I recently had a chance to make my first visit to Florida for an aviation enthusiast meetup ("avgeek" is a bad word in the Miami clique), which included a dinner and spotting at Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I traveled with fellow Twin Cities plane spotter John Wetter, who I met way back in my storm-chasing days, and has been a JetTip beta tester since the start. In addition to to the official FLAP festivities, we also took some time to spot at Orlando and Key West.
Day 1: MSP-MCO
A Delta 737-900 arrives at MSP in front of several C-130's, and the Minnesota ANG Museum's C-97 Stratofreighter and F-102A Delta Dagger. The momentary departure for Florida sounds like a good plan!
The first day of the trip was straight-forward: get from Minneapolis to Orlando. My flight, Delta 1744 (B753), left at 6:15 PM, but an early arrival at MSP allowed a few minutes of spotting from the Concourse D Observation Deck. I've spent a lot of time spotting at MSP, but as a fairly infrequent flyer, I hadn't yet had the chance to get to this location, which is behind security. It was quiet, away from the crowds, and offered nice views of 12L/30R - it was surprisingly nice! It requires shooting through glass, though it was nice to be out of the weather.
A late flight meant arriving in Florida after dark, and being anxious to get the rental car and get to the hotel in Titusville meant there weren't any worthwhile photos taken on our first night there.
Day 2: NASA & MCO
Space Shuttle Atlantis on display at the Kennedy Space Center.
While not purely an avgeek stop, I'd imagine most folks into aviation would thoroughly enjoy making time for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which is about 45 minutes away from MCO. We visited on a cool, rainy Wednesday morning, so crowds were minimal - it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The amount of cool stuff on display really warrants a few blog posts, suffice it to say walking around a Saturn V, the Vehicle Assembly Building, and a Space Shuttle is an amazing experience.
Virgin Atlantic 747-400 arriving at MCO.
While we could have easily spent more time at NASA, but the evening arrivals from two of Florida's three passenger 747 operators at Orlando were calling us. Since 17L/35R was closed for maintenance, my original plans for shooting from the Silver Airways lot were foiled; fortunately for us, the international heavies were coming in on 35L, and the skies were overcast, so shooting from the side of Heintzelman Boulevard worked out pretty well. I'm a sucker for arrival shots showing off the big plume of smoke as the wheels make contact - this was a perfect spot!
Lufthansa 747-400 arriving at Orlando International (MCO)
After witnessing a spectacular sunset, and 777 movements from British Airways and LATAM, along with a good amount of activity from JetBlue, American, Southwest, Delta, Alaska, and Frontier, it was time to move along. We were also informed by a very courteous member of Florida's law enforcement community that spotting from Heintzelman Boulevard is not permitted; I've since read MCO actively discourages spotting outside of the fence in non-designated areas, but, is happy to host spotters from the top of their parking ramp - good information for the next visit!
Day 3: First Visit to MIA and FLAP Dinner
The arrival of this Aerolíneas Argentinas A330 was a highlight for this Midwestern avgeek. Beautiful!
After making the four hour drive down to Miami, we joined up with the first official activity of the FLAP 2019 meetup - spotting at El Dorado, which is a nice spot at the end of a dead-end road near the west end of MIA's runway 9; a great spot for shooting the arrivals of traffic from the south, some international heavies, and is the runway designated for use by A380's (which are sent by Air France, British Airways, and Lufthansa).
Lufthansa's new livery A380 arriving at MIA.
The one-of-a-kind StratAir 767 arriving with an Amerijet 767 in the background.
It was bittersweet shooting an A380 on February 14, 2019, the day Airbus announced they'd be ending production of the iconic super heavy.
MasAir 767-300F arriving at MIA.
A Kalitta Air 747-400 arrives at MIA.
Just as my first visit to LAX was completely overwhelming, so too was my first evening at MIA. A Lufthansa A346, the Swift 737 in the Eastern homage livery. 747 freighters from Polar/DHL, Cargolux and Atlas Air. World Atlantic MD80's, various aircraft in liveries from Avianca, LAN, TAM, and LATAM. Iberia A330, Cayman Airways B38M, Qatar A350, and on and on and on. A parade of aircraft that would qualify as the "catch of the year" back home at MSP.
