The Liberty Gazette
October 30, 2018Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Last Wednesday I saw Bruce Campbell at the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. That’s no surprise since he helps the Chamber with tech stuff. He was chatting with Cynthia Smith, the owner of this newspaper, so I thought I’d be a smart-aleck and ask Bruce if he had an idea for our column this week. He pulled out his phone and showed me an app he uses to spot planes overhead when he’s at home. We thought Gazette readers might enjoy knowing about it, just for fun.
The app is appropriately named PlaneFinder, and you can download it from the App Store. Of course, there are similar apps, but we’ll talk about this one. If you go to their website and click on “About,” you’ll be presented with a ton of technical information about how their app works. It’s not something you have to know in order to enjoy the benefits of satisfying your curiosity about planes flying overhead. Bush Intercontinental Airport has runways oriented east-west, and we are right under approach paths for traffic landing to the west.
Bruce stood there in the city hall room and held up his phone. Through the app, we watched a signal transmitted by an airliner flying somewhere within range and saw what kind of airplane, where it had departed, and the destination. I’m sure there was more information available as well, but that’s all I saw in that brief moment.
We are well acquainted of course with the way that system works. We have the equipment on our plane too. The government (actually, we the taxpayers) put up towers all over the U.S. and planes have these broadcast units installed that send out encoded signals to those towers. The codes are picked up by compatible receiver units and then translated. Tap on a plane icon on the PlaneFinder map and see aircraft type, altitude, heading, speed, and lots more. I don’t think PlaneFinder does as much as well-known FlightAware (a Houston-based company), but I believe FlightAware has been in business longer.
Mike: Another fun snooping activity is listening to LiveATC.net. Go to their website and listen in on all the air traffic conversations between controllers and pilots. You can select frequencies for arrivals, departures, ground, and en route for airports and airspace all over this great country.
Busy airports such as New York’s JFK or Los Angeles International offer plenty of entertainment but you have to keep up with the rapid-fire transmissions. LiveATC.net is a good resource for students in flight training to have playing in the background, just to get used to hearing the exchanges. You’ll probably either love or hate the thick accents of controllers in the northeast, such as Newark, New Jersey, where ground controllers can be especially interesting during peak traffic times. They spout instructions so fast I wonder when they take a breath.
Whether app-tracking or eavesdropping, there are ways to indulge in aviation without leaving home.