Unidentified Flying Objects


When I photograph airplanes, the last thing I do to the image file, is add pertinent information to the meta data – a short description and a few keywords. That’s usually not a problem since checking the registration number enables searches for all important data.

If, that is, one can see the registration number.

I have recently taken some shots from below and when checking my images I find that airlines don’t always display numbers very prominently, it varies wildly. The international airlines can be counted on to show numbers on the underside of wings, but not companies such as Virgin America and Southwest and others…also, when shooting a plane coming right at you, you might not be able to find a number at all…

So I was wondering…is it possible to identify a plane, if airline, location and time is known…? – I recently took a shot of a plane coming straight at me and when I checked my picture later on, I was uncertain about what kind of plane it was even, but I feel strongly now, it was in fact a United “Dreamliner”…so here’s what I have:

– United Airlines (is the airline, no ambiguity there)
– LAX (arrival) …is the place (northern runways)
– September 13, 2013 and…
– 11:38am the time

United doesn’t have that many 787s, so theoretically it should be possible to identify the plane, but…is it possible without “privileged access”…?

Another aircraft I couldn’t identify was this:
– American Airlines
– LAX (departure)
– September 14, 2013
– 6:18pm

…and here I CAN see the number, but in a “slanted way” so I can’t be sure, but it should be one of these:
N606AA – N608AA – N609AA

…any help with this would be greatly appreciated… : )

gunnar – “nearLAX”


We have the tail numbers for most major airline flights, you can check the tail numbers to see what they operated and when.

For the UA 787, you can check all 6 (7?) of their 787 tails to see which operated the flight.

For the AA flight, you could check the 3 tails you listed to see if any departed LAX at that time.


…you mean by using “private flight tracker” (which is what I usually do when I’m curious about location of some plane) – and I would see the history of flights listed below…?

…or is there another way…? – …when it comes to finding info about individual planes I have always used a “plane-spotting” site – which worked well, so I never considered the possibility of finding such information at flightaware…)


Seriously? just kidding :smiley:
heres your AA flight
flightaware.com/live/flight/N608 … /KLAX/PHNL


…ooooo-o-oo-ooo…dat was cool…!

…THANK you…aah…nice…!

…now I feel “empowered”…yes!

…“608” was the number…kinda of what I thought, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure…now I have to practice this skill with the dreamliner – Thanks again : )


…follow up question to both of you – and thanks for those tips, they seriously enhanced my identification skills…!

I was able to identify a Delta 757 – …and the Dreamliner turned out to be the first on the list of seven I found (N27901)

…but I failed to identify another Delta plane that shouldn’t have been difficult, but was for the ambiguities pertaining to the numbers “they” paint – this plane, a 737, has only “608” painted on the front wheel housing lids (so number can be seen when on the ground)…but what does this “608” stand for…?
Checking the entire list of Boeing 737’s used by Delta doesn’t lead to any conclusive result – I made a reasonable guess – fleet number – but that plane just wasn’t in Los Angeles at the time…

…it’s funny, the number “608” has turned up on three of the planes I struggled with…just this one left…

So this Delta 737 took off at 6:15 on September 15 (2013)…how does this “608” identify this plane…?


Delta has a real confusing ‘fleet’ numbering system, and on this list all 737s have a 4 digit #…
planespotters.net/Production … etStatus=1
But 608 seems to be your number, I’d play 608 in the pick-3-lotto 8)


…yeah…not only that (“608” being my number) – 608 turned up AGAIN on a plane in another, newer, batch of pictures…insane…

yes, that planespotters list is what I used…

…the other way to check something like this is of course looking for whatever Delta 737 took off at that time from LAX…but that type of search is definitely beyond my search skills…although the records must be available somewhere…

…and yesterday I took another shot of a Delta 737, generating same problem…just a number on the nose wheel house doors…that may lead to nowhere…

It strikes me odd that there hasn’t been any general agreement on how major aircraft should be marked…! – Never a problem with the “big ones”, but the smaller ones are a different story… : )

…was gonna ask at airliners.net, but they failed to recognize my password, even though it was correct…there’ s gotta be some logic to Delta’s numbers…


For most airlines, when they use “ship” numbers, it gets pretty confusing, pretty quick, DAL’s 737’s make a little bit of sense however. For DAL’s 737s, if you see 608 painted on the nose gear doors, add a 3 to front for DAL’s ship #, since it’s a 737, so it is ship #3608 which is N308DE. DAL’s other aircraft types dont always follow the 737=3608 rule.