As the sun went down, we all headed to the MIA Hotel, where the FLAP committee had arranged an excellent dinner. We reviewed the plans for the upcoming airport tours, enjoyed a presentation from Atlantic Models' Roger Jarman, received some tasteful swag (including limited edition, FLAP 2019 / JetTip stickers and key chains), and gave away a bunch of door prizes.
Day 4: MIA Ramp Tour
21 Air 767 Freighter at MIA.
MIA generously provided a pair of buses and staff to babysit the FLAP group as it toured the airfield from noon until about 6:30 PM. Both buses took different paths through the airfield, providing unique photo opportunities to each half of the group. The first part of my tour visited various aircraft parked on the north end of the airport.
N437AA, an MD-83 registered to Aerothrust Holdings, clearly getting ready for a new career on Venezuela's Laser Airlines.
N9CJ, a Saab 340B in a unique demo livery - what's not to love?
Once we'd had our fill of oddball aircraft on the north end, we got into position for the arrival of the Tap Portugal retro jet near the west end of runway 12, which handles most of the arrivals coming from the north. We were on the field and very close to the runway as part of the tour, however we weren't terribly far from "the holes," which is a publicly accessible vantage point.
TAP Portugal's Retro CS-TOV A330-300 arriving at MIA. I blew the exposure by almost two stops... d'oh!
Surinam Airways 737-700 PZ-TCS.
Detail of Atlas 747-400 arriving at MIA.
A Lufthansa A340-600, which rounded out my collection of Lufty quadjets in Florida. Lufthansa and Qatar are the only carriers currently operating all three of the large quadjets (A340's, A380's, and 747's).
Air Italy's EI-GGR, an A330-200, arriving at MIA.
I was happy to see the Speedbird 747-400; British Airways, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic are the sole remaining operators of passenger 747's with regular service to Florida.
A Virgin Atlantic A330-300 arriving at MIA.
Avianca PZ-OCX, an A330-200, getting ready to depart MIA.
Day 5: Ft. Lauderdale & Key West
Emirates A6-EWI, a relatively unusual Boeing 777-200LR, arriving at FLL. Only 59 200LR's were built; Delta and Emirates are the largest operators with ten a piece.
The FLAP group met bright and early for a morning of spotting at Ft. Luaderdale, which is the other main international airport in the Miami area, and is where you'll need to go if you want to see Allegiant, Spirit, Southwest or JetBlue; while it might be easy for US-based spotters to take those airlines for granted, with FLAP participants coming from over a dozen countries, the demand was high!
I suspect this was the most photographic attention N756SA has ever received; SWA's sharp livery was very much appreciated by the international FLAP delegation.
BahamasAir ATR 72-600 C6-BFW at FLL
One of my bucket-list aircraft, PR-AIV, Azul's Brazilian Flag special livery.
N711HK, SWA's retro tribute to founder Herb Kelleher.
AirTransat's "Kid's Club" special livery, C-GEZJ, an A-321.
Silver Airways' fleet of Saab 340B's is reason enough to spot at FLL.
After official spotting activities wrapped up at FLL around lunchtime, John and I made the spontaneous decision to make the drive down to Key West, with hopes of seeing some Coast Guard and/or Navy activity... we didn't manage to find any, and just before sunset, we stumbled across some avgeek gold...
The sole aircraft we photographed south of Miami - a Cubana An-24, CU-T1294, which arrived at Key West International on March 31, 2003, after being hijacked. Can't return an aircraft if you can't communicate with its owner, I suppose.
Day 6: FLL-JFK-MSP
Our trip came to an end with an early flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, where we'd fly to New York's JFK and catch our connection back home to MSP. I had modest hopes of seeing something interesting from the windows near our gate (we didn't have much time between flights), but we ended up doing pretty well!
Another bucket-list aircraft for me - a South African A340-600 taxiing before departure for Johannesburg.
Half of the aircraft in this shot are regular visitors at my home airport; sadly we never see the Emirates A380 or El Al 747-400's at MSP.
What a fantastic trip! If you're interested in attending FLAP 2020, keep an eye on the Florida Aviation Photography group on Facebook.
Thanks again to the organizing committee for their efforts and MIA and FLL for supporting the hobby. If you're looking for a solid avgeek vacation, I can't recommend South Florida highly enough!
Nick lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife and three children. He grooves on railroad and aviation photography, geography, weather, and LEGO. A freelance web developer, he started JetTip's smart flight alert service in 2017. He can frequently be found atop a step ladder at MSP's Aircraft Viewing Area.