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August 30, 2014

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Family’s hobby of ‘tail spotting’ draws worldwide audience

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Leila Navidi

Richard Trajano, 19, left, and brother Kristopher, 14, stand by a statue near the visitors center at Nellis Air Force Base this month. The two enjoy filming jets at the base and putting the fruits of their labor on the Internet for other admirers of aviation to see.

Beyond the Sun

Because this is their idea of a good time, the Trajano brothers and their father crowded into the family’s silver GMC Sierra pickup recently and drove six hours from North Las Vegas to the Naval Air Facility at El Centro, Calif. They set up along the runway fence and breathed the jet exhaust.

Richard turned on his Sony HDR SR11, a small hand-held video camcorder. Kristopher started firing his Canon EOS 40D digital camera.

“You really can’t get any closer to the afterburners than that,” said Richard, the older brother at 19.

“You can smell it. Your head is shaking,” said Kristopher, the youngest at 14. “The blast is shaking your equipment all around.”

What began as a boys’ hobby has turned into a three-day-a-week passion. And their passion has evolved into a “tail spotters” Internet Web site and a YouTube venture that draws a worldwide audience. The YouTube site alone has more than 200 videos, about 2,200 subscribers and 5.5 million views so far.

Tail spotting is akin to bird-watching. Amateur photographers and video cameramen record planes taking off and landing, and list their registration numbers or any unusual details. The hobby has grown in recent years among adult spotters, however, who also turn their lenses on gliders and balloons and helicopters, or try to document military aircraft movements around the globe.

For the Trajano family, which lives a half-dozen miles from the Nellis Air Force Base’s F-15s and A-10s, the best days include the occasional Red Flag and Green Flag exercises and the Aviation Nation air show.

But the Trajano brothers can also be found nearly every other afternoon or evening training their equipment on the routine activities around the base. They have their own vantage points. The corner of Cheyenne Avenue and Ringe Lane is great for takeoff and bank shots. Farther down Cheyenne it gets loud with tractor-trailers, “so watch when you are shooting,” Richard advised. “And it’s not exactly the safest place to be at night.”

Their tail spotting around Nellis has drawn kudos from Europe, the Caribbean and Australia. “Great videos and sublime stills,” a fan named Rich e-mailed from London. “You are lucky living where you do!”

A kid named Trevor told the younger Trajano in a burst of excitement, “hey kris im 15, andi just want to sya that your are so kool! lol but seriously i find it pretty kool you can go to the base all the time and see all those planes.”

Sometimes, though, life gets in the way. Kristopher attends Findlay Middle School. Richard, a graduate of Legacy High, works overnight as a stocker at Toys R Us. Kristopher thinks he might want to join the Army National Guard. Richard will start college in January, with a major in video production.

They are saving for a $260, 20-minute plane ride over Hoover Dam, their first in a cockpit and a first chance to shoot earthward. Until then, it is back to Nellis and other bases like El Centro.

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