It can often be disconcerting for new people who meet me when they realise I’m a massive, anorak-wearing aviation geek. But aviation is something that unites us all. We all board those giant metal tubes with wings with a sense of excited trepidation. We all know the joys of miniature packets of peanuts and/or pretzels. We all hold our breaths as we barrel down the runway at 180mph before escaping the bonds of our mother planet to spend hours suspended at 39,000ft by nothing more than hope and complex equations. And we’ve all felt that interminable wait while a loved one blasts through the troposphere to distant climes praying for that text message to come in saying they “got down safely”. Flying is great and amazing and awesome. So, if you feel the same way, here is the Ultimate Plane Geek Toolkit…
FlightRadar24: LIVE Flight Tracking
FlightRadar24 uses a visually-engaging embedded Google Map with aircraft icons floating over it. This information is live and is provided by a digital signal broadcast by (most) modern aircraft called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (or ADS-B for short). This signal can be picked up by ground-based receivers connected to the Internet and contains information about an aircraft’s location, heading, altitude, callsign, airframe registration, etc.
The data is provided by amateur enthusiasts (and a few commercial ones too) but anyone can buy an ADS-B receiver and plug it into the FlightRadar24 system. In fact, FR24 are keen to get greater coverage so are offering free receiver equipment to anyone living in certain areas of the globe. More information on that here.
Some aircraft don’t have ADS-B on-board. In particular, I’ve noticed that FlyBe don’t operate the equipment.
The reason ADS-B came about is to stop Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) from having to rely solely on their ground-based radars. Radar (or RADAR to use its proper name because it’s an acronym, for RAdio Detection And Ranging) is affected by things like weather, distance and electrical faults. So some smart alec decided if you’ve got a $150m flying computer cruising around the atmosphere, why not get it to tell you where it is?