I’m not an aviation enthusiast. I can’t look at a passenger plane and know if it’s an Airbus or Boeing. I didn’t even know Bombardier made aircraft until the man sitting next to me pointed and shouted, “That’s a CRJ!” I’m not an aviation enthusiast, but I did enjoy watching the planes landing and taking off in a roaring sound at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
From my perch on a bench – I was behind a chain link security fence, but on a hill above the fence with a clear view – I watched an Airbus A319 taxi into position at the end of the runway. The engines roared to life – not quite deafening but still quite loud – and the aircraft quickly sped down the tarmac. The American Airlines passenger plane left the ground, promptly climbed into the cloudless sky, and disappeared from sight with minutes.
During my road trip adventures, I am always looking out for observation parks to watch airplanes coming and going. Gravelly Point Park at Reagan National Airport is still the most exhilarating observation park I have found anywhere. But the Airport Observation Park at Charlotte Douglas wasn’t all that bad, either.
I discovered the observation park at Charlotte Douglas – CLT to frequent fliers – when I asked the lady at my hotel if there were any free things to do in the city. “Have you watched planes land at the airport?” she replied. Similar to the other airport observation parks, this was was also free of any admission fee.
You have to know about the Airport Observation Park to find it. There is no marketing, and the local tourism folks don’t promote it. There are no road signs or driving tour maps. It’s easy enough to find with GPS navigation – just keep in mind that this airport is always under construction.
The Airport Observation Park is located near the end of runway 18R. A long line of park benches invites visitors to step out of their car. A few well-worn picnic tables were scattered beneath the shade of small trees in a distant corner of the graveled parking lot.
It was early morning when I arrived the first time. I had stopped at a nearby Bojangles – did you know they are headquartered in Charlotte – and brought breakfast and coffee with me. There were nearly a dozen other vehicles already parked.
I grabbed the food and headed for a bench in front of the car. To my right, two men with massive telephoto lenses were capturing photos of all the planes. To my left, a family with two children had set up quad chairs and umbrellas.
I watched an Airbus A319 taxi into position at the end of the runway. The engines roared to life – not quite deafening but still quite loud – and the aircraft quickly sped down the tarmac. The American Airlines passenger plane left the ground, promptly climbed into the cloudless sky, and disappeared from sight with minutes.
Next time, I thought to myself, I’m bringing a better chair and a cooler stuffed with drinks. Another plane lines up to take off, and I notice the faint silhouette of the Uptown Charlotte skyline in the distance. This was a nice place to spend some time.