Radar Monitoring is great fun, and the internet makes the hobby cheap and accessible.
For aviation buffs and shortwave listeners, the website flightradar24.com is a source of hours of entertainment.
What does it do?
Flightradar24.com use Google Maps to display the location of commercial aircraft. By clicking on an aircraft you can see the flight number, planned route, altitude, speed, heading and other technical information. You can toggle the display between street map, satellite imagery and greyscale, and zoom in to any part of the globe to monitor local air traffic.
How does it work?
Many commercial aircraft use a system known as ADS-B to broadcast this information. Not all aircraft are fitted with ADS-B equipment, and there are different rules and regulations governing the use of this equipment in different parts of the world. In Australia, the Director of Aviation Safety has ruled that ADS-B equipment will be mandatory from the 12th of December 2013 for all Australian aircraft operations at or above 29,000 feet. ADS-B is intended to supplement, and eventually replace, ground-based radar. For more information see the Air Services Australia website.
The ADS-B transmissions are not encrypted and can be intercepted lawfully by anyone with a compatible receiver. A network of radio enthusiasts receives these signals and sends them back to the flightradar24.com website. Flightradar24.com then overlays the data onto Google maps in real time. It’s simple, but devastatingly effective.
For further reading, Flightradar24.com has a good FAQ about ADS-B and how the website works.
A new function is Aircraft View, which also uses Google Earth to show a “point of view” from the aircraft based on its altitude, lat/long and current heading.
Left click/right click to rotate the POV.
This is an awesome use of mapping technology.
Flighradar24.com has applications for Android and Apple devices. The free versions provide basic functionality, while the “pro” versions include an AR-mode which lets you use the camera to point your device at an aircraft in Real Life, and see the aircraft tagged with its flight information while you’re looking through the lens! It uses your phone’s lat/long and the direction it’s being pointed to work out what you’re looking at. Clever.
The iPad version has been properly written to accommodate the tablet’s larger screen.
Consider buying the “pro” version for your mobile device and tablet. Throw the developers a few sheckles, which helps them write newer and better apps and subsidises the free website.
Radio amateurs, shortwave listeners and scanner enthusiasts can listen to Air Traffic Control frequencies while monitoring flightradar24.com. Plane spotters at airports can also monitor tower frequencies, armed with iPads, mobile phones and Android tablets to monitor aircraft.
For a list of frequencies, just hit Google. There are thousands of websites with local air traffic frequencies, just like this one.
For those who don’t have access to a VHF scanner, but would like to listen to Air Traffic Control and tower frequencies, have a look at apps (like LiveATC.net) that let you stream audio live.
Radar Monitoring is fun for the whole family.