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Up In The Air
September 12, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

See all the aircraft* currently in flight around the world. Also: Google Flights, to help book your own trip.

*(Technically, the site is only able to track aircraft equipped with ADS-B transponders: approximately 60% of current commercial aircraft, with the majority of those in Europe. FlightRadar24 previously)
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (62 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh my God, it's worldwide FlightAware.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 11:42 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh I just love this! It's planes all the way down.
posted by dabug at 11:47 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting...Almost all the US flights are on a 5-minute delay.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2012


Not only am I not seeing any planes, there's a little thing on the left that says "Planes: 0".
posted by DU at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2012


GoogleFlights is cool, but their UI designer needs to be strangled:

Keep the calendars expanded. Every person using the app is going to need to input dates, and it makes no sense to add extra clicks to see and use a required input control.

Odds are, people are also going to want to fiddle with the dates, which makes it even more important to leave the calendars up on the screen.

Why does virtually every travel site do this? It's user-hostile, and makes no sense.
posted by schmod at 11:53 AM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I saw this shit in Under Siege II - the bad guys use a satellite and this website to blow these planes out of the sky.
posted by Think_Long at 11:54 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why does virtually every travel site do this? It's user-hostile, and makes no sense.
I think you answered your own question.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:00 PM on September 12, 2012


Oh my lord, there goes my afternoon.
posted by maryr at 12:12 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the number of commercial planes in the world, in operational condition, is somewhere around 30 000.
posted by Catfry at 12:16 PM on September 12, 2012


Why does virtually every travel site do this? It's user-hostile, and makes no sense.

Accessibility, habit and real estate efficiency maximization, would be my guess.

The calendars are typically seen as "helpers" to the date form fields; that is, the user is expected to enter the dates into the text fields set aside for that purpose -- which can be done without JavaScript -- but if the user has JS enabled, the calendars are shown to provide an easier way to enter the dates. Even on a site like this, which requires JS to operate, the fields need to be the focal point for the dates to help screen readers behave in a useful way. Even if you don't care about non-JS support or disabled users, you still have to provide real estate for the calendars, and that real estate is either in the primary page layout (taking up space) or floating above it (blocking other things, so you want it to be user-initiated.)

Not saying that makes it right; just providing a UX viewpoint.
posted by davejay at 12:34 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I do really like the left-right arrows on the date fields to allow quick single-day adjustments, that's pretty slick.
posted by davejay at 12:34 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume Google Flights is what became of Google buying ITA?
posted by maryr at 12:37 PM on September 12, 2012


The radar is a kind of cool display, but it is pretty misleading for many places. For example, Japan has some of the most crowded skies in the world, but apparently they don't provide ADS-B transponder readings to whatever source that site uses. Still, I think someone should make that site into a screensaver.
posted by miyabo at 12:39 PM on September 12, 2012


This is so cool. Seriously, awesome, awesome. I'm flailing now.
posted by pointystick at 12:43 PM on September 12, 2012


I keep panicking and trying to drag the planes away from each other with my finger so they won't collide. Guess I probably need to cut down on playing games.
posted by Wordshore at 12:45 PM on September 12, 2012


It might also have to do with the fact that it's like 4AM in the morning in Japan, so I'd hope there aren't tons of domestic flights going on right now.
posted by maryr at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2012


Interesting...Almost all the US flights are on a 5-minute delay.

A few weeks ago, it popped into my head that a sophisticated person having real-time knowledge of declassified flight paths & locations could probably determine the whereabouts of classified aircraft in-flight (think Air Force 1 &c.) to within some small-ish area / time frame. I wonder whether that doesn't have something to do with it.
posted by gauche at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2012


(FWIW, I have no idea whether Air Force 1's flight path / location data is indeed classified, but I would be surprised to learn that it wasn't.)
posted by gauche at 12:51 PM on September 12, 2012


Wolfram/Alpha has been doing this for quite some time as well
posted by 2manyusernames at 12:52 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


When you want to take it to the next level. This is about as real as it can get. You can fly the planes (all the way this is real time) listen to the chatter (learn to talk pilot). Talk about role playing.
posted by pdxpogo at 12:54 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


When it's finally fully implemented, ADS-B is going to revolutionize flying and make everyone safer.

