I've been a photographer longer than I've been a writer, and I'm always looking for great places to shoot. One of my favorites that I return to several times a year is Peachtree-DeKalb Airport in Chamblee, Georgia. You can find references calling it Dekalb-Peachtree Airport, but since the FAA designation is PDK, I will use that.
I've photographed in many commercial and private airfields, including Jackson-Hartfield in Atlanta. But none of them have quite the same vibe as PDK in Chamblee, Georgia. I vaguely remember a time when there was a location at the old Atlanta Airport specifically for plane watching. And while you can watch planes take off and land from any terminal, trying to shoot through the thick-tinted windows is not ideal. Peachtree-DeKalb Airport in Chamblee, Georgia, caters to the local aviation buffs better than any airport I have visited.
It's a short drive into PDK from the entrance on Clairmont Avenue, just about a mile north of Buford Highway. Watch for the control tower and pull into the public parking lot to the right of it. The lot is next to a fence, behind which you can spot private jets parked on the apron by the hangars located there. Facing that fence, turn to the left and walk over to where the fence turns back toward the main terminal. Here you will find a seating area from which to watch the planes land and take off. Note that the seating is not covered, so it can get sweltering in the summer with the sun coming off the tarmac.
You will be facing southeast, and on a clear day, can see Stone Mountain, about ten miles away. The seating is facing the junction of runways 2R/20L and 16/34 with the taxiway beyond it. PDK is the second busiest airport in Georgia, so expect to be busy, especially if you are taking pictures. Depending on the wind, the planes usually land from the left, giving you plenty of warning to prepare your shot. At the same time, planes are taking off in the other direction and taxing everywhere so that it can be a three-ring circus at times. It is rare to wait for more than a couple of minutes for something to be going on.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of planes parked on the apron to grab your attention. Sometimes, I will just walk along the fence admiring them when I get tired of swiveling back and forth, trying to watch all the activity. I don't know how the people in the nearby control tower keep up. There are almost always some vintage and old military planes parked near the fence.
Be sure to check their website for special events as airshows and special events are frequent. Pro Tip: Find out when an airshow is coming and arrive the Thursday or Friday before. You will get to see most of the planes without the crowds that will arrive the day of the show.
If you need a break, there is a restaurant with outside seating from which to watch the action. And if you bring your kids and they lose interest in watching the planes, there is even an aviation park for them to play in.
Before or after your visit, head next door to the 57th Fighter Group Restaurant. They are open for lunch and dinner and have great but pricey food. But outside, you can find some old army relics. You even have to pass Checkpoint Charlie to get into the parking lot.
If you are an aviation buff or just want an interesting place to spend a few hours, head to Peachtree-DeKalb Airport in Chamblee, Georgia. You won't be disappointed.