There may not be any new blogs on the site for a little bit after this one, because the majority of the Defector staff has been busy this morning. Busy watching airplanes land.
A massive storm is bringing record winds to the U.K., and it seems like a fine day to stay inside. But not if you’re Jerry Dyer. Jerry is proprietor of Big Jet TV, which until a couple hours ago I did not know existed but is clearly the best YouTube channel ever made, and has set up outside Heathrow Airport to film the big jets landing in high winds. He’s been on air for the last six hours, and it’s become a microphenomenon, with more than 200,000 people tuning it at one point. That astronomic audience for a niche livestream only sounds unlikely until you watch a little bit of it yourself; it is utterly captivating.
The wiggle of the jets as they come in angled against the crosswinds is scary at first, but repetition gradually reveals a striking fact: this isn’t actually that risky. A bit out of the ordinary, yes, and some planes bail out of their approach for a go-around (of which the chat is gleefully keeping a tally) but the pilots know what they’re doing and do it well. The visceral terror of seeing multi-hundred-ton aircraft shaken about gives way to an even stronger appreciation for the engineering and piloting that goes into landing safely. Competence, it turns out, can be a greater thrill than danger.
But there’s so much more to the appeal of Big Jet TV, which has been chugging along as a full-time subscription business for six years, than just the landings. Watching it this morning, despite the punctuations of a touchdown every few minutes, an almost meditative state emerges. You gaze with the camera at the heavy grey rainclouds in the distance. You listen to the wind buffet the microphone. Occasionally, there are horses running around in the nearby grass and the camera focuses on them for a while. Sometimes Jerry sings showtunes.
Jerry is your guide, and he is likably unpolished, obviously knowledgeable, and endearingly enthusiastic. He takes phone calls on air. He gushes about particularly nifty aileron usage. “Bosh, ” he ejaculates as wheels hit runway. He wishes aloud that he had a coffee. When one person spams the chat with proselytization, Jerry opines that he’s not big on God at the moment because “He threw a shed at me last week.” He is the unintentional star of Big Jet TV, not the big jets. There is something wonderful about seeing a person be earnest about their hobby, no matter the hobby. Big Jet TV is, as much as it is any other thing, a chronicle of someone doing what they love.
The livestream’s chat is an active, upbeat place. Chatters, watching their flight radar apps, gleefully alert each other to incoming planes from exotic destinations or with unique liveries or that are simply very large. The 380 … oh, the 380. The rhythms of today’s livestream were built around the rare appearances of the Airbus A380, the double-decked, four-engined, 20-wheeled behemoth that is the world’s largest passenger airliner. “380 off the Essex coast,” one would promise, or “380 third in this landing stack,” or “12 minutes to the 380.” And then it would appear in the distance, strikingly larger than even the massive jetliners preceding it. Surely nothing so big could exist, yet there it is. The “big daddy,” as Jerry affectionately called one. The day’s biggest drama was a Qatar Airways A380 that had to peel off for a go-around twice before finally setting down; the chat erupted like England had just scored in a World Cup.
It’s a glimpse into another, fully formed world, a world parallel to yet entirely separate from the one through which most of us move daily. Planespotting is its own ecosystem, with its own celebrities and shibboleths and feuds. (Even Jerry has a devoted enemy. Given that one of the anonymous nemesis’s frequent complaints about Jerry is that he is insufficiently respectful to the monarchy, I feel comfortable that Jerry is the good guy in this fight.)
On the whole it is just a super-chill community of people centered around a common interest, and that’s a lovely thing to be reminded exists. I will not go so far as to say a community like this can be a retreat from the pain and strife and banality of the day-to-day, but it can be a refuge for a time. So I’m glad I found Jerry today. It is not a world in which I will ever find myself other than very briefly and on the periphery, but it is a world that makes sense to me. Yes, I can see why people like this.