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We’ve all looked up as a plane has streaked across the sky, wondering where that flight’s going and where it’s come from. Now, you can find out.
Flightradar24 ($2.99, free version) is a simple idea and an excellent app, ingeniously tapping into our curiosity when it comes to those metal birds in the sky.
What Exactly is it?
Flightrader24 is an iOS app for iPhone or iPad that tracks commercial flights across the world.
A lot of us have gazed upwards as the sound of roaring engines fills our ears; we see a plane and, squinting, try to make out a logo. A flash of orange? Probably EasyJet. A jet of red? Could be Virgin Atlantic. A rich blue amongst the clouds? Must be British Airways. Except that blue could be KLM, Flybe, or AirFrance. That red could be Qantas, Emirates, or Air Canada (orange probably is EasyJet, though).
Flight Radar 24 caters to both seasoned aircraft spotters and your garden amateur by fusing alternate reality and real-time aviation information. It shows you flight information and identifies not just individual companies but also airplane models.
How Does It Work?
Flight Radar 24 was set up in 2006 using a network of ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) equipment across Europe. These use satellite navigation to intermittently broadcast aircraft’s location, a statutory measure in some areas of Australia and expanding to further aircrafts in the United States and Europe. Information, such as altitude, velocity and location, is sent without the aid of the pilot and can be collected by receivers and stored by Air Traffic Control.
It’s swiftly replacing radar as a means to ensure safety; aside from potentially-more-accurate data, ADS-B allows pilots to ascertain air traffic, terrain and weather reports.
Flightradar24 is constantly looking to expand their network of ADS-B receivers and will send their modified equipment to interested parties who can guarantee that antenna will be put outside with a 360° view of the skies; will be left online via uninterrupted internet access; and will be online within a week of receiving the device.
What Do You Get For Free?
If you’re looking for just the basics, you should definitely download the free iOS version. Allow it access to your location and it’ll take you to Google Maps, complete with real-time flights passing across the Earth. Tap on any plane and you’ll get a photo of the plane’s model and any further available information.
If you know a flight’s details, you can track its progress. That means that you know where family and friends are and even when their airplane lands. If you also want to track your air miles, there’s a special service for that.
One of the most fascinating aspects is seeing how busy the world really is. You only have to zoom in on the London area to feel sorry for anyone living near Heathrow or Gatwick. Big portions of continents like Asia and South America look quieter, but we can’t really be sure whether air traffic is less intense or if there are too few ADS-Bs in the area.
Another feature included with the free version is augmented reality. The app accesses your camera; point it at the sky and watch as brief nuggets of flight information pop up. If there’s a sole plane flying overhead, it’s perfect. The only problem comes when you can hear an engine somewhere, you scan around and suddenly find that there’s a bevy of aircraft concealed in the clouds.
Remember that this is for commercial flights so it likely won’t identify private planes.
Is The Pro Version Worth It?
Quite simply, paying for Flightradar24 allows you access to much more information, notably details of where each aircraft is going, where it departed, how long ago it left, and its ETA. There’s also a record of altitude, velocity and – when initiating AR mode – you can adjust the slider on the right to alter the radar’s range.
150km picks up too many, 10km is pretty pointless (unless you live at the airport); you’ll probably want to aim for the middle of the slider – which is what the free version sticks to automatically.
A further incentive to upgrade is the ability to filter the radar. You can search for individual companies worldwide or see only the crafts flying at a certain altitude. If you’re a true plane spotter, it’s really handy.
The Pro version also boasts a 3D view of what the pilot is seeing. In theory, that’s brilliant. But you have to remember that they don’t have a live feed of a camera fitted to the cabins, so what we get is Google Earth, albeit not actually 3D. It’s a great idea but its execution leaves a bit to be desired. You can basically see what this looks like through Flightradar’s website.
Another issue was that of battery life. Within 10 minutes, I had burned up 8% of my battery. That should be expected when using GPS and camera-dependent apps, though you can always try to extend your battery life.
Further annoyances come with in-app purchases, little expansions that’ll cost you a little extra. These include identification of other aircraft like helicopters ($1.99), custom filters ($4.99), and turning your device into an airport’s arrival and departures board ($1.99).
Those niggles really shouldn’t put you off. This is an exceptional app. I was initially sceptical about upgrading, seeing as the 3D version is available online for free. But I’m so glad I did. To have all that knowledge at your fingertips feels amazing. You can see why it’s the top Travel app in over 140 countries.
Download: Flightradar24 Pro ($2.99, free version)
Are you a plane spotter? Let us know what your favourite aviation apps are and why, below.