The big drawback to modern air traffic control is its centralization - data is collected by controllers (traffic) and flight service stations (weather, generally) and disseminated by ATC providing routing instructions to aircraft. ADS-B is going to decentralize all of this and provide much greater granularity to the data.

Here's how it works now. Aircraft have transponders (Mode C in the US, generally - Mode S is compatible with ADS-B and is more prevalent in Europe) that announce the identifier and altitude of the aircraft - "Hi! I'm N12345 and I'm at 13,000 feet! Hi! I'm N12345..." ATC picks up the transponder on radar and the identifier and altitude are displayed next to each target. ATC sometimes also gets weather radar information that can be provided to pilots over voice radio - "looks like you've got some heavy storms about 20 nm ahead, turn right and descend to avoid weather". It works, but it's clumsy and if one piece of equipment goes down (say, a weather radar) then large swathes of airspace are without data.

Now, airliners and smaller airplanes all have sensors on them - weather radar, lightning strike finders, traffic avoidance, and GPS. A Mode S transponder coupled with a GPS is quite a bit smarter than Mode C - it can provide position. "Hi! I'm N12345 and I'm located at xxdeg yymin zzsec by qqdeg wwmin ppsec at 13,000 feet!" Currently on the market now are Traffic Information Systems (TIS, compared to TCAS or TAS - traffic avoidance systems) that will sit on the airplane and passively collect Mode S data, which then gets displayed on a map. ADS-B will take Mode S (altitude/location of the ownship) and include data from all your other sensors - "Hi! I'm N12345, I'm at [location] and at [altitude] and I see [weather] ahead and [traffic] at [locations]!"

All that data gets transmitted out to the cloud (quite literally, in some cases). Receivers on the ground pick it up and it, along with transmissions from everyone else in the sky and ground reporting, is collated together to provide a big picture of everything that's going on, everywhere. That data is retransmitted out from ground stations to anyone in the air that can pick it up. Much more information to many more people.

The "data out" from airplanes is currently in process; "data in" doesn't have a mandate quite yet so there aren't many products that can take advantage of it. The thinking is that large, expensive radar installations may be discontinued in favor of ADS-B but there are some problems with that so I think both will be used in tandem for quite awhile. It's very cool technology.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:54 PM on September 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


gauche: AF1 is not tracked but you usually get the destination and approximate arrival time when TFR's are issued. You can track the press plane as a rule.
posted by pdxpogo at 1:07 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, if we see two that are going to run into each other, is there someone we should, like, call or something?
posted by HuronBob at 1:07 PM on September 12, 2012


Along the same lines, FlightAware has a mobile app which has a "nearby" function.
I use it on a fairly regular basis to answer "Where's the plane going, Daddy?" questions from my preschooler.
posted by madajb at 1:13 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad: "Interesting...Almost all the US flights are on a 5-minute delay."

The delayed data (orange planes) comes from an FAA data feed. The yellow planes are broadcasting their position and are updated in near real time. There's a 10-20 second delay before it gets to them, and however long it takes for their server to send it over to your browser. Problem is that most planes in the US don't have ADS-B capability. My ground station has seen 70 Mode S equipped aircraft in the past hour*, only 3 of which sent ADS-B position data.

If you have a Mode S/ADS-B receiver, you can easily contribute the data you're collecting to the site so we can all see it. Also, there is software out there that can locate aircraft without ADS-B positions using a variety of methods, some cooperative, some not. That won't show up on FlightRadar24, though.

* ADS-B on commercial airliners is an extension of the existing Mode S transponder, which most commercial and many private aircraft have. It supports TCAS, provides type data and other stuff to controllers on the ground. ADS-B adds track and position reports.

