Longest visual tracking of an aircraft

Peter Mugridge

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In a similar vein to the longest line of sight thread:


What is the furthest distance you have visually tracked an aircraft?

A short while ago I followed a contrail that I had seen appear in the mid distance, watching the plane at the front of it ( with big binoculars ) until it went out of sight behind some trees on a near-neutral horizon to the north west.

I checked Flight Radar 24 to see where it was; would you believe it…. it was over Aberystwyth - an A330 that had departed Heathrow for Canada and was now at 40,000ft. The Heathrow departure point explains why the contrail started to form in the mid distance - until that point the aircraft had not climbed high enough.

Then I saw a contrail appearing further round to the north, no binoculars – just saw it outlined against the sky albeit at a rather higher elevation… looked that one up… directly over Coventry…

This is from Epsom! The straight line distance to Aberystwyth is 180 miles; to Coventry is 91 miles.


Obviously this is an easier thing to do at the moment with so few flights around, making it easier to be certain you are looking at the right one, and the clear sky this evening with none of the usual high level haze helps a lot as it allows a clear view right to the horizon, but even in normal conditions as long as you can see the sky properly following flights with that website is a very good way of learning where various places are in relation to you.
 
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Greetlander

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Peter Mugridge

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I just had a look through the line of sight thread, yes we did both post but there's no discussion anywhere on it of following aircraft visually - the nearest is a mention I made of how far the horizon was from Concorde at 56,000ft.

In fact I did very nearly put my original post here in that thread, but thought the subject sufficiently different that it should have a thread to itself.
 

Peter Mugridge

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This is a great site
Yes, excellent - and that thread shows that what I saw yesterday is not unusual as long as the conditions - and horizon - are right.
 

route101

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Interesting subject , i recall someone saying is 200 miles in each direction.

I live to the South of Glasgow and can see aircraft overflying Belfast . If i watch a contrail heading SE , i can see it till it over flys the border near Carlisle.

Once i seen an aircraft heading out of Edinburgh , and the contrail appeared somewhere over the borders. Heck once i had Edinburgh departures at 18k over my house , very rare , must of due to weather conditions.
 

Ianno87

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Only yesterday I was stood in Cambridge and visually tracking an El Al flight from San Antonio to Tel Aviv as it was roughly over the Sleaford area!
 

O L Leigh

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A few years back I flew from Schipol to Birmingham International on a very clear spring day. The pilot announced that we were directly over Stansted and that we would be starting our descent. From this location it was not only possible to see London but to pick out individual features and landmarks. Not only that but I was easily able to see right down across Kent, Sussex and Surrey as far as the south coast and beyond into the English Channel. Had I been sat on the other side of the plane I'm sure I could have also seen the East Anglian coast, The Wash and the coast of Lincolnshire too. Therefore, anyone in any of those locations could have seen the contrail left by the plane that I was at that time travelling in.
 

route101

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A few years back I flew from Schipol to Birmingham International on a very clear spring day. The pilot announced that we were directly over Stansted and that we would be starting our descent. From this location it was not only possible to see London but to pick out individual features and landmarks. Not only that but I was easily able to see right down across Kent, Sussex and Surrey as far as the south coast and beyond into the English Channel. Had I been sat on the other side of the plane I'm sure I could have also seen the East Anglian coast, The Wash and the coast of Lincolnshire too. Therefore, anyone in any of those locations could have seen the contrail left by the plane that I was at that time travelling in.
When flying Amsterdam to Scotland , ive noticed the coastline of East Anglia. Remember seeing it all with the Wash
 

Altrincham

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I find long lines of sight such a fascinating subject. Especially trail spotting with FlightRadar24.

I don’t think I can beat a plane airborne over Aberystwyth that’s viewed from Epsom. That’s incredible.

Viewed from south Manchester, I have sighted a high-altitude 747 easterly trail approaching the coast of Anglesey. That’s roughly just over 100 miles.

