Family's Plane-Watching Hobby Spans Generations

Have you ever seen those people sitting in lawn chairs and watching the planes come and go at your local airport? One man started watching planes with his father 40 years ago. These days, he brings his own sons out to the Baltimore airport when he goes plane watching.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now, an audio postcard from the airport. If you happen to fly into Baltimore's BWI and you're sitting in a window seat, you might see Joe Richwalski(ph) waving to you.

Stephanie Marudas introduces us.

STEPHANIE MARUDAS: Considering how busy we Americans are, plane-spotting might seem like a time-consuming hobby. You got to drive to the airport, maybe get stuck in some traffic along the way, and wait for the planes to show up. Despite all that, plane spotting is a past time that keeps Joe Richwalski(ph) close with his kids.

(Soundbite of airplane passing overhead)

Mr. JOE RICHWALSKI (Plane Spotter): Look at the, Josh(ph). This is an American Airlines.

MARUDAS: Richwalski is standing in a parking lot of BWI's outdoor observation area. The planes pass by just about 20 seconds before touching down.

Mr. JOE RICHWALSKI: I'm fascinated with the planes ever since I was a kid. My dad used to take me inside years ago, and they had a platform on the roof where you could walk out and you could see the planes. It was just him and I, and that's all we did. It was come to the airport. We didn't know - we didn't go fishing, we didn't do any - we went to the airport. That was our thing.

MARUDAS: And when Richwalski became a father, he packs the kids in the car and off to the airport they've been going ever since. His 12-year-old son Josh is a big fan.

Mr. JOSH RICHWALSKI (Joe Richwalski's Son): Well, I like looking up in the sky and seeing that little white light, and then it just gets closer and closer and closer until it passes over you.

MARUDAS: As each plane passes by, father and son automatically raise, turn their heads slightly and follow the aircraft until it hits the runway. Then they look back in the other direction and wait for the next plane to arrive.

Mr. JOE RICHWALSKI: Well, you know, this is the first time I've ever seen golfers out here. This is something. See there's just - when the planes aren't coming, you can watch, you can bemuse yourself with the golfers, right?

MARUDAS: Josh looks over towards his father who is using a radio scanner to tune in to BWI's aircraft control tower. After 40 years of watching jets take off and land, Joe Richwalski has never traveled on a plane. He doesn't know when his maiden voyage will be, but for now, he's enjoying the view from the ground.

Mr. JOE RICHWALSKI: He just said Southwest on here. Let's see if that's Southwest coming. That may have been the one that just talked. And if it is, then we're on the right channel here. Yup, that's the one. That was him.

(Soundbite of an airplane passing overhead)

Mr. JOE RICHWALSKI: Look at that. That just blows me away every time I see it.

(Soundbite of a radio)

Unidentified Man: We've got 2138 coming(ph) heading to 2.0.

(Soundbite of an airplane)

MARUDAS: For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Marudas in Baltimore.

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