These days the name A380 is just as well known as the letters 747 ever was. It is no big secret that the Airbus A380 has not just taken over the title from the Boeing 747and has been crowned as the new Queen of the Skies!
Photographing the new Queen in South African skies has become old hat. These giant visitors from Lufthansa and Air France have become a common sight on their scheduled flights to O.R. Tambo International. The two new eagerly awaited arrivals were an Emirates A380 and British Airways A380 both of which were making their first scheduled passenger flight to South Africa! For passionate aviation enthusiast like me who had never taken a photo of one, let alone four the mere thought of four Airbus A380's almost landing in sequence had my heart rate into race mode!
I was up early on Sunday 26 January when compared to the normal time I would usually get up over the weekend. The camera batteries were charged, the car had fuel in and at around 08:00 we set off for OR Tambo from Pretoria with Flight Radar 24 open on the iPad, just in case Mother Nature decided to give the A380's a nudge towards SA. I wanted to be sure that I was not going to miss their arrivals.
Mother Nature did intervene and only a quarter of the way to the airport with 35 minutes' drive left the first A380 showed up on radar! I am obviously not going to mention what my foot on the gas did at this moment, but we slightly increased our speed, and made it to the threshold of 03R just as the Lufthansa A380 turned for final. Also, not knowing if she was actually routing for 03R or 03L was a bit of an issue and despite our efforts to catch her, she came into sight over the trees on short final for 03L. My 250mm lens was of no use in this situation.
At least now we were there and ready along with other photographers that came for the occasion. They were all waiting for the British Airways A380, calling it the most desirable-looking A380 ever! True enough, just after the Lufthansa had landed, the BA A380 appeared on radar and with the help of an anonymous ATC source we were able to keep up to date with its designated runway of use. Also, considering that she was routing along the eastern side of OR Tambo, the likelihood of 03R to be used was great! And it was confirmed! RW03R for BA A380!
Man oh man, what a sight she was, when she broke through the cloud base on short final, leaving visible vapour all over her wings! At this point, my heart was beating like a drum and I was so entranced by her sheer size that I stopped breathing. Somehow I stayed conscious long enough to freeze her on photo all the way to touchdown and I must admit she truly makes for a BRILLIANT photo! Those lines… Those colours…. Just WOW!!
Shortly after that heart stopping moment, the Emirates and Air France A380's came onto the radar. The Emirates queen would seemingly route along the eastern side and Air France along the western side. This created the question of whether the Air France aircraft would join past 03L for 03R. But this was not really the issue, because the main objective of the trip was met, having caught the first scheduled British Airways A380 to South Africa. The secondary objective though was still at hand and the approach of the Emirates A380 was in our favour! Secretively I found the Emirates A380 livery more appealing to the eye, but I am now considering changing my opinion to the BA livery after that wonderful sight…
Sure enough, Emirates was on final for 03R and shortly afterwards Air France also joined for 03R. Having had numerous heart stoppers with 4 A380's leaving some rubber on the OR Tambo runway in as little time as two hours and having taken quite a lot of photos so much so that my camera showed signs of being over-worked I was on an aviation high for the rest of the day.
Sunday morning was a historical opportunity for any person interested in aviation and photography and I was lucky and blessed to have witnessed it. The A380 truly is the Queen of the Skies.