With the last mission into space performed by the Space Shuttle Atlantis (OV-104) in July of 2011, the Atlantis and the remaining two other Shuttles were decommissioned and officially retired. Just before the final mission, NASA announced that it would donate the three Shuttles plus a test Shuttle and full-size mock-up to museums that could come up with over $28 million dollar cost to prepare and get the Shuttle to their museum. This excluded many museums, but still 20 museums put in their applications for the Shuttles and in April of 2011, just three months before the final Shuttle flight, NASA announced the final resting places for the Shuttles. The fate of the three Shuttles would be: Discovery (OV-103) to be delivered via 747 piggy-back to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum near Washington DC, Atlantis (OV-104) to be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center Complex in Florida for display, and the Endeavour (OV-105) delivered to the California Science Center in Los Angeles via 747 piggy-back. The Enterprise (OV-101) test orbiter would go to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum and the Explorer (OV-100) full-scale mock-up would go to the Johnson Space Center in Texas. With each of these Shuttles but one reaching their destinations by April of 2012, there was just one left to go: the Space Shuttle Endeavour having to travel the longest distance from Florida to California.
The youngest Space Shuttle in the fleet having been built in the late 1980s and the first flight in 1992, the Endeavour (OV-105) was the last Space Shuttle to be built and was a replacement after the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost in 1986. Using a lot of spare parts from the other Shuttles and putting in the latest upgrades of technology into the design and building of Endeavour, it is the most technologically advanced Shuttle in the fleet. It's also the only Shuttle to have a drag-chute that deploys on landing. The Endeavour flew 25 missions into space and carried 154 crew members in the over 290 days spent in space. It has docked 12 times with the International Space Station and it's said to have orbited earth over 4,600 times accruing over 122 million miles! Its name, Endeavour, came from a national contest among schools to name the Shuttle based on a vessel of exploration nature. This was the only time a Shuttle was named by children, and the winning name came from the H.M.S. Endeavour 18-century British ship that went on a voyage of discovery in the South Pacific. The final mission of the Endeavour was the second to last Shuttle Mission occurring in May of 2011. With all the other Shuttles now in their retirement locations in mid-2012, it was Endeavour's turn to take the journey marking the last page of this Space Shuttle program. Plans were made for sometime in September for the Endeavour to be attached to one of NASA's SCA (Shuttle Carrying Aircraft) 747 aircraft and flow across the country making fly-bys over certain landmarks (much like Discovery did on the East Coast in early 2012) and a couple of quick stops along the way before landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and then taken by giant trailer through the streets of LA to the California Science Center. As September rolled around, plans were finalized and a date to depart Florida was chosen for September 18, arriving at LAX on Thursday September 20.
As the date of the launch was mere days away, the launch was postponed by a day due to bad weather along the route and as such the arrival date to LAX was pushed back to Friday September 21st sometime around 12pm. The flight from Florida would start in the morning of the 19th and the Shuttle on top of the SCA 747 would make its way through the United States stopping at a few significant airports to refuel, rest, and visit. On Thursday, September 20th which was the original date the Endeavour was to land at LAX, the Shuttle and SCA entered California and landed at Edwards Air Force Base, the final overnight stop until the LAX arrival. Photographers and onlookers were present all over the surrounding areas of Edwards trying to get a peak of the Shuttle and it didn't disappoint with a fly-over before landing. The NASA facilities at Edwards Air Force Base, being the landing spot for many Shuttle re-entries back to Earth, set up quite the welcome for the Shuttle with media and personnel who worked on the Shuttles there in large numbers to bid farewell. Escorting NASA Boeing F/A-18B Hornets (ex-military) provided live footage of the entire trip snapping photos as the Shuttle and 747 SCA had passed over many landmarks across the USA that had been pre-selected by NASA beforehand. With the Shuttle finally arriving in California and having landed at Edwards AFB as the day grew later, it was the final evening of this Final Mission for the Space Shuttle Endeavour with the next morning marking a historic event as the last time a Space Shuttle will be airborne.
