Satellite photos of airplanes in flight
August 28, 2005 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Satellite photos of airplanes in flight. This is a great time-waster, but for some reason I keep looking for more (you may need to adjust the zoom bar on the page to maximum). These are all at the Atlanta airport, and I was surprised how close they were to each other.... check out the one that left before, and the one before that, and the one before that... Those are all taking off, here's one that's landing. Can anybody find any more? Or does anyone care?
posted by centerpunch (55 comments total)
I want to see the satalite photos of public officials taking suitcases of money from special interest groups in broad daylight.
With those metal strips in the money, they can track large sums, right?
posted by Balisong at 3:41 PM on August 28, 2005

BOS; looks to be three landing 737's lined up like ducks.
posted by Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs at 3:59 PM on August 28, 2005

That's really neat!
posted by headspace at 4:04 PM on August 28, 2005

There was a website I saw that had collected 20+ pics of planes at high-altitude caught by satellite. I also saw one that had "lucky" pics of important events from a bird's eye view (I think I found it thru MeFi. Damned if I'll be able to now).

Then, of course, there's the M$ edits that remove competitors entirely from the satellite images.

Ah, yes! the eye-in-the-sky is so much fun!
posted by mystyk at 4:04 PM on August 28, 2005

Is it possible that those are all photos of the same plane at different points of the same take-off? I'm not sure if this is actually satellite or just aerial photography here, but the scrollable images are just lots of small images stitched together, correct?
posted by stopgap at 4:06 PM on August 28, 2005

They could be taken at different times, but I doubt it's the same plane over and over. The overlapping images are often months apart. I found this ghost building once, that appears to be two images from completely different times pasted together.
So it could be that maybe one plane is flying there in April, and another one in July, and on the overlap they look pretty close together.
They can't really be that close - planes have to be a certain distance behind each other, or at least the runway has to be clear when the second plane takes off, and these are so close that it looks impossible.
posted by easternblot at 4:14 PM on August 28, 2005

I'm inclined to think stopgap is right. No ATC would allow them to fly so close behind each other.
posted by randomstriker at 4:14 PM on August 28, 2005

Was this it, stopgap? [related thread]
posted by Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs at 4:15 PM on August 28, 2005

I screwed up my BOS link... it should be this
posted by Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs at 4:20 PM on August 28, 2005

easternblot, I think that's a Star Destroyer. The Emperor will be most displeased.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:37 PM on August 28, 2005

Those BOS planes look about a mile apart, and probably land at about 150 mph, which would put them 24 seconds apart, which doesn't seem impossible.

The Atlanta planes look a bit closer.....
posted by centerpunch at 4:54 PM on August 28, 2005

If you'll notice, though, the shadows on all the planes are at about the same angle. (remembering that planes further away from the runway are higher, so the shadows are further away). If the pictures were taken at different times, they were very, very close in terms of sun angle, meaning it would have to be within a couple of weeks, at almost precisely the same time of day. I'm not at all sure that the spy sat orbits would allow them do to that... I think they're pretty irregular, so that they cover a lot of different ground.

Atlanta is the single busiest airport in the country, and one of the busiest in the world. The simplest explanation may be that the planes really are stacked that closely on takeoff.
posted by Malor at 5:02 PM on August 28, 2005

(By shadows, I mean the shadows cast by the planes onto the ground. They're awfully consistent.)
posted by Malor at 5:03 PM on August 28, 2005

I have flown in and out of Atlanta more times than I care to remember (basically every time I have flown since 1969 since Atlanta is the hub that serves my city) and those separations look awfully close to what I see in person. Atlanta usually uses two parallel runways at peak traffic times, so even though those airplanes are about 3000 feet apart by my estimate, they are probably taking off from alternating runways so there is plenty of time between planes on each runway. I am not a pilot though; perhaps some one who is can enlighten us more.
posted by TedW at 5:03 PM on August 28, 2005

, Tokyo, Japan..

Unfortunately, Narita had no real satellite coverage.


posted by lundman at 5:15 PM on August 28, 2005

There is a moving Shinkansen (bullet train) as well. Anyone notice how long this suckers are? You certainly do when you have to walk the length of the platform..

