I asked this Q on Twitter and got great responses. Thought I’d throw it on here and get a more semi-permanent reference.
I live pretty close to an airport and noticed that a certain parking lot near a bar/highway gets plane takeoffs right above it fairly consistently.
-Any tips on time of day/tracking the planes for best results?
-Tips for isolating from nearby traffic either at the recording stage or with RX magic?
-General gear/technique/safety tips?
I also use Flight Radar24, but more so for tracking overhead flights while field recording. For actual take-off and landing schedules I’ll either use the website of the airport (major ones in the States all have live-updated schedules) or FlightAware, the website not the app. FlightAware’s app is like FL24, but not as helpful. The website, though, uses live-updated information to display landing and takeoff schedules at almost any airport.
Like Paul said, finding property directly under the flight path is critical. Be aware that many airports have multiple runways facing different cardinal directions that are used depending on wind direction. There’s nothing more frustrating than plopping down to record underneath the North-South berm only to find out that they’re using the East-West runway that afternoon.
Depending on the aircraft you’re looking to record, perhaps try a local county airport. They tend not to be located immediately on major highways as bigger regional airports, and they don’t suffer nearly the same congestion. It’s pretty easy to find one and walk up to ask if you can record on the property. Even if they say no, there’s always been someone helpful to me that will show me the security line on a map where I can go without being considered a risk. The only downside is that most county airports don’t have the runway length to handle jumbo jets like a regional port can, so if that’s your target subject do be aware. Some county airports have the length are used for touch-and-go training flights that busy regional ports are too busy for. If you find one of those, you’re golden!
Airports will often have a berm at either end of the runway to protect from the blast. These can often be great places for recording, especially for landings, if there isn’t a highway going right by it.
Safety tips: Wear heavily baffled headphones and ear protection. Jets and planes are loud, and if you’re close enough to feel the rumble, chances are you’re close enough to damage your hearing. I wear ear plugs under my Remote Audio headphones and STILL it can sound too loud when directly beneath the landing zone. Don’t even bother trying to monitor the recording, either. Pay attention to the meters and only listen back after the fact. Your ears are more important than the recording! Don’t be fooled into thinking that the approaching jet is quieter than you think it would be. Jet engines are highly directional sound sources, and may be 40-60 db quieter at the nose than at the tail. The jet flying over your head will seem quiet enough to listen to without protection but be truly ear damaging less than a second later.
For tracking I use apps like FlightRadar24 (paid and free versions) which looks nicer, but there is also Planes Live which is free and does pretty much the same thing. With tracking you can know when the planes are arriving and adjust your technique and equipment for better results.
I generally try to find a property under the flight path, but not at the airport itself since security can be touchy. Google Maps satellite view can be helpful. The parking lot you found sounds idea – perhaps after rush hour, or before the 4 AM?
The toughest part recording this sort of thing are the heads and tails. Depending on the aircraft, they are so loud that they will overwhelm any other intrusive sound. Problematic sounds will pop up in the heads and tails. Sometimes RX’s spectral repair can take care of this. Editing out the problem from the entire timeline usually doesn’t work since it affects the slope of the arrival or departure and sounds odd, but your milage may vary.
Good luck and have fun!