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Thread: A Park to Watch Planes

  1. #1

    Default A Park to Watch Planes

    July 6, 2003

    At This Unquiet Park, a Picnic Is Practically an In-Flight Meal


    The physical amenities in Planeview Park, a scruffy little plot in northwest Queens, are few: three acres of patchy grass, a dozen meager trees and two trash cans.

    But it has an unusual entertainment feature that few other city parks can match: the air shows that occur whenever weather conditions permit planes to land on Runway 4 at La Guardia Airport.

    From its modest bluff overlooking the approach to Runway 4, the park gets low-flying planes roaring overhead at two-minute intervals.

    "This is your bread and butter if you're a plane buff," said John Heaney, 50, a steamfitter from Manhattan who first began plane-watching in this area as a child with his family. "Where else can you stand 30 yards below a landing 727?

    "You should see it at night. It's like a parade in the sky. You can count five or six of them lined up like a boulevard of street lamps, for miles."

    The planes begin as a set of small lights descending in the southern sky past Long Island City. The outline of a plane takes shape and gets closer and lower over the neat residential streets of Jackson Heights. Then there is a large aircraft, usually a passenger jet operated by a major airline soaring over the Budget rental car agency, with a growing high-pitch whistle and rumbling roar.

    The park has become more popular since security has been tightened, and most parkgoers said they could no longer watch planes from inside airports.

    For the uninitiated, the unusually low altitude is not a comforting sight, especially nowadays, and there is a palpable urge to flee.

    The propeller planes putt-putt by, but a large jet creates a tail breeze that upsets a clump of nearby trees. The plane passes over the Grand Central Parkway and glides down to Runway 4, leaving wispy vapor trails in its wake. To the south, another set of lights approaches.

    Planeview Park runs along Ditmars Boulevard, from 83rd to 85th Streets, and is directly across the parkway from Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia. According to a small wooden sign fastened to its flimsy chain-link fence, the park was created to take advantage of the open land that must be kept clear around runways.

    It attracts aviation aficionados who take photographs and rattle off make and model numbers. There are also aspiring aviators who listen to the flight pattern play-by-play on their air-traffic scanners, much like the fans who take radios to the ballpark. Students at the nearby College of Aeronautics go to the park between classes.

    Some parkgoers describe a visceral charge from watching the planes, much like the rush of watching a Nascar race. Others say they almost get an escape from the city's hustle and bustle by submitting to a stronger dose of it.

    Against the constant backdrop of parkway traffic, families picnic, working people drink beer and young people park curbside to smoke or neck. The plane-watching also provides inexpensive entertainment for homeless families at the nearby Kings Inn Family Shelter.

    Incoming planes fly in over Queens at a 40-degree compass heading (north by northeast). To parkgoers, this brings them over the Budget rental car sign across the street.

    "To me, this is the coolest park in the city," said Juan Estrada, 17, who visited the park recently. "You have your regulars who bring their lawn chairs, and parents bring their kids. Even though they fly right next to you. And at night, with their lights on, it's beautiful."

    Juan says he hoped to become a pilot. He grew up in Jackson Heights, where the low-flying plane traffic is so thick that you either embrace the planes or ignore them.

    Another park user, Chris Owens, 20, from Brooklyn, a student at the College of Aeronautics, said that he grew up in Long Beach, on Long Island, under a busy flight corridor. He got hooked after spending summers surfing and staring up at the planes.

    "I'm a cool guy," he said. "I like to hang out and have fun, but when it comes to planes, I'm the biggest nerd ever."

    A police van had pulled up onto the grass near Mr. Owens and sat idling. Mr. Owens said that since the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, the police had repeatedly interfered with his practice of photographing planes in flight near airports. Now, when he goes to the Gateway Bird Sanctuary, near Kennedy International Airport, to point his lens at planes, he keeps his "camera in one pocket and a bird manual in the other, just in case."

    "You go to airports in Europe and they have viewing stands," he said. "Here, they think you're a terrorist. Oh, that's a Cessna Citation. It's the fastest business jet in the world."

    Kenneth Connolly, 52, a telecommunications inspector from Woodhaven, Queens, said he began plane-watching here at an early age.

    "My mother used to take me here when I was a baby, over there at the World's Fair marina," he said. "I remember when they started bringing jets in, in '58. "I just always gravitated here. There's something about flying machines, thousands of tons of steel suspended by nothing but air."

    "The only downside is," he said, "every time I come here, I start thinking about places I want to go on vacation."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default A Park to Watch Planes

    Sounds very cool.

  3. #3
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    West Harlem

    Default A Park to Watch Planes

    Reminds me of when my father and I used to watch planes take off and land from behind a fence at Kennedy. Maybe we'll visit this place.

  4. #4


    There's another "park" nearby, several lots in a checkerboard pattern from Astoria and 82 St diagonally to 78 St. Landing light towers are positioned along the diagonal in alignment with runway 4. The bordering "squares" have houses and a school, so the entire layout looks weird. There are a few trees (none tall) and boulders scattered about. It almost seemed as though the area is off-limits, but attached to the fence around each tower - beside the warnings about federal charges - were Clean Up After Your Dog and the NYC Parks Dept logo signs.

    Peace of mind for the homeowner.

    Zippy in the glidepath. Gear down. Lookin' good.

    :shock: Trim that sonofabitch!
    Copilot forgot to shave.

    Heading over Astoria Blvd. The roar is deafening. I don't know how people can live here, but there's new construction one block away.

    Tallness is not tolerated.

    Did I mention that it's very noisy?

  5. #5
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    West Harlem


    You made me cough a lot with the last two. With this cold, when I smile, I cough; the hilarity of the shaven trees and the irony of the sign might have killed me.

  6. #6
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village


    Unbelievable! How can anyone ever get used to that.
    Love the "piece of mind" shot.

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