For myself and many photographers in the western part of the United States, this Final Mission would not only be our turn to have the Shuttle fly over landmarks (like Discovery had done on the East Coast) but would also be the last time we'd have to ever capture the Shuttle in flight. For those who had never made it out to see a Shuttle launch or landing, this would also be the last chance to witness the Shuttles anywhere but a museum. Naturally, the buzz began to grow as people from all over started to make plans to see the Shuttle either fly-over their area, at a specified landmark, or be present at LAX to see the landing. Discovery's flight over the East Coast caused quite the buzz with thousands upon thousands of people coming out to see and photograph the Shuttle during its journey, and Endeavour's flight would be the same if not even more crazy with it being the very last flight of any Shuttle. This called for a bit of concern among photographers as making sure to get good spots to shoot the Shuttle would be difficult with so many people, and no doubt many people would be lining up very early. Planning started several weeks before the Shuttle was to arrive, with the big question being "Where is everyone shooting from?" Some people had access to the ramp at LAX, which was the ultimate spot for viewing the Shuttle unobstructed, but for most of us it was a race to figure out where would be the best spot during the hour and a half time spent in Southern California. Immediately it was clear that the most popular spot would be what is nicknamed 'The Hill,' which is a look out dedication point that has a mostly clear shot of the entire south side of LAX on Imperial Ave. Most photographers discussed shooting from there, but it was pretty clear immediately that the media would be using most of that area as a staging point for their broadcasts, which would mean more competition for space with the media most certainly having the upper hand.
A few days before the original arrival date the rush to find the perfect location was the hottest topic on many aviation photography forums. While some photographers were scrambling to pull on any and all connections they could to get special access for the best view, the general consensus was that the Hill would be the best location. The El Segundo Police Department put out a press release detailing that the Hill would be closed off for car traffic and while the media would indeed take a big chunk out of the location, there'd be plenty of space for the public to get a good view. Others felt that it would be too crazy at the Hill and instead opted to go to the Proud Bird, an aviation themed restaurant off Aviation Blvd that is directly under the approach path to the south side runways where the Shuttle would be performing the final pass and then landing. A few even thought that the famous In-N-Out Burger under the north runway approach would be a good spot but only for the first northern pass over LAX. No matter where we'd be setting up, it was going to be very busy. As for myself, I kept pouring over maps and what little information we had about the arrival of the Shuttle to see where the best spot would be, or at least the best I could get. At the time, I figured that the Hill would be my best bet, but I knew I'd have to get there very early if I wanted a good location. The Hill has its ups and downs, the biggest down being that you cannot see the approach end of the runway due to buildings and sporadically down the south runways there are trees and power lines that obscure little parts. The upside is that you're higher elevated, so you'll get a perfect shot of the Shuttle passing the LAX tower during the first fly-by, and then you'll get the Shuttle as it slows down after touch-down on the runway. From Proud Bird you'd be getting a head on shot or slight angle for the Shuttle as it comes in for the pass and landing, so this location was my backup if the Hill was too full. In-N-Out, though great for catching oncoming airliners, would be problematic with the Shuttle as we didn't know what direction the Shuttle would be coming from nor where the north side fly-by would take place.
Finally, it was Thursday evening, the night before the Shuttle's arrival. Media was already camped out at the Hill shooting quick segments during the late evening news programs talking about the Shuttle's arrival and getting prepared for the next day. With the Hill decided as my primary spot, it was time to figure out just how early I needed to be to LAX in order to get a spot and beat the crowds. Being at the Hill meant I wouldn't be able to get the north-side pass, but that was okay as I figured the Hill would be the best spot to get the south side. Proud Bird was my finalized secondary position just in case everything went wrong and the Hill was no longer an option. With everything set into stone now, it was just a waiting game as I nervously tried to decide when I should leave. With a 45 minute drive to LAX and how early people might show up plus any traffic, I figured that getting to LAX about 5am Friday morning would be the key time and allow me to get some sleep in. As Thursday evening progressed along, however, I started to worry that 5am wouldn't be early enough. Thankfully, a friend was able to stop by the Hill at about 11pm and check it out for me. A quick phone call relieved my fears as there was ample room at the Hill and not really anyone there, only media was really stationed out there. With my fears put to rest, it was time to try and get some sleep, something I found out quite quickly wouldn't be happening with my phone going off quite a bit as people asked where I'd be going and what time I'd be getting there. It looked like everyone wasn't really sure how to tackle this event and waited till the last second like I had to figure out their plans. About 2am I started to get word that the Hill was getting busy with people showing up and camping out early. Uh oh! That started to get me a bit stressed and I was contemplating just heading out there at that moment. A fellow photographer called me up around that time and we talked about locations and he brought up an idea I hadn't thought before: catching BOTH the passes and landing.