Although, Google Pedometer claims its 400m.. doesn't sound right ;)

posted by lundman at 5:25 PM on August 28, 2005

Well damn, google just tells me:
Nowadays, the trains are known in Japan as Shinkansen trains. ... With each car measuring 25 m (82 ft) in length, the longest trains are 400 m (1/4 mile)
posted by lundman at 5:26 PM on August 28, 2005

I can't believe you found one! I've been checking out airports on google maps and google earth for some time now and haven't seen a single one.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:38 PM on August 28, 2005

I'm going with the "same plane" theory.
posted by Krrrlson at 5:48 PM on August 28, 2005

We've got a bunch of planes posted on our site (128 right now), although they're for Google Earth only.

People seem to love finding these!
posted by mickmel at 6:07 PM on August 28, 2005

These look like screenshots from SimCity. Heh!

My mom lives in a very open area one county south of the Atlanta airport, and on a clear night, it's almost alarming how many airplane lights you can see in the sky from her deck... you can actually SEE how they're stacked up, all (seemingly) coming straight at you. Luckily she's far enough away that you can't hear the planes, but since her property is open enough that you can see the sky 360 degrees around, it's very easy to see the patterns that they're flying.
posted by BoringPostcards at 6:29 PM on August 28, 2005

I found one in my area. I was flying up the coast in Google Earth, saw it below me and zoomed in. I live in a tourist area and you see a lot of banners flying up and down the beaches. Many of the banner planes fly out of the little airstrip on Hwy 98 just East of Navarre. That's where this little plane has to be coming from. In Google Earth you can zoom in much closer and see the banner better. It is pretty far back behind the plane.
posted by wsg at 6:32 PM on August 28, 2005

Here's one arriving or departing from my tiny home field, Greensburg-Jeannete Regional.
posted by tss at 6:53 PM on August 28, 2005

Here's one leaving the San Fernando valley.
posted by euphorb at 6:56 PM on August 28, 2005

easternblot, that ghost building picture is probably just a view of what the site looks like today. When they tore down Exhibition Stadium they probably just didn't re-pave the surrounding area, leaving the shadow of the old stadium to stand out as a fresh black outline in a sea of old grey. The reason you can't see The Grand Stand/outfield bleachers is that they did more extensive landscaping in the area that it used to fill.
posted by Chuckles at 6:56 PM on August 28, 2005

I just found what looks to be an ultra-light at the mouth of the Destin, FL, pass. Again, in Google Earth you can zoom in much closer.
posted by wsg at 7:05 PM on August 28, 2005

That last link is wrong. Here's the right one. Sorry bout that.
posted by wsg at 7:07 PM on August 28, 2005

Oddly, I just found another one. In Google Earth you can see that it is flying so low that just underneath it you can see the reflection of it in the water.
posted by wsg at 7:15 PM on August 28, 2005

Many curiousities at GoogleSightseeing
posted by TuffAustin at 7:32 PM on August 28, 2005

Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier International
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 7:47 PM on August 28, 2005

This is what the internet is for.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:48 PM on August 28, 2005

There's one landing in Buenos Aires. Have fun finding it!
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:55 PM on August 28, 2005

mickmel, what's the point of having to log in to get google earth locations?
posted by tomplus2 at 8:32 PM on August 28, 2005

Hong Kong. And while we're in Hong Kong, the satellite caught the destruction of the runways at Kai Tak
posted by nathan_teske at 9:17 PM on August 28, 2005

Plane approaching Fiumicino just outside Rome, if I've done this right. This is a very cool threat, btw.
posted by schmedeman at 9:44 PM on August 28, 2005


...jeez. Spelling.
posted by schmedeman at 9:44 PM on August 28, 2005

Has anyone caught an airplane at HIGH altitude - the ones I've looked at were all down load, which is easier to see with the shadow ... but 'ya gotta believe there's some shots out there of planes at 30,000+ feet ...
posted by RonZ at 10:38 PM on August 28, 2005

A lot of these oddities were first discovered on the Keyhole Community BBS (Keyhole was Google Earth before Google bought it), and are "bookmarked" within GE if you turn on the appropriate layer. It's interesting for browsing an area, because it's a type of social bookmarking that points out interesting things you otherwise wouldn't know about, although of course it's maddeningly inconsistent (and some things got bookmarked multiple times). For the scavenger hunt satellite map games, it sort of takes all the fun away, though.

