Flight trackers are nothing new. Most have the useful ability to let you designate a commercial flight and see where it is in the sky. Handy if you need to pick someone up at the airport and want to know if they’ve hit an in-flight slow-down (or caught a good tail wind). A few show you lots of planes, letting you see just how busy the airways are. Then there’s Flightradar24, which goes even further.
When you tune into the web version of Flightradar24, you get to see a busy sky indeed, and as you zoom in, you can start to pick out the flight routes, those roads in the sky airliners follow. Click on any specific plane and you get a pop-up box with a wealth of flight information such as flight number, destination, origin, type of aircraft, altitude, speed, and more.
But there’s an even cooler element waiting to be discovered. With the click of a button, you can put your self in the cockpit of the plane, courtesy of Google Earth (which means you’ll need the Google Earth plug-in for your browser – you can download it from the Flightradar24 site).
The cockpit view shows you what the pilots are seeing along with gauges for direction, altitude and airspeed, and shows a two-dimensional view of your plane moving across the map. Switches let you turn off the map or instruments, and even switch to an exterior view, showing a 3-D model of the plane over the Google Earth view. There’s also a button to rotate the viewing angle around the plane. If you’ve used flight simulators it will all be familiar, but there’s something special about seeing the virtual pilot’s view from a plane actually in flight.
Flight data comes from two sources: real-time ADS-B transponders and, in the US and Canada, that is augmented with FAA data, on a 5-minute delay. The two sources are identified with different colored planes so you can tell them apart.
There are mobile versions of Flightradar24 available for iOS or Android, as well as a desktop application for Macs, although the cockpit view is only available on the web. The mobile versions include an augmented reality feature, allowing you to point your device’s camera at a plane in the sky and get flight information about it.