Home Viewed From a Plane

I had always wondered what it would be like to see my house from an airliner. The idea of having people – not just private pilots, but business travelers, leisure travelers, and everyone in between – look at your home while in the air seemed like a pretty cool idea to me. Why? I’m not so sure. Either way, I was always interested by the idea of being able to view my home from an airliner.

However, such an idea wasn’t realistic – all of the departure and arrival patterns for the Portland Jetport ran much closer to the city than my home happened to be situated. As a result, I saw a lot of Portland, South Portland, and Westbrook when flying out of Portland, but never my hometown, which was 15 miles to the north of Maine’s largest city.

This seems to have a familiar narrative to the tale of my dream to fly transatlantic from Maine: I longed for something, but it never was going to feasibly happen in the situation that I was in. For that reason, much like in the former case, I forgot about it, but after moving to Massachusetts full-time after graduation in 2014 and finding myself living serendipitously under the majority of Runway 33L departures from Logan Airport, my curiosity was revitalized.

I had flown out of Logan many previous times, but the only time we had ever used Runway 33L on takeoff was before I had been fully established as a resident of my neighborhood. As a result, I was still unfamiliar with much of my local geography. Before I knew it, we were long gone. However, after being in my place of residence for more than a year, and having seen numerous planes undertake various SIDs (Standard Instrument Departures), I had a very good handle on what was going to happen in the event that I got another chance at a Runway 33L takeoff, no matter which departure we were scheduled to fly.

Halloween Weekend

In early October of 2015, I got a message from a friend asking if I would come to Washington D.C. for a reunion of some friends over Halloween weekend. My first thought was ‘absolutely not,’ as I didn’t want to shell out the money. However, the more that I thought about it, the more I was inclined to go to D.C., and it would be an excuse to fly on a mainline American Airlines aircraft to Reagan National Airport for around $200, round trip. Not bad.

I went to the airport on the morning of October 30. The skies were clear, the winds were coming out of the west, and everything seemed to be going great. I checked FlightAware and saw that we would be flying the PATSS4 departure, but I had no idea which runway my flight – operated by Airbus A319-100 N814AW – would take off from. I had a hunch that it would be Runway 27, given the way that most of the flights preceding mine had been going since I had arrived at the airport.

A Surprise

As we taxied out to the east side of the field, where Runway 27 and Runway 33L start, I recognized that we were, in fact, not going to the end of the former as I had thought. Rather, we were lining up for Runway 33L.

A wave of excitement and nervousness flushed over me. ‘What if I get this wrong?’ I wondered. ‘What if I mess it up?’ I had my iPhone out and ready to record a video of the takeoff.

Soon enough, the engines were set to TOGA (Takeoff/Go-around) power, and we were on our way down the runway. We gained speed, going faster and faster, until we were finally airborne. “Rotate,” I said quietly, mimicking the call that a pilot makes in the cockpit as the plane hits the speed where it leaves the ground.

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Rolling down Runway 33L.
Airborne

Before I knew it, I was viewing the rest of the airport from the air, including an Emirates 777-300ER that was sitting at the gate. I particularly remember seeing an El Al 767-300, which was somewhat ironic given that I would be seeing friends who had Israeli friends and relatives that evening.

Flying over the Mass Pike and the East Boston area, I noticed a number of different athletic facilities. Running tracks, baseball fields, and soccer fields are incredibly easy to pick out from the air, as – particularly in a place like Massachusetts – they stick out among the otherwise metropolitan landscape of houses, buildings, highways, and railroad tracks.

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Boston shortly after takeoff.
There it is!

In fact, a baseball field in my neighborhood was part of what enabled me to figure out my bearings, and thus, find my home. I saw the baseball field that sits adjacent to the set of train tracks and major road that runs through my neighborhood. As a result, I traced it to the rotary that’s down the street from my house, which led me to my street, which led me to…my house!

121 Liberty Rd
Circle marks the spot!

In a matter of seconds, my subconscious registered that I had seen my house, but I was too focused on keeping my bearings – I knew that the camera would pick up on it anyway, and that I’d be able to view it later. I was sitting in seat 20A giddy with excitement at realizing another (trivial) dream.

Afterword

After we had arrived in Washington, I went on my laptop and captured stills from the video that I had taken. It was certainly very interesting to see the whole climb out, in addition to my particular neighborhood. (Don’t worry – I am not concerned about people figuring out where I live.) I knew that, since we were flying the PATSS4 departure, that we would be making a left-hand turn right near my house, and that point would be when I should start looking seriously, and that’s exactly what I did. It pays to be prepared, but I needed no second invitation – I was ready.

For those who live under flight patterns, figuring out where your house is from a plane isn’t as hard as you might think – especially in more rural areas. It simply means anticipating what the planes are going to do when departing or arriving, which can be obtained from simply watching them closely, figuring out which side of the plane is facing your home, and – most importantly – having a small amount of knowledge of your local geography, particularly things like roads, highways, railroad tracks, and bodies of water. Easier said than done, of course, but still a fun thing to do. However, there’s one cliche that doubles as the most important thing: have fun with it!