I’ve always thought airplanes were cool, I suppose. I attended a couple of small air shows as a kid, had a turn at the controls in a cousin’s Ercoupe, and knew enough to notice when I got to catch a flight on an RJ85 or DC-10, but it wasn’t anything more than a casual interest. Seeing the world’s largest aircraft changed all of that.

Six years ago my primary hobby was railroad photography, though my new parental status meant I could no longer responsibly spend 10-20 days a month chasing trains around. Somehow I’d gotten looped into the local plane-spotting group on Facebook, and caught wind that the Antonov An-225 would be making a visit to Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), which was just 15 minutes away. My first plane-spotting trip was in order.

Not bad for my first time plane-spotting, eh? Photo: Nick Benson

Not bad for my first time plane-spotting, eh? Photo: Nick Benson

My boys were two and four years old at the time, so we visited a playground under the approach path to MSP’s 12R. We were hooked! We enjoyed the parade of typical early-afternoon arrivals; Delta 717s, MD-80s, 757s, A320s, A330s, and the sole remaining scheduled 747, which came daily from Narita (NRT). Seeing so many examples of impressive engineering arriving from so many different places really captured my imagination; seeing the largest successful aircraft glide by was remarkable. This was entirely pleasant way to pass the time.

It has been too long since I have done an AvGeek Pop Quiz. If you are new to these, you are in for a treat! Or in for a lot of frustration. I am going to show you a cropped photo and you have to guess the airline and/or aircraft type. This time I am doing it a bit different. I will show you nine thumbnails below, you make your guesses, and when you are ready, keep scrolling to the bottom of the story and I give you the answers. Then in the comments, let me know how you did (or which ones were the most difficult/easiest)! Here we go:

Think you know enough? Ready to see the answers? Keep on reading…

Al Boraq train

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Crazy times require crazy measures. There’s only so many stories about airplanes we can write at a time when few of us are actually flying. So how about something completely different?

In last year’s April Fools’ Day post titled “Reporter Empire,” our fearless leader David Parker Brown floated the idea of side projects like TrainReporter, ShipReporter, and CatReporter. Sadly I don’t have a cat. And going on a cruise ship seems like a really bad idea right now. But I did get to ride a pretty cool train a few months ago: Morocco’s new Al Boraq high-speed line — the first-ever bullet train on the African continent.

We never left the ground, but writing this story I was surprised how much my train trip report had in common with our usual flight stories. So choo choo, AvGeeks and TrainGeeks alike! Read on for some thoughts, photos, and videos from my 186-mile-per-hour run on the Al Boraq bullet train.

Hawaiian’s A321neos have been grounded by COVID-19; this aircraft is seen departing LAX in September 2019 – Photo: Nick Benson

For those following the impacts of COVID-19 on American aviation closely, it’s been an exhausting couple of months. Airlines have been hemorrhaging money, arguing for CARES Act exemptions from a fairly-inflexible DOT, and reducing their employment obligations to tens of thousands of employees. The full impact of the crisis on aviation, and the economy at large, still isn’t known.

The airlines have been reacting to the decreased demand for passenger flights by operating fewer flights with fewer aircraft. Being the avgeek I am, I was interested to see the evolution of each airline’s fleet as it reacted to COVID-19 – which types are getting hit hardest? Do airlines have a preference for newer, more efficient equipment, despite decreased fuel costs? There has been some coverage of the overall number of flights getting operated, pre-crisis vs. post-crisis scheduling, but I was interested to see how many aircraft each airline was actually operating.

The charts that follow show the total number of unique aircraft that flew for each airline, by type, each week from 30 December 2018 through 26 April 2020. This includes all flights that were detected, primarily derived by ADS-B reports, to JetTip’s data provider, including ferry, maintenance, cargo, etc. In other words, not all of these flights were necessarily revenue passenger flights – several carriers are doing cargo-only flights with their heavies now, and some flights are being operated to keep up with maintenance requirements.