From south Derbyshire on a cold and clear winter’s morning, I once spotted a trail that was from a plane travelling from Heathrow to Oslo. It was just east of Lowestoft. I had a clear view to the easterly horizon and this was just moments before the sun came up so perfect conditions to see distant trails with an unobstructed view. This was roughly 140 miles.
 

thejuggler

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If you want ultimate lines of sight for objects passing overhead next time the ISS can be viewed see how far east it gets before it disappears.
 

Altrincham

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If you want ultimate lines of sight for objects passing overhead next time the ISS can be viewed see how far east it gets before it disappears.
When the ISS was passing overhead during May, there were a number of incredibly bright passes. One particular night there was a very long pass overhead and I had good unobstructed view to the east. The ISS was still visible just before it disappeared over the eastern horizon. I still haven’t worked out where it would’ve been overhead when I saw it just before the horizon.
 

najaB

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When the ISS was passing overhead during May, there were a number of incredibly bright passes. One particular night there was a very long pass overhead and I had good unobstructed view to the east. The ISS was still visible just before it disappeared over the eastern horizon. I still haven’t worked out where it would’ve been overhead when I saw it just before the horizon.
Here it is for May 18th - you can play with the dates if you know exactly what date it was when you saw it and change your viewing location (I assumed Manchester): https://heavens-above.com/gtrack.as....4795&lng=-2.2451&loc=Manchester&alt=0&tz=GMT
 

Bald Rick

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In a similar vein, I’m in Hertfordshire, and have been on the phone to my parents in NW Shropshire when we have both been able to see the contrail of the same aircraft roughly over the Malverns.

The ISS is of a different magnitude altogether. Often when we lose sight of it in our garden, it is somewhere over the Poland / Ukraine border.
 

nlogax

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The ISS is of a different magnitude altogether. Often when we lose sight of it in our garden, it is somewhere over the Poland / Ukraine border.
I love knowing those sorts of wonderful and quite bonkers facts. ISS will travel the best part of 2000 miles in a 7 minute track - so in theory you could see a pass that emerges somewhere over Reykjavik and disappears around Rome. All visible from Yorkshire.
 

Bald Rick

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I love knowing those sorts of wonderful and quite bonkers facts. ISS will travel the best part of 2000 miles in a 7 minute track - so in theory you could see a pass that emerges somewhere over Reykjavik and disappears around Rome. All visible from Yorkshire.
Although not in the case of the ISS, which never gets further north than Finchley Central. The Azores to The Ukraine is about the limit of a track visible from the U.K.
 

Ianno87

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I love knowing those sorts of wonderful and quite bonkers facts. ISS will travel the best part of 2000 miles in a 7 minute track - so in theory you could see a pass that emerges somewhere over Reykjavik and disappears around Rome. All visible from Yorkshire.
Reminds me that, geographically, the world in many respects is very small indeed!
 

nlogax

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Although not in the case of the ISS, which never gets further north than Finchley Central. The Azores to The Ukraine is about the limit of a track visible from the U.K.
Yes, fair point!

I do recall a shuttle launch in 2009 or 2010 which passed over London late at night. Two bright objects passing across the sky, the shuttle first followed by a slightly slower object with a surprisingly visible red tint - this was the SRB which had just separated from the shuttle. Cape Canaveral to London in 20 minutes!
 

Altrincham

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Here it is for May 18th - you can play with the dates if you know exactly what date it was when you saw it and change your viewing location (I assumed Manchester): https://heavens-above.com/gtrack.as....4795&lng=-2.2451&loc=Manchester&alt=0&tz=GMT
Many thanks for this. The position and trajectory in that link is absolutely spot-on. The night in May that I saw the ISS disappear just above the eastern horizon it was heading on an east-northeast path. So going by those calculations in the link, I saw an object in the sky from Manchester that was traversing the sky overhead of Poland/Belarus.

I must say, that it was the furthest east that I’d ever seen the ISS, and the only time that I’ve seen it visible so low in the sky too. I think this is possibly because of the time of year, as it wasn’t too long after sunset.
 

Bald Rick

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Yes, fair point!

