(aka “Hartsfield Matt”)
Others, however, stumble into plane spotting a different way. Take Matt Cochran. Cochran is a full-time husband and worker in corporate America, but his weekend plans are a bit different from his colleagues. Each weekend, he heads down to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL/KATL) to watch the planes take off and land.
Matt Cochran’s first ventures into plane spotting. Video courtesy of Matt Cochran, 1993.
Cochran didn’t just wake up one day and decide he liked planes, though. His fascination with the aviation industry from a teenager led him to the beginnings of a career in the industry.
“I was a flight attendant for Atlantic Southeast Airlines or ASA, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta. We did a lot of short haul routes around the Southeast. ASA doesn’t actually exist anymore—it folded into ExpressJet but I definitely grew to love planes.”
At the time, Cochran was attending on planes such as ATR 72s and Embraer Brasilias, planes that are rare birds to see in the skies of North America now. Though they’re common in Europe and South America, no North American airline operates them on mainland US service, which makes them pretty sought after aircraft for American spotters.
The same thing, however, could be said about many of the planes that takeoff from and land at Hartsfield-Jackson. “Delta has such fleet diversity. Including MD-88s and MD-90s which 85 or 90% of the world don’t get to see anymore, so even though they’re incredibly valuable to spotters in the the rest of the world, but they’re not for me.”
A Delta Air Lines McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30 (N919DN) lines up for take off at ATL/KATL. Photo by Ian Webb, 2018.
Cochran notes the importance of photographing and recording these birds, because sooner rather than later, they’re going to disappear from the skies.
That being said, there’s always a thrill of a new aircraft touching down at a new field for the first time.
“New planes are so exciting. There was a time about a year ago that KLM was bringing in [to Atlanta] the Boeing 787-9 once a week every Friday for like two months and all of a sudden, they just stopped. And damn it, they switched equipment again!” Cochran says, airing the frustration of many spotters who see new birds land just as quickly as they take off again.
Cochran’s fascination with the aviation industry doesn’t just lie with the new aircraft or the ones that he holds close to his heart, it’s the concept of flight. When he thinks about people who question his passion for spotting, he wonders the same thing about them.
“It’s that some people just don’t have an appreciation for the miracles of physics. Because that’s what’s going on here! It’s a freaking physics miracle. It took us 100 years to go from Wright Flyer to 2003 when we had advancements beyond belief, and that’s just commercial. Who even knows what we all that Black Ops and secret stuff has.”