…wow…you got my hopes up there…but it didn’t pan out – I checked with planespotters and wouldn’t you believe it – not a single picture!

planespotters.net/Production … -Lines.php

…so I used info about plane and googled and found this interesting site:


(…what a hoot, huh?) – …well, checking a well chosen picture here shows that nose wheel house doors are painted “3608” and not just “608” as is the case with “my” plane…

…anyway…I now have two planes with “impossible” numbers, when seen from below – “608” and “627”

I did check airliners.net and found some info, but none that led to the “truth”…there are lists, there are links, there are explanations, but there is no logic that can be applied – there are of course “principles” in accordance with which delta applies its numbers, but that doesn’t mean there is logic that can be used…

Thanks for your reply though – …I’m edging closer to the point of just deleting the pictures and forgetting about them and never bother with Delta again – at least not if taking pictures from below, is the aim, and certainly not 737s…I did manage to identify 757s…

…more excitement tomorrow – British Airways supposedly arrives (to LAX) with, for the first time, one of their two A380s…now that’s something to point your camera at…!


…update – I was asked on airliners.net if I was sure it wasn’t a 757…but there’s no mistaking a 737 for 757 or vice versa…certainly not from below – with the wheels on the 737 exposed and those of the 757 covered…no mistaking…

But, after searching around for “the right plane” I did discover that Delta does in fact have a 757 with “608” painted on the nose wheel house doors – exactly the same as on one of their 737s…does not seem like a “good thing”, but there it is…

I shot a SkyWest plane the other day, also ending up with a mostly obscured “N-number”…I kept it, because the light was beautiful and shot was good…
Checking closer I find numbers near the nose end on the side – “465” – which, after checking planespotters long list of potential candidates for that number, leads to “N465SW”.

A picture available on the site – just one – shows a plane completely consistent with the plane I shot, so, should be a “slam-dunk”…
But checking with FlightAware results in information to the effect that the plane wasn’t in Southern California at the time and hadn’t been there for 17 weeks…

9/22/13, 6:35:51 PM – …is the time data for my shot…


DAL uses 4 digits for their ship numbers, if you only see 3 digits on the aircraft, then one digit has worn off, which means a DAL 737 with “608” painted on the nose gear doors is ship 3608 which is aircraft N308DE. So, either it was not a DAL 737 or it was and is missing a digit on the nose number. If it was a DAL 757, 608 is ship 0608 which N608DA. But DAL drops the 0 at the front when painted on the aircraft, so you will only see 608 on the plane itself.


…thanks for your detailed reply – and I hear what you’re saying, but…

(“So this Delta 737 took off at 6:15 on September 15 (2013)”) < - - - …is what I posted above and checking the number you suggest, shows, according to FlightAware, that N308DE wasn’t in Southern California at the time – my picture shows numbers on closed doors – and…how would a number “come off”…? …whatever number that would be…

(I sent question about SkyWest plane to SkyWest…they haven’t replied…)

…seems to me the aircraft numbering system needs some “tightening up”…


Good luck with that! The whole country needs some “tightening up” but it ain’t gonna happen, I can’t even get the kid at the local grocer to stop putting canned goods on top of my vegetables or bread :imp:


And look what they did to my lawn!


…he he he…yeah – I know what you mean…seems to me grocers are usually pretty good at instructing how things need to be packaged…maybe they’re hip to that sort of thing here in LA…

…anyway – OK – here’s my New Numbering Regulation:

Registration Numbers on aircraft should be placed near tail section and below widest point of fuselage. Type should be of non-serif design and of medium weight.

…that oughta do it… : )

if placed like that, numbers could be seen from sides and from below, with no need for nose wheel door signs.
…yes, there will be angles and conditions when numbers might not be seen by everyone and at all times.

The Award for Best Registration Numbering Display goes to…EVA AIRWAYS!


…and the award for best foreign registration goes to…



…anyway – did not know you could place images into messages like that – that means I could show the delta 737 with “608” on the nose wheel house doors…

…also – i got a reply from person who had the only available shot (at Planespotters) of the SkyWest plane I happened to shoot as well, recently – he confirms that my ASSumption about numbers was correct. – But if you check “N465SW” here, you’ll be informed plane arrived 18 weeks ago…and that’s it…
I’ll upload a current picture of it tomorrow…taken a few days ago…


You need to upload it to Flickr, Pikasa, Photobucket, etc. first, and then post a link to the photo in your message in IMG brackets.


…cool…thanks…I have lots of pictures on flickr…
…did upload to FlightAware as well this morning – including the SkyWest plane I mentioned…

I have wondered how one would go about posting link from individual images from flickr and I tried once and failed…it just sent link to photostream…you talk about “IMG brackets”, which I do not know what it is…