With the Hill most certainly being a zoo and only able to catch the south pass and landing, one thing I hadn't though of was trying to catch all three events (north pass, south pass, and landing) with some quick driving and planning. There's a location on the north west side of the airport up on a residential hill that would be a perfect spot to catch the Shuttle as it came in for the first north pass, no matter what direction it came from. From there we could quickly drive down to the Proud Bird area, but a little further north, to catch the finally south pass and landing. We'd have enough time to drive there as after the first LAX pass the Shuttle would continue on to do most of the landmark fly-overs, giving us about an hour or more to get there. Not only would we be able to capture everything, but the light would be in our favor unlike the Hill which we, at the time, thought would be backlit and there'd be a huge cut in crowds in those areas. This seemed promising, especially with the light and crowds in our favor and the fact that we might be the only photographers to shoot in these locations, giving us unique photos in what was sure to be a sea of coverage flooding every social media blog, forum, video, photo website and everything in between. With this in mind, I made the decision to go ahead and change locations and to bypass the Hill all together. This also meant that we could probably get there later and get some sleep, but I felt some reconnaissance would be invaluable to plot where we'd be driving, where we'd park, and the best angles.
Packing up the car at about 3am, a friend and I departed Orange County and headed up to LAX. Being that I'd gotten no sleep and it was 3am in the morning, I was shocked that I actually was functioning and actually pretty excited. I could only imagine that this early morning adventure was making the adrenaline pump through me as I drove to LAX. It was surprising to see much more cars than I thought on the freeways at that time of morning, but we made it to LAX in good time with traffic around the airport very light. We started first our recon of this north western residential hill that I was told about. Unfortunately, we couldn't find it, so we instead continued around the airport deciding to make a stop at the Imperial Ave Hill where it was filling up to see how bad it is. As we pulled up we immediately found a parking spot and upon walking to the look out we realized there was a lot less people there than we'd thought and there were plenty of spots left with a great view if we wanted it. But the idea of shooting the Shuttle three times made me finalize my decision to not stay there. Hopping back into the car we headed back around the airport completing the 360 we'd now done and decided to check out the Proud Bird area for our final spot and plot our quick car relocation to catch the finale of the Shuttle. Finding some industrial areas that had parking, everything was set and we headed back to the north west corner of the airport to once again try and find this residential hill. We eventually found it and parked as the fellow aviation photographer that had told us about the location pulled up. From there it was a waiting game as we were too excited to sleep waiting for the first light of dawn to appear. Since LAX is a 24-hour international airport, we got a good idea of what the Shuttle would look like if it followed the intel we'd seen on the news channels the night before saying that the Shuttle would be coming in from over the ocean on the north side for the first LAX pass. From this residential hill, we'd have perfect shots that would be tough to beat by everyone on the south side Hill!
As the sun started to rise, we continued to chat and shoot the occasional airline that would take off in the early morning hours. About 6am, LAX reversed the pattern so now aircraft were departing towards the ocean (west) and gave us some pretty nice shots as they pulled into the air. Occasionally people driving by of jogging would stop and ask us a list of questions about what we were waiting for, when the Shuttle was scheduled to come in, or where the best spot would be to see it. There were still a lot of variables such as when the Shuttle would even get to Southern California as once it took off in the morning from Edwards AFB it'd travel up to San Francisco and Sacramento to do the first few hours of landmark fly-overs. At the time, 10:30 to 11am were what we'd heard for the Shuttle to make the first LAX pass, so that's what we told everyone. I had the live feed from NASA tv streaming on my phone as we watched them prep the Shuttle for launch, which we found out had been delayed by an hour. It looked like at this point the Shuttle would land at about 1pm instead of 12/12:30. At about 8:17am, the NASA 747 SCA with piggy-backed Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from Edwards AFB for the last time and began its final journey home. Unfortunately, after a little while NASA decided to change the programming on the TV and switch to some educational programs about satellites, so we lost the only real live updates we had on the Shuttle's progress. Thankfully, as people were waking up and watching the news they'd text me updates with "The Shuttle is over the Golden Gate Bridge right now." People started to show up at our little hill about sunrise parking their cars and waiting around. By 9am there were quite a few people waiting around and chatting, everyone having heard something completely different as far as the flight plan for the Shuttle. It would appear that each news station reported something different, claiming they had the 'real' flight path of the Shuttle which only caused much confusion as to where the Shuttle would actually come from. We knew for sure it'd come from the ocean, but would it make the pass over the north side of the airport first from the sea, or go inland and then swing around doing the pass heading out to the ocean? As time went on, we just decided to look in all directions when the time-frame came and hope for the best.