The plane at ATL is considered to be multiple images taken of the same plane. The photography -- at this resolution -- would have to be by high-altitude aerial platform, probably well above 20,000 feet. It's a plane, probably traveling faster than the 150mph that the dual jet needs to take off, but not a whole lot. It's really not surprising that in its own process of moving, it captures the same moving object more than once (as long as they're going in the same general direction).

you can actually SEE how they're stacked up

One of the best places for this is the Northwest Tollway outside Chicago. A major queue for O'Hare stretches out that way, and as you travel along you can see plane after plane readying for landing. But those planes aren't all the same color and same model in a row. ;-)
posted by dhartung at 10:53 PM on August 28, 2005

There's one over the parking lot just to the left/west of the one landing at Atlanta. (The one linked to in this front page post.)

I never had any idea that Atlanta had so many terminals - I've never flown through/to there. Am I safe in assuming there's an underground concourse connecting all of those? Where's the arrival or departure pickup/dropoff areas? Looking at it from satellite, it doesn't make any sense!
posted by loquacious at 11:28 PM on August 28, 2005

Google Sightseeing had a nice picture of Gibraltar recently. What's cool is you can see the cars lined up behind a barrier waiting for a plane to land. And if you scroll right far enough, you can see the plane on approach. A little drama in a satellite photo.
posted by Nelson at 11:54 PM on August 28, 2005

yup, there's an underground concourse between 'em all. Here's a small map; click to make it bigger. The "North Terminal" and "South Terminal" are basically different sides of the same big-ass building. The end of the building has the subway station, then each side has its own baggage claim and check-in counters. (And pickup/dropoff areas outside.) Security is in the middle and is shared by both sides, then you go down an escalator and get on a train to go to the terminal buildings. (The "T" gates are on one end of the big main terminal building.)

And yes, it's big.
posted by Vidiot at 11:55 PM on August 28, 2005

Thanks, CP! It's been great fun exploring these pix.

Looking closely at the lead photo of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), you can see four aircraft images—counting one still on the ground—departing eastward on/off Runway 8R/26L, and they appear to be about 3,000 feet apart. [BTW, I used the free Screen Calipers graphics tool, measured against the Google Maps distance scale. You can also estimate distances using the runway dimensions: ATL 8R/26L is 150 feet wide by 10,000 feet long.]

According to FAA Air Traffic Control regulations, the minimum horizontal distance between successive aircraft taking off from the same runway is called Same Runway Separation (SRS). SRS can lengthen according to airplane classification, speed, weather, traffic density, and other conditions. Air Traffic Control (ATC) at each airport issues takeoff and landing clearances to aircraft and adjusts the separation between them as needed (more ATC explanations here).

Large multi-engine passenger planes—Boeing 737s, 747s, 767s and the like—are classified by weight as Category III aircraft. ATL is the primary hub for Delta Airlines, and their fleet is mostly larger Category III aircraft. However, Delta Connection has smaller commuter aircraft including Canadair Regional Jets and Embraer ERJs, which are still classified as Category III. (Note that these planes have aft-mounted twin engines just like the four images seen on/off ATL Runway 8R/26L.)

The puzzle in the photo is that the minimum SRS between departing Category III aircraft should be 6,000 feet, about twice their apparent spacing. As Dhartung mentioned above, there is a Google Earth Community thread that discusses this problem, but without a conclusive answer.

If these are multiple images of the same plane, why don't we also see multiple images of cars and trucks on the highways slightly northeast of the airport? Due to their slower speed (perhaps 1/4 that of the planes), their multiple images would be about 4X closer together.

posted by cenoxo at 1:28 AM on August 29, 2005

Airplane shadow—no plane in sight—on the ground about 3-1/2 miles east of DIA.

Must have been Wonder Woman...
posted by cenoxo at 2:03 AM on August 29, 2005

Airplane shadow—no plane in sight

It's the stealth fighter!