I have a really crappy ground station. It's a $20 USB TV dongle connected to a poorly built quarter wave ground plane antenna hanging in a second story window. If I had a proper antenna on the roof, above the trees, and a receiver that wasn't a hackish mess, I'd see a lot more aircraft.
posted by wierdo at 1:19 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel like I should be watching this on a huge screen in a dark room while petting a cat.
posted by The Whelk at 1:22 PM on September 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is quite possibly one of the most fascinating things I've ever seen.

Fifteen years ago I was at the Museum of Flight in Washington DC and they had a similar display, showing all commercial traffic over the USA. If you told me then that in the future I could see the same data, but world wide on my phone while slurping Korean noodles at lunch, I would have never believed it, and been alot more excited about the future,.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:25 PM on September 12, 2012


This flight has a very ... interesting path to follow. Just another sign they're using contrails to dust the west.*
*Joking. I'm not insane.
posted by msbutah at 1:42 PM on September 12, 2012


I should mention that there's another site similar to FlightRadar24 called PlaneFinder. Also, the FAA data is incomplete, as it does not include aircraft that have been blocked by their owners. If an aircraft is equipped with ADS-B Out capability and is within range of one of the participating ground stations, it will show up on the map regardless.

Another interesting facet of it is that the aircraft don't actually transmit their tail number. They transmit a 24 bit ICAO ID. In the US and some other countries, the ID transmitted is algorithmically determined by the tail number. In others, the ID transmitted bears no relation to the registration. In some, the ICAO ID is assigned to the airframe when it is built and remains the same no matter who the registrant is. In others it bears no relation to anything. In both of the latter cases the only way to know what tail number the aircraft you're seeing bears is to have eyes on the aircraft or reference a database of other people's sightings.
posted by wierdo at 1:46 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


ATC sometimes also gets weather radar information that can be provided to pilots over voice radio - "looks like you've got some heavy storms about 20 nm ahead, turn right and descend to avoid weather".

Wait - they only get the weather nanometers ahead of time?!
posted by maryr at 1:57 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nautical miles.
posted by Catfry at 2:16 PM on September 12, 2012


It's fascinating to me, for some reason, that the route from Detroit to Seoul goes up over the arctic circle. Even more interesting is that the route from Chicago to Houston on Delta Airlines apparently involves crossing the Pacific.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:21 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The world is a globe and flat Mercator maps distort the geometry. The Great Circle Mapper is a handy tool for seeing the shortest route to get between any airports in the world.
posted by Catfry at 2:27 PM on September 12, 2012


I have a really crappy ground station. It's a $20 USB TV dongle connected to a poorly built quarter wave ground plane antenna hanging in a second story window. If I had a proper antenna on the roof, above the trees, and a receiver that wasn't a hackish mess, I'd see a lot more aircraft.

Right, you're the expert I can hassle then.

This site has always frustrated me because no planes are ever picked up over Tasmania, where I live. The same goes for the Plane Finder site/app. I'm assuming no-one down here is receiving these signals and putting them online.

So, starting from scratch (a computer and an internet connection are a given), any idea how much would it cost me to put together a rig to contribute local Tasmanian data to this map?
posted by Jimbob at 2:39 PM on September 12, 2012


Also of interest.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:44 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


And as I say that, I just notice a plane over Tasmania on the map. Maybe it's just that noone ever visits here...
posted by Jimbob at 2:45 PM on September 12, 2012


There are very few flight routes going over Tasmania. Actually probably none, except those going to or from Tasmania.
Sucks to be so far south on the Southern Hemisphere.
posted by Catfry at 2:49 PM on September 12, 2012


The shortest route between Buenos Aires and Adelaide is thoretically passing close over Tasmania, but the route goes so far from any runways that it isn't used far as I know. I don't think any scheduled flights cross Antarctica.

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=SCL-ADL&MS=wls&DU=mi
posted by Catfry at 2:56 PM on September 12, 2012


Oops, Santiago, Chile I meant, not buenos Aires.
posted by Catfry at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2012


Jimbob: "So, starting from scratch (a computer and an internet connection are a given), any idea how much would it cost me to put together a rig to contribute local Tasmanian data to this map?"