By 11am, our hill area was full of lots of people, all looking skywards and having their cell phones, tablets, or point and shoot cameras ready. We were the only real photographers in this location, which was exciting for me as I knew we'd be getting some truly unique shots. People were sitting in portable chairs, some had brought radios to listen for live updates and one woman even brought a portable TV! By 11:20am, 10 minutes before the Shuttle was to arrive in the area, the residential hill was packed with people waiting; mostly residents from the area and a few airport personnel who thought it'd be a good spot as we did. We still, however didn't know exactly where the Shuttle was and what direction it'd be coming from. That's when one woman suddenly shouted out "It's currently at Edwards AFB being refueled!" She claimed that's what the radio had said, but we knew better as there was NO way it had gone back to Edwards AFB and it certainly wouldn't need to be refueled. The information was soon corrected as the same woman shouted again "Oh, they said it's currently over Edwards AFB in San Diego!" Again, this was impossible not only because Edwards AFB wasn't anywhere close to San Diego, but again it wouldn't go all the way back to where it had launched from. Finally, someone corrected her saying "I just heard it's over Santa Barbara!" Ah-ha!! It was actually over Vandenberg Air Force Base, what the original woman must have meant. Knowing that it was at that location meant it was heading our way and very close. All eyes looked to the sky as we waited looking for anything moving. Some people used their cameras, others used their binoculars, but a calm silence descended on the area as everyone searched, mostly out towards the ocean. Finally, someone else said "They just said it was at Malibu!" which was just around the corner from the Ventura coastal point we could see in the distance. At that time I also received two text messages echoing that it was in Malibu as well. Every eye in the area was skyward, and then suddenly the searching silence was cut with a loud "THERE IT IS!!"
Over the distant coast point we could see a large white object heading towards the inland. Even with how far away it was, it was still easy to make out the 747 with the Shuttle on top along with the two specs of white that were the trailing NASA F/A-18B Hornet escorts. A loud cheer erupted from everyone as all electronic video and photo capturing devices were raised up to try and get a shot of that distant white shape. The haze had unfortunately gotten very terrible when just about sunrise it was clear and the previous day had perfect weather, so this made getting any good photos very tough. At first it appeared that it was heading our direction, but as we watched it head more inland we realized that it was coming in about 5 miles away from us. Just as soon as we'd seen it, the Shuttle disappeared behind houses and trees and we were no longer able to see it. Fearing that the delay in their take-off may have forced them to abort the first LAX pass, we decided that we'd only wait till about 12pm at this residential hill then we'd quickly race to the Proud Bird area. Another fellow photographer that was with us said he'd go and run further up the hill and see if he could see anything and maybe find out if the Shuttle continued on to the LA landmarks or if it was heading back. Amazingly enough, a lot of the people who were up on this hill were getting into their cars and leaving, perhaps to go chase it to the south side like we were or they just figured that's all they'd see and we about their day. After a few minutes of waiting, the photographer that had gone up the hill came running back saying "IT'S COMING! It's at the end of the runway!" Immediately I ran back and shouted to the people who were still left on the hill "It's coming! It's over the runway right now" as everyone stopped in their tracks and turned. We couldn't see the runway because of the hill we were on, but the Shuttle would pop up above them any second. Turning towards the hill I raised my camera and waited...
