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An Atlas Air 747-400F on taxiway RB, heading to runway 8R, with Honolulu's landmark Diamond Head looming in the background. Heavily cropped at 400mm with lots of heat distortion - it wouldn't make a great poster, but it's a cool angle from the north end of Kapilina / Iroquois Beach.

I was fortunate to spend a day watching aircraft in Honolulu on Monday, February 14, 2022. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is certainly impacting traffic (ANA, Air Canada, Japan Airlines, and WestJet were the only non-US passenger carriers operating flights to HNL that day, each with a single flight), it's still pleasant spotting aircraft in paradise. If you'd like some notes on spotting in Honolulu, continue to the bottom of this post - otherwise enjoy some photos! All of these images were taken from Kapilina / Iroquois Beach, which is just west of the airport, on the west side of the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

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I was excited to catch this Japan Airlines 767-300ER; HNL is the sole US destination for JAL's 767s, though -300s are set to begin service to Kona in a couple of weeks.

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While not one of the specially painted A380s, it was still a treat catching this ANA 787-9.

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Airlines in the Pacific know how to do branding, and Hawaiian is no exception, with one of the best looking liveries around. Their A330-200s will remain the largest type in the fleet until the first 787-9 arrives next year.

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HMCS Calgary, a Canadian Halifax-class frigate, departs Pearl Harbor with a Hawaiian 717 on final for 4R in the background.

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HMCS Vancouver, the second Canadian Halifax-class frigate spotted this day, departs Pearl Harbor with a Hawaiian 717 on short final for 8L in the background.

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A Los Angeles-class submarine arriving at Pearl Harbor as a Hawaiian 717 prepares to depart on 8R.

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A Los Angeles-class submarine departs Pearl Harbor with a United 757-300 taxiing to Runway 8R, where a Hawaiian A321 is about to depart.

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A Hawaiian 717 shows off her belly as she begins a sharp right turn to line up with runway 8L, just over the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

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A Viginia-class submarine departing at Pearl Harbor as a WestJet 737 MAX arrives on 8L.

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One advantage of the near-constant threat of rain showers is the occasional opportunity to catch an arrival in outstanding light.

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The lovely lines of a Detla A330-900neo arriving from Seattle.

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KC-135 62-3565, one of four military aircraft seen arriving at HNL/HIK that day - a C-17 and pair of F-22s being the others.

Other photos from around Oahu

Of course I didn't spend my entire trip to Hawaii on a low-quality beach next to Pearl Harbor; a few quick grabs from the rest of the trip, from various locations around Oahu.

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From the open walkway in the terminal between E2 and F1, currently used as a holding area for arriving passengers to be screened for COVID-19, one of four Royal Australian Air Force F-35As that taxied past.

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A USCG MH-65 Dolphin; a common sight along the coasts, but very exciting catch for this corn belt avgeek.

Nick Benson - JetTip.net

A few other low-quality grab shots for the sake of documentation; clockwise, starting in the upper left, USAF F-22 Raptor, USN SH-60 Seahawk, USMC AH-1Z Viper, USMC UH-1Y Venom. Elsewhere we caught glimpses of USCG and USMC C-130s, and US Army UH-60 Black Hawks.

Additional notes on aircraft viewing in Honolulu

During normal conditions with easterly winds, military and larger passenger/cargo traffic arrives on 8L, the northerly of the main parallel runways; smaller aircraft and regional cargo arrives on 4R, the larger of the diagonal runways. Traffic generally departs on 8R, the southerly, reef runway, though 8L was used in the morning when there were limited arrivals.

While a single, minimally-planned trip to an airport does not en expert make (please see the guides at HNL RareBirds, Spotters Wiki, and Spotter Guide for better deep dives on the topic), a few things worth mentioning that I hadn't picked up when doing my research:

  • COVID-19 means international service is greatly reduced; at the time of writing, Zipair is flying Tu/Th/Sa; Korean We/Fr/Su; Phillipine Tu/Fr; Air Canada, ANA, Japan Airlines, and WestJet are variable; at this time, I don't believe any other non-US passenger carriers are operating to HNL
  • Military traffic felt pretty slow on the Monday I was there; unsure if it was a fluke, or if there's a weekly rhythm... there were certainly more fast jets operating on the Thursday I spent doing other activities in Honolulu); KC-135s orbiting north of Ouahu seem to correlate pretty well with F-22 activity; research suggested local tankers are based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (HIK/HNL), but I saw three of them operating out of Kalaeloa Airport (JRF), a few miles west of HNL. Suspect it'd be worth swinging by JRF for a glance at the operations there, which also includes a USCG base.
  • Waikiki isn't a great spot to photograph activity when traffic is flowing normally (easterly winds)
  • Waikiki, the airport itself, and Kapilina / Iroquois Beach take more travel time than might be anticipated, especially at rush hour, especially if you're considering dropping travel companions off in one location so you can watch aircraft without bothering them
  • If you can stand missing a couple of the larger morning arrivals on 8L, I'd suggest starting the day at the end of Lagoon Drive to catch some of the unique freighters coming in on 4R (or taxiing out to 8R), and then heading over to Kapilina / Iroquois Beach for the remainder of the day; in hindsight, I'd be more happy with photos of an Aloha Air Cargo 737-300 and Asia Pacific 757-200 in my collection than a Japan Airlines 767

With respect to Kapilina / Iroquois Beach:

  • It's publicly accessible, but security wanted a look at the driver's identification (driver's license), and the vehicle's registration and proof of insurance (the bundle of rental car papers in the glovebox sufficed); it's probably best to stick to "beach access" as your reason for visiting
  • On a Monday, there were no more than a handful of other people at the entire beach, and nobody had any problems with me hanging out with a ridiculous super-zoom hanging around my neck all day
  • If there's a lull in traffic (and there were several when I was there) make a quick drive over to Loco Moco Drive Inn Ewa Beach for some authentic local food - their loco moco (a pair of hamburger patties, eggs, and gravy over rice, with a side of macaroni salad in the carton is a full day's worth of food for $11); security had no problem with me coming and going
  • It's immediately adjacent to the entrance to Pearl Harbor; I saw six submarines and a pair of warships passing; the Navy police escorts for all of these movements didn't seem to mind my camera
  • The beach itself wasn't great - very course/rough/debris/coral-filled sand await your bare feet, and my travel companions said there were lots of sea urchins to avoid in the water. If you're thinking about bringing non avgeek friends/family along for a beach day, consider having them drop you off (or vice versa) before they continue on their way to another beach
  • As with any spotting trip, take a look at a sun angle tool - the sun more or less stays in the northern half of the sky from late April through early August there; stick with the same schedule as the whales and visit in winter to take advantage of this spot

Nick Benson

Nick lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife and three children. He grooves on railroad and aviation photography, politics, geography, weather, and LEGO. He started JetTip's smart flight alert service in 2017, and is now a full-time avgeek. He can frequently be found atop a step ladder at MSP's Aircraft Viewing Area.