Anywhere from around $300US to around $1000US to take the easy and better route, depending on what receiver you buy, what antenna you buy, what mounting hardware you need, and how long the run of cable from your antenna is. Basically, the higher you get your antenna, the more stuff you'll see. Trees kill the signal if it's not within a few miles.

The cheap way, which is what I presently have (I'm thinking I'll probably buy a Mode S Beast for ~ $400 if I can ever figure out how to get a better antenna setup) costs about $50 for an RTL SDR dongle (mentioned on MeFi previously), a bit of electrical wire, and a couple of adapters/connectors from Radio Shack or your local equivalent. That plus a Linux machine (or virtual machine running in VirtualBox or similar) to decode the data using gr-air-modes. There doesn't seem to presently be a Windows program capable of doing Mode S/ADS-B decoding at the moment. (unless you can compile GNURadio on windows yourself, that is)

It doesn't require a terribly beefy processor if you're just doing ADS-B decoding. I'm running it on my netbook with an AMD E-350 CPU clocked at 1.6GHz. It uses a bit more than one of the two cores to do the necessary processing.

The problem with the dongles is that they're really crappy. They're just on the bare edge of having a sampling rate high enough to capture the 1Mbps data stream. It would work a lot better if they could do 6 or 8Msps. Plus the software is something of a hack, so it will miss frames due to that alone. If you're really interested in the project, the GNS 5980 (a commercial miniADSB, from what I understand) is available for a bit over $200US. That's the cheapest real receiver I've seen.

At the high end, you have the Kinetic SBS-3, which has the expected ADS-B receiver, but also has two software defined radios each capable of receiving 3 different radio channels, so you could use them for ACARS decoding (another data downlink from aircraft, but designed to send messages to airline dispatchers) or listening to ATC or whatever strikes your fancy.

The best value is probably the aforementioned Mode S Beast. You also probably want a copy of PlanePlotter so you can view the data (and share with other PP users) and easily share it with FlightRadar24 or whomever. I think it's around $20-30US, but that was like two weeks ago, man. ;)

There's a link to a script that will build GNURadio for you once you have a working Ubuntu or Fedora install on the OsmoCom RTLSDR page. After running that, you just have to follow the instructions for building gr-air-modes. It's much simpler than it looks, it only takes around four or five commands on the command line.
posted by wierdo at 3:43 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


By December 2013, any aircraft flying above 29000 ft in Australian airspace will need to have ADS-B equipment (or special permission), which pretty much forces all commercial aircraft in the area to adopt the technology. By 2016 they will be actually forced to equip or not fly at all. Europe and the US will have the same requirement by 2020. Long story short: expect more data from Tasmania pretty soon as smaller regional aircraft get upgrades.
posted by cardboard at 3:47 PM on September 12, 2012


I retract my earlier "but it's midnight" observation about Japan. It's daylight there now and there still aren't all that many planes. There are also pretty much no flights in Indian, which seems unlikely.
posted by maryr at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2012


The shortest route between Buenos Aires and Adelaide is thoretically passing close over Tasmania

People in Adelaide would be quite surprised if there were really direct flights to South America from there.
posted by Jimbob at 4:40 PM on September 12, 2012


Nautical miles.

SI units or GTFO.
posted by maryr at 4:52 PM on September 12, 2012


It just seems like much to much. We need way more trains.
posted by kaspen at 4:58 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


madajbL I use it on a fairly regular basis to answer "Where's the plane going, Daddy?" questions from my preschooler.

Oh man, I hope she never outgrows that wonder. My dad used to take kid me to the airport all the time, we'd park in a field by the end of the runway to watch planes take off and land. Now, as an adult, I live really close to an airport and use that app for fun all the time. I recently had the pleasure of introducing it to my dad. Full circle.

Also, msbutah, that plane is probably doing some kind of remote sensing.
posted by troika at 5:13 PM on September 12, 2012


I wonder if medivac helicopters will show up on this?

