Buttonville.
We've even checked out the semi-licit, Deadhead-style trailer parks that spring up around parachute drop zones like the Baldwin aerodrome. Anything for a fix.
But lately we do most of our plane- watching from the Wendy's on Airport Road. It's got all the romance of the big planes, plus you can get fries for the kids.
It's not the only good planespotting site out by Toronto International Airport. Any flight freak who's gone to pilots' supply store Aviation World on Carlingview knows that its location right under the approach path to runway 24 (pronounced "two-four") Left is no coincidence.
It's kind of thrilling to watch jets come down over the parking lot it shares with the nudie bar next door -- the aptly named Landing Strip. But as a scene this spot can't rival the Wendy's under the approach path for 24 Right.
The place is always packed, and it can't be for the food. Working stiffs from the Boeing plant across the street take in lunch and admire their product in action, while suit-clad limo drivers kill time between payloads.
When 24 Right is active --depending on traffic volume and wind direction -- you're lucky to get near the window seats. When the weather's fine, the outdoor tables are the primo locations.
Planespotting is a total sensory experience that starts with a set of landing lights barely visible in the distance. This is all real fanatics need to figure out what kind of plane is on approach.
Then there's the static crackle of the hand-held radio transceivers that diehard buffs bring along to listen in on air traffic control. Some planes, like old DC-9s, are really loud. The crowd grabs their ears to dull the sound, and whoosh -- fast food wrappers go flying on wing tip vortices that are strong enough to flip light aircraft.
It's overwhelming, but once you've stood in the shadow of a 747 passing 50 feet overhead, you're hooked.