How do they take those close-up airplane photos over LAX?

August 13, 2006
by Steve Kuo

If you are a frequent visitor of airliners.net, I'm sure you've run across these close-up photos of 747's talking off out of Los Angeles International Airport. Most are taken from up above. How in the world does one take such photos? Simple, get in an airplane and fly over LAX!

LAX has 4 parallel runways and its approach corridor extends pretty far east and west. Traveling north/south along the coast while avoiding the Class B airspace would require diverting over 10 miles to the east (near South Gate).

LAX Class B Airspace

Fortunately there's an easier way, LAX has several VFR Transition Routes.

Los Angeles Special Flight Rules Area  Mini Route

These routes allow for direct transition over LAX. These are pre-established routes designed especially for such transitions. The Los Angeles Special Flight Rules Area allows over-flight at 3500-4500 feet and you don't even need to talk to the tower.

For those that want to get closer, the Mini Route dictates flying over at 2500 feet. Now that's pretty close.

To get a nice clear picture without the fogginess of the airplane's window, you slow the airplane down and open the window. This works out perfectly in a high-wing airplane such as a Cessna 172. If your timing is just right (or lucky), you can catch a jetliner on approach or taking off.

I trained for my Instrument Rating out of San Diego and have flown over LAX several times. It's quite exciting to see huge 747's pass directly underneath you, sometimes with only 1000 feet of vertical separation. If I only had my camera handy back then.

Now I live in Seattle, and Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) has its own VFR Transition Route. The tower will almost always instruct to cross the approach end of the runway at 1500 feet. This is pretty low and allows photos like this to be taken.

Alaska Airlines 737 about to takeoff
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

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