Hmmm, maybe it's the shadow from the photography plane, except then it would show up periodically, and I don't see more.

So, maybe it's the shadow from the photography plane, and Google normally photoshops them out, but this one slipped through..........
posted by centerpunch at 5:18 AM on August 29, 2005

Yes, or it could be a composite image, with the part with a plane left out in favour of a planeless image, but the part with the plane's shadow left in.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:44 AM on August 29, 2005

I found this plane in flight when I was searching for my parent's house just West of Ottawa, Canada.
posted by dripdripdrop at 6:49 AM on August 29, 2005

See DFW for more shadows without planes (or at least I can't find them). Look at the NW corner of the airport and find the plane taking off to the north from runway 36R...the shadow is at about 10 o'clock. There is a great sequence of five shadows but I can only find the plane in the first three. These plane images also look way too close, seem to be the same model of aircraft, and have the same shiny aluminum appearance. DFW is American Air's home and these look like AA planes but the seperation seems a little tight.
posted by cyclopz at 7:00 AM on August 29, 2005

Over at GoogleGlobetrotting, there is an entire category devoted to airplanes in flight. There are hundreds of them, from 747's over Lake Erie, to Cessna's casting long shadows in Alaska to F-14's in flight.
posted by Jazznoisehere at 8:50 AM on August 29, 2005

Oops, wrong aircraft ID on my part. Zooming in on CP's Atlanta photo, you can see that the length of the aircraft on the ground is nearly the same as the 150' width of Runway 8R/26L. Most likely this plane (and its subsequent multiple images?) is a Delta MD-88 or MD-90, not a Canadair CRJ200 or Embraer ERJ.

Here are some other Google Earth discussions about multiple planes (image here) and planeless shadows.

Great stuff, Google.
posted by cenoxo at 9:11 AM on August 29, 2005

How to deconstruct Google Maps URLS.
posted by cenoxo at 9:38 AM on August 29, 2005

I believe it's been confirmed by Google Maps that the aircraft images at Hartsfield are of the same aircraft in various stages of takeoff.

You'll see this at numerous other airports featured on Google Sightseeing. If the speed of the aircraft taking the images is the same as the aircraft taking off (and in the same direction) it would be difficult not to capture multiple images.
posted by watsondog at 9:56 AM on August 29, 2005

cenexo, you wouldn't see several multiple images of a slower-moving vehicle because, in order for an object to appear multiple times, it must travel into the next vertical sweep of the satellite's camera in time to be captured in that next image. If, for example, the satellite photographs a 3000-foot-wide swath of ground, and then 7 seconds later photographs an adjacent strip 3000 feet to the east, and so on, the object in question must travel from one strip to the next at 430 feet/second (about 300 mph) to appear more than twice.

There should be single pairs of images of slower-moving vehicles that were near the eastern edge of a strip and just made it into the western edge of the next one, but on the other hand, cars and trucks on the highway are so small and hard to identify in a road full of other vehicles that such pairs would be hard to pick out and even harder to prove. We can be fairly certain these plane images are the same jet because, even in ATL, planes aren't stacked that closely on takeoff, but cars can easily drive behind other, similar-looking cars.

On preview, watsondog just said the same thing, but more succinctly.
posted by dreish at 10:43 AM on August 29, 2005

cenoxo: I believe the planes are at half the minimal separation because they are taking off from two parallel runways. ATL has four runways, I think usually two are used for departures and two for arrivals.
posted by azazello at 5:55 AM on August 30, 2005

watsondog: Most, if not all, images on Google are satellite, not aircraft-made. Due to the changing angle of incidence and lighting conditions, stitches between satellite images are usually easy to see. As for the aircraft at ATL and other airports, they really do stack them this close on takeoff - have you ever been in a takeoff queue? They line up very close after each other. I can't be sure, but I think those are different planes.
posted by azazello at 6:02 AM on August 30, 2005

Once, while taxiing to my gate at ATL, I had a perfect view right down the runway. With my naked eye, I could see 5 separate aircraft heading in for a landing. I have no idea what visibility was that day, but it was an incredible sight to me. It seems plausible that those are separate aircraft.
posted by mike9322 at 10:33 AM on August 30, 2005

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