The quest for the best image

In his spare time Lufthansa Cargo pilot Felix Gottwald becomes a passionate aviation photographer

They lurk on hills and bridges and even the roofs of houses around the airport. Often they wait there for hours – at any time of the year and under all weather conditions. Equipped with a smartphone or tablet, lots of patience and, of course, a good SLR
camera with a telephoto lens. We’re talking about plane spotters, on the quest for the best aircraft image. Felix Gottwald is one of them. However, the 27-year-old Lufthansa Cargo employee has an envious advantage over many spotter colleagues.

Saturday, 9 November 2013, 8:38 a.m.: Lufthansa Cargo’s first Boeing 777F is expected to arrive at its Frankfurt Airport base from Seattle in an hour’s time. News of this has attracted hundreds of onlookers plus numerous plane spotters, battling at the fences along the A5 motorway for the best views. Included amongst them is Felix Gottwald, who has travelled especially from Dresden for the event. Gottwald normally flies for Lufthansa Cargo as an MD-11F pilot. During his time off, he is regularly an enthusiastic aviation photographer.

In order to capture Lufthansa Cargo’s first “Triple Seven” from the perfect angle, Gottwald has secured one of the best positions on a spotter hill. He has been on the lookout there for two hours already, cheerfully anticipating the approach of the new Cargo jet. Time and again, he checks his smartphone. Thanks to a special app, he always knows exactly where the coveted photo subject is located. “The ‘Triple Seven’ is currently passing over Brussels”, he explains. But how does the app actually work?
“Most modern commercial aircraft have a special transponder on board which constantly radios the current positioning data to air traffic control”, he explains. “However, the positioning data is also picked up by special receivers on the ground and transmitted to the network of providers of tracking services, such as flightradar24, where the aircraft is then displayed on a map”, he adds. In this way, entire flights can be tracked in real time. This technology is a gift from heaven for spotters. “We would often have had just a printed flight plan before. Sometimes we would have had to wait forever for a jet, only for it to then land at a different runway than originally planned. So all of that waiting around would have been a complete waste of time.” As with many aviation photographers, the roots of his passion for photography can be traced back to his childhood. “I was given my first SLR as a gift at twelve years of age”, he explains. In the beginning, he just used it to take holiday snaps, but then began frequenting Dresden Airport to photograph the planes.

“I knew then that aviation was my passion and I wanted to become a pilot.” His childhood dream became reality. He has held a pilot’s licence for five years now and has been flying freight around the world for Lufthansa Cargo since 2011. His hobby and career complement each other perfectly, giving Gottwald the opportunity to take photos from angles other spotters can only dream of. “Of course, I don’t photograph when I’m flying myself”, he explains. “On longer flights, however, I’m often on board as a ‘dead head’, so I can take snaps directly from the cockpit.” Gottwald’s photos have attracted an ever growing community of fans online. He regularly posts his best shots on his own Facebook page. He has also become a firm favourite on the Facebook page of Lufthansa Cargo. Under the “Pilot’s Perspective” heading, Lufthansa Cargo posts an authentic snapshot taken by Gottwald from the cockpit every Friday.

There are often adventurous tales behind Gottwald’s photos. “Once I was with Russian spotter colleagues at the airport in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and our van got stuck in metre-high snow at minus 35 degrees”, he explains. It took them five hours before they were able to free themselves again through their combined efforts. “We were all halffrozen, but these are the lengths people go to for really good pictures”, he smiles. Gottwald believes that these and many other experiences also demonstrate what a tight bunch they are in the spotter community, as he trains his camera on the most coveted photo image of the day – the new Lufthansa Cargo flagship appearing on the horizon.