Heathrow Airport is one of the top draws for aviation enthusiasts from, quite literally, around the world, as one sunny day revealed.
At one time, the UK's premier international air transport hub had a well-used observation terrace on the roof of what used to be Terminal 2; London however, has been, and remains a target for terrorist activity and, as with other airports around the world, the area gave way to the concerns raised.
A short walk from Hatton Cross Underground and Bus station takes one right under the approach path to Runway 27 Left.
Airliner fans are the last group likely to pose a threat and could also provide extra eyes and ears for the security services but even so, have found their outlets disappearing everywhere. Nevertheless, there are some airports that have maintained dedicated observation areas, notably Amsterdam, Zurich and Frankfurt (to name just three). Even New York's John F. Kennedy now has one, mounted atop the hotel that has opened by the former TWA terminal, preserved at the airport.
One can get up close and personal to arriving aircraft, including the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747, even though its days are numbered now
Heathrow however, still has no on-airport viewing area, so consequently it is any place available around the perimeter where enthusiasts and photographers will gather. One of them lies right next to the threshold of Runway 27 Left (27L), a small park by the Great Southwest Road, the A30, which leads from London to Staines and the southwest.
With the wind blowing from the west, aircraft approach over London and when 27L is in use as the arrival runway, the park plays host to significant numbers of people armed only with cameras, notebooks and a passion for the subject. Known simply as Myrtle Avenue after the side road that leads to it, the park serves as 'the' place to go.
The approach lights to 27L and a stream of arriving aircraft.
Many people, perhaps understandably, use their cars when spending a day out anywhere but in this case, it may be better to use public transport as parking can be a problem - there isn't anywhere. Parking in the avenue itself is inconsiderate as it is a residential street so leaving one's car further away is the usual answer. That means walking to the park itself and on occasion some distance. Yet less than five minutes from the park is the well-served Hatton Cross tube and bus station. Piccadilly Line trains run from Central London every five minutes, even on a Sunday and there are frequent bus services also.
That short walk from the station takes one directly under the yellow approach light posts leading to 27L so one can not only get a good view, but also 'up close and personal' to every aircraft that arrives.
Once over the A30, aircraft pass over the airport's perimeter and down to the runway
There is a perception that aircraft fans are middle-aged and elderly men who still live with their mothers but the truth is as far from that as it could be. At one time, it was generally recognised that future pilots, cabin crew, airport and airline staff were usually found on those earlier observation terraces - they still are, as was demonstrated by three teenagers from Nottingham, one of whose Mothers had taken the time to drive the trio down from the midlands to spend time at Myrtle Avenue.
Ben, Richard and Isaac, all 13 (left), were as enthusiastic as any of the more mature people using the park and spent their time taking photographs along with everybody else. Two of them want to be pilots, the third more open as to where his career path might take him but they still had the same interest in aviation that has been shown since the Wright Brothers and those that preceded them.
Isaac's Mum Michelle made the point that they 'were doing something worthwhile', so she was quite content to encourage them, as of course do the parents of the other two. Needless to say, these three residents of Nottingham can also be found at their local airport, East Midlands, and not too far way, Manchester - long recognised as being 'spotter-friendly' with its viewing park. But Heathrow still ranks first for them and they were not the only young people to be seen at the park on this day. They are thus not alone; an interest in aircraft can be found among more teenagers (and for that matter, pre-teen also) than is often realised.
Nottingham may be no more than some two hours drive away but from further afield came Mait from Estonia (left). His partner was shopping in London so there was only on place for him to go - Myrtle Avenue. Also found, cameras in hand were Andrew Hunt and Kwek Chin Lin from Singapore as well as another Nottingham man Andy Martin, along with more locally based enthusiasts like M. Azizul Islam (below)
Heathrow Airport is in the early days of increasing its geographical footprint with the third runway, which will be built on the other side of the airport from Myrtle Avenue and it is inevitable that fans will find a suitable spot to watch and take photographs. The operator of Heathrow, HAL, is well aware of the passion to be found over the airport, not just from within the UK but from elsewhere around the world, and can be relied upon to do what can be done to give enthusiasts a chance to follow what arrives and departs.
With Heathrow's capacity restricted by having only two runways, more airlines use the Airbus A380 'Super-Jumbo' on services to it than any other airport
HAL's priority in recent years has been to transform Heathrow from an outdated and overcrowded airport into one that now has world-class facilities for its passengers and airlines and the investment made in those facilities is immense. When the time is right and when they can, HAL will improve visitor attractions as well - because not only should the needs of enthusiasts be be served but who knows, there might be a teenager around now who could be running Heathrow in the future. The pilots and passengers of tomorrow are there already.
Below: a very small selection of arrivals on one day at Myrtle
© Text and Images Kevan James