It would be impossible to describe the first sight of the Shuttle coming over that hill through words. Even video or still photos couldn't capture just how enormous it was and how beautiful it looked in that moment. Keep in mind, up till then we'd only seen the Shuttle from 5 or more miles away, so seeing it right there nearly on top of you and really low was just incredible. As the 747 and Shuttle pulled up gaining altitude above us it start to bank right giving us a gorgeous look at the Shuttle and the two escorting NASA Hornets. The cheer from all the people still there was intensified greatly as it went over, only barely audible over the sound of the very loud roar of the NASA 747 and the twin engine NASA F-18B Hornet jets. Just as fast as the majestic Shuttle was over us, it was now heading out to the ocean with a right bank and soon the very hazy skies distorted the Shuttle as it continued onward. As the last little hints of sound from the Shuttle dissipated, we decided to start our journey to catch the final pass and landing on the south side. Quickly getting into a car after deciding to carpool, we headed out to try and beat the Shuttle which wouldn't be too much of a challenge as the Shuttle had to pass over a lot of landmarks including Disneyland and Long Beach which were relatively some distance away. Taking off down the streets it didn't seem like a traffic mess all that much, just a few more cars on the road than earlier. Unfortunately, as we turned down the south side of the airport and headed up Imperial towards the freeways we caught up with the traffic and the thousands of people that had come out to see the Shuttle and were waiting. In contrast to the residential hill that we were on, the south side of the airport was literally a scene out of an end-of-the-world Armageddon movie as there were hundreds to thousands of people on anything that they could find that had a view. People stood on the top of every building, every parking structure, in every window, on top of smoke stacks, on top of Jetway ladders, on top of hills, in trees, on cars, on signs, on center dividers, and even on top of ladders. As we neared the entrance to the freeways it really looked like something out of a movie where the world's electricity had stopped... there were cars stopped on the overpasses with people outside their cars watching, there were people standing on the sides of the freeways and in the middle of the street, it was very creepy yet amazing to see. The police had just about given up, not being able to do anything when thousands of people just stop and fearing if they did try to do anything it'd cause accidents. Some streets were closed by the Police because they were so crowded with people and cars and they were telling everyone to just get out of their car and watch it as they weren't going to be moving anywhere anytime soon.
This presented us with a problem as we didn't go down the route I was thinking we travel (not that the other route might have been any better). I hadn't anticipated the streets being THIS bad and we soon found ourselves quickly running out of options when every parking lot was double or triple parked and people were crowding every nook and cranny possible. We made it to Aviation Blvd where we were going to turn in, but the traffic was completely stopped and it'd be impossible for us to go down the route we wanted to. As we continued on down Imperial we found there just was no parking, and soon we were passing the freeways and heading into not the best part of LA. Still, we were in the flight path of the Shuttle, so we picked the nearest residential street in Lennox that we could and drove down it trying to find some flat land. The problem with the area was the towering power lines that made our options limited. Because of the traffic we'd encountered we were also running out of time as I'd gotten a text saying the Shuttle had passed Disneyland and was heading back. We found a large field that was in the back of Lennox Middle School and decided this was the best we were unfortunately going to be able to do as the Shuttle was inbound and could appear at any moment. Quickly getting out of the car we found we couldn't enter the school field because of large gated fences, but at least from where there were no immediate trees or power lines just in front of us, so we had a pretty good window to shoot the Shuttle until it was obstructed. We weren't alone as even on this street corner there were a lot of people out watching the Shuttle make the pass. A PA announcement we heard from the Middle School telling teachers to let the kids go out to the field to see the Shuttle fly over and soon the sound of children rang in the air as they ran out and looked up at the sky. We waited for a few moments scanning what distant sky we could see between trees and houses and suddenly the Shuttle appeared inbound for the last pass over LAX. I was amazed yet again at even though the Shuttle was distant it appeared enormous in size.
After being blocked by power lines initially, the Shuttle finally popped up into blank sky with distant white puffy clouds and passed in front of us disappearing over the elevated freeway to our right with the escorting Hornets. Though a bit further than I wanted to be, it was still easy to get shots of the Shuttle and 747 due to sheer size. The kids at the Middle School cheered as it went over and the otherwise silent residential area we were in was filled with the sound of shutter clicks as we took photos at a mad rate. After the Shuttle disappeared from view, we thought about trying to relocate to the other side of the school where we'd be closer to the Shuttle, but we didn't know how long the 360 turn to land would take for the Shuttle, so we stayed put. It seemed like a long time for the Shuttle to return, but once again between the houses and the trees we spotted it headed our way. We thought we'd heard that it was going to do an additional pass over LAX, but now that we could see it between the trees we could clearly see the landing gear deployed and the flaps down, not to mention it was much slower. Once it again cleared the power lines it drifted in front of us with one of the Hornets really close and tight on the Shuttle has it went by for the final time and the last few seconds that a Space Shuttle will ever be airborne. As it disappeared behind the freeway above us, we realized that it was all over and history had been made. The distant roar of the engines for one final time meant that the NASA 747 had touched down at LAX and the Hornets broken off to head to another destination.