I do recall a shuttle launch in 2009 or 2010 which passed over London late at night. Two bright objects passing across the sky, the shuttle first followed by a slightly slower object with a surprisingly visible red tint - this was the SRB which had just separated from the shuttle. Cape Canaveral to London in 20 minutes!
Certainly wouldn’t have been the SRB (Solid Rocket boosters), as these separate 2 minutes after launch and land in the Atlantic about 120 miles off the Florida Coast.

It might have been the ET (external tank), but that separates about 8 minutes after launch, when the shuttle is less than a thousand miles down range from Cape Canaveral. It starts decelerating and falling back to earth immediately, and mostly burns up in the atmosphere. I understood it burnt up over the Atlantic, but I have also read a report that suggests it gets as far as the Indian Ocean. I guess it depends on the flight path.
 

nlogax

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Certainly wouldn’t have been the SRB (Solid Rocket boosters), as these separate 2 minutes after launch and land in the Atlantic about 120 miles off the Florida Coast.

It might have been the ET (external tank), but that separates about 8 minutes after launch, when the shuttle is less than a thousand miles down range from Cape Canaveral. It starts decelerating and falling back to earth immediately, and mostly burns up in the atmosphere. I understood it burnt up over the Atlantic, but I have also read a report that suggests it gets as far as the Indian Ocean. I guess it depends on the flight path.
Yes - again, thanks, it was the external tank and not the SRBs (hence the red tint). The two were most definitely visible over the UK. The records suggest it could have been STS128 although I can't imagine I'd have been up at 4am to witness it.
 

najaB

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I understood it burnt up over the Atlantic, but I have also read a report that suggests it gets as far as the Indian Ocean. I guess it depends on the flight path.
From around 1995 they started using an enhanced performance ascent profile with no OMS-1 burn, so at MECO the Shuttle's apoapsis would be at orbital altitude then they would do the OMS-2 later to raise the periapsis. So the ET would make almost half an orbit before reentry. The only way I can build a mental picture with reentry over the Atlantic would be a high-inclination, retrograde launch from Vandenburg.
 

Bald Rick

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From around 1995 they started using an enhanced performance ascent profile with no OMS-1 burn, so at MECO the Shuttle's apoapsis would be at orbital altitude then they would do the OMS-2 later to raise the periapsis. So the ET would make almost half an orbit before reentry. The only way I can build a mental picture with reentry over the Atlantic would be a high-inclination, retrograde launch from Vandenburg.
Yep, I think my original suggestion about Atlantic reentry must be wrong. Not sure where I got that from!
 

nlogax

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I know we're getting a little off topic with this but I'll stick with it for just one more post ;)

From around 1995 they started using an enhanced performance ascent profile with no OMS-1 burn, so at MECO the Shuttle's apoapsis would be at orbital altitude then they would do the OMS-2 later to raise the periapsis. So the ET would make almost half an orbit before reentry. The only way I can build a mental picture with reentry over the Atlantic would be a high-inclination, retrograde launch from Vandenburg.
For an even better perspective this shot was taken 21 minutes after the launch of STS-115. The tank is at an altitude of 75 miles and at a position 100 miles due east of Paris.

Screenshot 2020-06-19 at 15.59.06.png
 

Bald Rick

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I know we're getting a little off topic with this but I'll stick with it for just one more post ;)



For an even better perspective this shot was taken 21 minutes after the launch of STS-115. The tank is at an altitude of 75 miles and at a position 100 miles due east of Paris.

View attachment 79726
Amazing picture, which reminded me of something. I found it on Wikipedia, coincidentally over France, at an altitude of 4 miles and 125 miles due north of Paris. Almost exactly 76 years ago.

D7D981BC-07C2-4CE8-BD69-F4D28A348514.jpeg
 

nlogax

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I found it on Wikipedia, coincidentally over France, at an altitude of 4 miles and 125 miles due north of Paris. Almost exactly 76 years ago.
Tallboy bomb? Can see why the external tank photo reminded you of that shot!
 

Altrincham

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Spotting the occasional vapour trail recently has been a real treat. I have missed visual tracking of high altitude aircraft. I’ve often wondered (if it’s possible) to visibly track an aircraft over continental Europe from somewhere in the east of England, say the north Norfolk coast for example.
 

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