I'm mildly curious if ATC gives them the same road-clearing treatment that ambulances get on the ground, or whether they have their own dedicated flight paths around airports that lead to the helipads at the major hospitals.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:25 PM on September 12, 2012


Google Flights: Sorry, flights from Sydney (SYD) are not currently supported. *sigh*
posted by unliteral at 5:46 PM on September 12, 2012


ceribus peribus: "I wonder if medivac helicopters will show up on this? "

If they're equipped. The ones around here aren't. A couple have Mode S transponders and TCAS, though, so I see them locally, but without any position information, only altitude and ID. One of our police helicopters is the same way, the other doesn't have a transponder.

Speaking of which, it's flying over right now..seriously. 900' is about 200AGL here, so it can't be more than a mile or so out.
posted by wierdo at 5:55 PM on September 12, 2012


I'm seeing weird glitches, where a plane clearly coming from Honolulu is supposedly from Baltimore but when I report the error it reveals the correct flight information in the form for reporting errors.
posted by autoclavicle at 6:08 PM on September 12, 2012


schmod and unliteral: Try hipmunk.com

It's like Google flights, but more usable. And they have a chipmunk!
posted by rlio at 6:11 PM on September 12, 2012


Thanks rlio, that's very good. It keeps the calendar expanded. You can sort by agony (flight time). And it has a chipmunk!
posted by unliteral at 6:22 PM on September 12, 2012


App not available in Australian iTunes Store. Boo!
posted by unliteral at 6:48 PM on September 12, 2012


Sadly, the medivacs around here are do not appear to register.

But! A couple of 757 cargo planes are showing, despite the fact that they are on the ground at Pearson and being readied for the next leg of their route. And their flight plan shows up on the map when you click on them! Neat.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:11 PM on September 12, 2012


I like it that an Airbus A380 (there's one registered to Emirates that's coming in from DXB right now!) have bigger icons than this puny Boeing 737-9GPER belonging to Lion Air that's apparently on an unscheduled stroll over the Straits of Malacca. Neat! Better UX than FlightAware, definitely.
posted by the cydonian at 12:01 AM on September 13, 2012


I feel like I should be watching this on a huge screen in a dark room while petting a cat.

Find yourself a Science on a Sphere installation.

Among the many data sets available is an air traffic projection. It's not real-time, but the fact that it's on a 6 foot diameter globe makes up for it. You can easily visualize the Great Circle routes like a flat map just can't manage.

(You might have to leave the cat at home though)
posted by madajb at 12:23 AM on September 13, 2012


People in Adelaide would be quite surprised if there were really direct flights to South America from there.
posted by Jimbob at 12:40 AM on September 13 [+] [!]


You are right, I just tried to look for any potential shortest route between two airports that would take a plane over Tasmania, regardless of if it exists in reality.
posted by Catfry at 12:34 AM on September 13, 2012


madajb: "Find yourself a Science on a Sphere installation."

Find one? I have a sneaking suspicion I'll be building one! ;)

Of course, I should probably put the computer back in the pinball machine before making new grand plans
posted by wierdo at 12:01 PM on September 13, 2012


I would never have known that AA71, the Frankfurt to Dallas flight, made an unscheduled stop in Tulsa today were it not for ADS-B. Apparently they didn't have enough fuel left over to sit in a holding pattern for a few hours.
posted by wierdo at 1:16 PM on September 13, 2012


While this is (very) cool, ADS-B is no panacea, as it's been proven to be too trusting and
vulnerable to spoofing.
posted by fragmede at 3:41 PM on September 13, 2012


Sort of related is this wonderful live ships map.
posted by Winnemac at 10:16 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


An example of why FlightRadar24 sometimes shows wrong flight numbers: Just now, N398AN, a 767-300 operated by AA landed in Tulsa. Its squitter was transmitting AAL5 as the flight number. In reality, it was operating as AAL9672 on a ferry flight from DFW for maintenance.
posted by wierdo at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2012


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