Travelling by plane is uncomfortable for many of us, even just the mere thought of it. Although airplane is the safest mean of transport, some are petrified when they envisage themselves flying high in the sky.
If you have ever planned a trip by plane you must have heard from your family and friends ‘Let me know once you‘ve landed safe and sound‘. You may of course call or send a text to confirm that you‘re still alive but do you know that there is a possibility of checking the flight status on your own?! There are quite a few websites where you can get live real-time view of a given flight, but how do they work? Are they worth recommendation to your friends and family so that they can check on you while you are up in the air?
One of the most popular websites of this kind is Flightradar24. After entering the page you see a world map, after zooming in you can see small plane icons which symbolize real flights. After clicking it, the following information is displayed: name and model of an airplane, its speed and altitude. Once Flightadar24 even allowed to see pilot‘s view! It wasn‘t of course a view from a camera installed in the cockpit, it was based on Google Earth photos. After some time Google resigned from servicing this plug-in, thus Flightradar started working on their own 3D system temporarily making this option unavailable.
How Flightradar24 works?
The system that Flightradar uses to receive flight information and show airplanes on a map is called automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B). It means that only planes with special transmitters are shown on the map. According to the website, currently 80% of commercial aircrafts flying in Europe and 55% in the Unites States are equipped with ADS-B. Transmitter itself is of course not enough as somebody has to receive the signal. Before the plane is visible on your computer, its location needs to be set by a satellite. Then a computer processes its position and sends it to transmitters on the ground. The basic task of the ADS-B module is not, however, informing on its position. It is a highly complicated system, which informs the pilot on recent weather and terrain conditions. Function used by Flightradar is just one of the additional features of ADS-B! After the system is in the ‘S‘ mode, the aircraft sends GPS data once every second, namely geographic coordinates, altitude and speed, unique plane label or e.g. flight number. Additionally, special codes are intercepted and they may be read, for example 7700 means breakdown whereas 7500 hijacking. Advantage of the system is that almost everybody is able to install such a device in their home. That is how Flightradar 24 works.
Your own ADS-B receiver
Thousands of private receivers located all over the world by aviation or radio broadcasting lovers send data to the Flightradar24 server. This seemingly uncomplicated device can read data of aircraft flying 150-250 km away, and it is send through not encrypted channel. Antenna, intercepting 1090 MHz frequency, has to be mounted as high as possible and it should not be covered by any buildings. Professional and well-configured gear can receive signal from even 400 km away.
Check any flight
The Flightradar24 website shows plenty of connections and has also a search engine. You can search for a particular flight by its number (IATA or ICAO), airplane name or airline. Once you find the flight, you can see its current position, and if the plane has already landed, you can track its precise route with all parameters in particular locations. Air traffic control pages have their versions for smartphones as well. The Flightradar24 app has an interesting feature of identifying any aircraft flying overhead with Augment Reality view – simply point your smartphone‘s camera to the sky to view information on any plane.
Flightradar24 and similar websites are interesting and useful tools. Every person connected to the Internet can observe not only flights of their friends and family but literally hundreds of aircrafts in the sky. Mobile phones do not work so high up thus tell your loved ones about air traffic control websites so that they know if you are safe.