With the 747 and Shuttle on the ground and now stopped at LAX, we decided to brave the mass exiting crowds to try to get up to the south side Hill that we had originally thought of shooting from as it'd be a good spot to at least get some shots of the Shuttle in front of the United hangar where the Shuttle would be taken off of the NASA 747 and stored until it's October 12 road departure to the California Science Center. Getting back into the car, we took the long way around to the Hill and actually didn't hit as much traffic as we thought, unlike had we gone the main faster routes which were jam packed with departing cars. We had to park a bit of a ways away due to the Police still having the surrounding streets blocked off, but it was no big deal walking. Once we got to the Hill there were still a lot of people, Police, and media hanging around. A lot of the media trucks were finishing up live segments or packing up to leave. Police were clearing the area of road blocks while those that had gone there to watch the Shuttle were slowly departing. LAX had returned back to normal operations with airliners and cargo aircraft departing every few minutes on the north and south sides. There were quite a few photographers still at the look out shooting these aircraft as they departed and watching the 747 with Shuttle in the distance which had now come to a rest and been shut down. Unfortunately, they had taxied the 747 up to the United hangar in a way that from the Hill you could only see the rear end of the aircraft and the Shuttle, so photo opportunities were limited. After hanging out for a bit and chatting with some photographers comparing photos and seeing how it was for everyone on the Hill we took off headed back to our original residential hill on the far north west side to get our cars that we had left in order to carpool. Along the way we decided to see if we could see any other angles of the parked 747 with Shuttle and found two locations that offered partial views, mostly just of the Shuttle and an obstructed NASA 747 because of power lines or trees. After getting some last few photos, it was time to call it a day for us as we'd not slept at all and it was about 3pm without any of us having had any lunch. Exhausted and hungry, we went back to our cars and split ways, a few of the photographers going back to see if they could get any other angles or wait until the early hours of the morning when Shuttle Endeavour would be 'de-mated' (taken off) the NASA 747 via huge cranes that were already set up at LAX.
For my friend and I who'd driven up together from Orange County, getting some food at the In-N-Out by the north east side of the airport meant energy and we could watch some of the airliners travel mere feet above our heads. Reflecting on what we'd seen, we agreed that it was worth it to partake on this journey to see history in the making and sadness that it went by so quickly. This 'Final Mission' of the Space Shuttle Endeavour was a huge event for thousands and thousands of people all over Southern California. It wasn't until watching the news that evening or going online that the scope of this historic flight could be measured with Social Networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every news website in the area reporting with video and photos being posted. It wouldn't surprised me it hundreds of thousands of photos were taken from every electronic device imaginable. Every angle of the Endeavour was photographed from just about every spot of its final journey. Soon, the internet became a hub of "Where did you see the Shuttle?" and "What photos did you get?" and continued to be flooded with the sights and sounds of the Shuttle well into days after that Friday. As I had thought, this event exploded far bigger than I think most people thought it would in terms of the coverage and people who made the effort to see and capture this aircraft. It just goes to show that we all do look at the Space Shuttles as vehicles to another world, something alien to us but full of the dreams of mankind to explore the new frontier that is so vast that our minds can't comprehend. All at once the entire Southern California valley shut down for a little while as everyone raced to catch a glimpse of history and see the retiring of a legacy. With the Shuttle Endeavour now de-mated from the NASA 747 and currently stored in the United hangar awaiting its October 12 journey to the final resting place (which opens to the public on October 30, 2012) and Shuttle fever subsided we look to what's next with mankind's travels in space with limited budgets and funding. While NASA currently has new ideas for future spacecraft that will take us into space these Shuttles that are now retired will remain as a tribute to mankind's progression in space flight getting us closer than ever to the stars.
As a little epilogue, as we were eating at In-N-Out watching the aircraft land and depart from the northern runways, we were very lucky enough to spot two GIANT Airbus A380 airliners taxiing to depart LAX. I'd seen the A380 aircraft before, but in a far distance, so seeing them much closer makes them appear even larger than the NASA 747 with Shuttle! The largest airliner in the world, the Airbus A380 can only land at limited airports because of its massive size. After watching the first A380 depart from In-N-Out, we decided to race back to our original starting point up on the residential hill to catch the second A380 as it climbed up at the end of the runway and over the hills. Almost 5 hours after the Shuttle Endeavour has done the first amazing pass over LAX from this location we were right back on the hill waiting for the A380. A woman jogger was passing by as she spotted us remarking "Are you guys waiting for that aircraft that came by earlier?" Hearing the engine roar of the A380 in the distance and knowing that in a mere second the A380 would appear from behind the hill I lifted my camera and remarked "We were actually here for the Shuttle earlier; we're actually here for this..." just as the massive A380 popped up with a thunderous roar. The general shock on her face followed by an "OH MY GOSH!" as the A380 climbed into the sky was priceless...