Dulles airport is located 26 miles west of the centre of the city of Washington DC. Next to Dulles airport there are two other major airports the Washington DC area and those are Ronald Reagan National Airport, just south of DC, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, north of DC and close to Baltimore. Dulles is the main international airport for Washington, while Ronald Reagan airport is now only used for domestic flights and some Canadian flights.
Dulles is one of the big hubs for United Airlines. In addition to United you will also find a lot of European carriers that fly to Washington-Dulles. Before 9/11 most bizjets used to fly to Ronald Reagan National as it is much closer to down-town Washington but bizjets were no longer allowed for a few years. As a result the number of bizjets at Dulles has increased significantly. Although bizjets are allowed again at National, this is with such severe restrictions (incl. security on board) that almost nobody flies there anymore so you will see not more than 1-3 a day of which some may be the based USCG C-37, FAA G-IV) and/or Homeland Security Cessna 550 aircraft. The number of corporate jets and props is significant at Dulles. The amount depends mostly on whether Congress in session and/or there is a special event in progress, such as a government meeting, major world organization meeting, political fundraiser, etc. Then you can expect at least 100 bizjet arrivals each weekday, and still in the order of 50-80 during a weekend.
Another reason to visit Dulles Airport is to go to the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, a large museum on the south side of the field. This museum contains a large part of the collection of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, the museum that you will find in the hart of Washington DC at ‘The Mall’. The museum annex opened in December 2003 and has interested planes including the 707 prototype and an Air France Concorde. Access to the museum is free of charge, though parking costs $12. Fore more information look at the museum's website (for details see sidebar).
This airfield guide was prepared with the help of the Washington-Baltimore Spotters Group (see link to the right under 'More info').
Dulles International Airport is a big airport and unfortunately only parts of the airport can be viewed properly from outside the airport perimeter. It has two north-south parallel runways and a crosswind runway to the west of it. The terminal area is in between the parallel runways and consists of a couple of separate, connected terminals. The terminals are connected using "mobile lounges". These are busses that have a waiting area on top of them and are very high above the ground. The idea was to use them to drive people directly from the terminal onto the airplanes without the need for stairs, etc. However today these mobile lounges are only used for transporting people between terminals. The good thing about these mobile lounges is of course that you are high above the ground and have a great view. FBOs (Fixed Base Operators) for handling business aircraft are north of the main terminals, next to taxiways leading to 19R and 19L. The cargo area can be found along the western perimeter.
Around the Airport
From the museum tower and the parking lot you can also enjoy the active aircraft pretty well. You definitely won’t be the only one checking out the flying activities. Lens requirements for this runway vary from where you park. You can park close to the entrance gate and shoot with 200 mm but you will have to fight with the trees which will be in your way. To avoid the trees you can park at the end of the parking lot. That’s the southerly part of the parking lot where nobody usually parks cars. The aircraft are higher so expect about 200 mm - 300 mm. Finally, you can walk just outside the parking booths into the grassy area near the approach for shorter lenses. This location is good from about 12:30pm until it gets dark.
If you are driving there then you will pay $12 for a parking (however, entry to the museum is free). DO NOT park anywhere along the access road to the museum - if you drive, be prepared to pay for parking.
2Daily Parking Garage 1
If they are using runway 19L/19R for arrivals Level 5 of Daily Parking Garage 1 (Dulles has two daily parking garages) is good for arrivals with big lens. A big lens is needed because usually domestic airliners will land there. Runway 19R is used for almost all international arrivals. For departures from 01R you will need at least 400 mm. With this you will get full frame 777. If you have DSLR with 300mm lens then you are set for most of the stuff that will depart.
This place is good for afternoon arrivals on runway 19L, or for afternoon departures from runway 01R. 99% of the time runway 01R will be used for departures (if winds are from the North). Departures from 01R start around 4:30pm, so if you are there and they depart from runway 30 don’t be alarmed. ATC will switch to 01R with the first international departure (usually this is an Air France 777, or KLM A330). Virgin and British Airways usually take off from runway 30 or 01L. Each hour cost $5; maximum for a day is $15.
3Daily Parking Garage 2
To see the cargo aircraft you go to the Daily Garage 2 and drive to the fifth level (top). From here you have a perfect view of cargo aircraft and runway 01L/19R operations. Bizjets using the Landmark FBO will also taxi by. Most local spotters use this spot when runway is used. Police may check your ID but will not otherwise bother you at this spot.
4Long Term Parking
This spot is located in Long Term Parking lot (purple). Right now almost nobody uses this spot much because parking garage No.1 is open; however, it can be useful for morning arrivals on 19L. Almost any focal length above 150 mm can be used because you are free to move around in the lot. This also allows to move around when the sun transits the runway centerline, so you could stay here all day. First hour costs $3, and the maximum charge for a day is $9.
5Signature and Dulles Jet Center
This is on the westside of the terminal. When driving towards Dulles exit right at the Services sign adjacent to the lake. At the top of the Services ramp, turn left onto Aviation Drive which changes into Wind Sock Drive). You will find a small parking lot on the left next to a fence. Officially you are not supposed to park here but if you do not stay too long nobody will bother you. On this platform you will normally find a large number of bizjets. Luftwaffe C-160s are often parked here as well. The German Air Force has a small base at Dulles and sees several Transall flights a week. The A310s can also be seen once in while. You also have a view of 19L. People are not very fond of photographers especially after 9/11 so be very careful here.
When driving towards Dulles exit right at the Services sign adjacent to the lake. At the top of the Services ramp, turn right onto Aviation Drive and right again on Autopilot Drive. Follow the signs to Landmark (previously known as Piedmont-Hawthorne Aviation) on the left. Some spots can be found near Landmark but again they do not like photographers plus most areas are fenced anyway. A bit further is a parking lot (near the hangar of the now defunct Independence Air) just before the taxi driver lot. From here you can see many bizjets though due to various fences and distance photography is impossible.
This photo shows a SAS A330 taken from spot 1 by Blend Qatipi.
A340 HZ-124 used to be a regular visitor at Dulles until he got a job back in Saudi Arabia. Taken from spot 2 by Rafal Szczypek while it was landing 19L.
|120.100||Tower (rwy 1R/19L)|
|128.425||Tower (other runways)|
|125.050||Potomac Departure (north)|
|126.650||Potomac Departure (south)|
|126.100||Potomac Approach (north)|
|124.650||Potomac Approach (south)|
|120.450||Potomac Approach (west)|
|Many aircraft are preserved at the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center. For details see link below.|