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Using an iTunes store application for tracking plane flights

May 25, 2009

by Mark Ollig

Using an iTunes store application for tracking plane flights

In a couple of weeks my oldest son will be returning to the United State from Italy and I will be able to watch his flight’s progression in near real-time.

No, your humble columnist-blogger will not be situated in an air traffic control tower.

I will be using my new application or “app” I download to my iPod for $4.99 called “FlightTracker.”

This app can also be downloaded to your iPhone.

FlightTracker will work over wireless networks such as Wi-Fi, 3G and “Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution” also known as EDGE.

FlightTracker provides not only the departure and estimated arrival times, but it also displays a tracking map which shows where the plane is currently located during the flight.

FlightTracker also provides plane tracking information on International flights.

Today I watched an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Tokyo.

According to FlightTracker, the information is sent from the plane and then is sent to my iPod on a delay of up to 30 minutes.

If a person is curious and would like to see the current flight of any plane in the air, you can “shake” the iPod or iPhone and be presented with this. When learning I could select a random flight by “shaking” the iPod I was skeptical, but then discovered it does work!

How I can track a particular flight is easy. When I tap the FlightTracker app on my iPod (which is connected to a Wi-Fi signal), the app tells me to track a flight by pressing the “+” label on the top right corner of the iPod.

Next I am given “search by route” menu. I can then enter the airline, departing city, arrival city and a date.

If I knew it ahead of time, I could have also just entered the flight number and the information would have appeared.

So on this particular day I chose all Northwest Airlines flights leaving Minneapolis and arriving in Raleigh, North Carolina using today’s date (May 19).

I tap “search” and was presented with two flights, 1657 leaving at 12:55 pm and arriving at 4:22 pm and also flight 1077, a later flight.

I selected flight 1657 and was given the Minneapolis gate information (F2 terminal L) and informed the flight was currently on schedule. The gate arrival information in Raleigh was at (C7 terminal 2).

Next, I could select “details or map,” so I chose “map” which showed the designated flight path from a service called “FlightView.”

I am writing this part of the column just before flight 1657 departs Minneapolis, and I will return to the map after departure to note where the plane is on my iPod screen display.

FlightTracker gives a user the option to “save” the flight information, which allows me to select this flight anytime with a couple taps. More than one just flight can be saved.

Ok, it’s 1:15 pm and I just came back to the keyboard, tapped on the FlightTracker icon and then tapped the flight I just saved.

The first thing I noticed was the departure time was updated. Flight 1657 left the departure gate two minutes late. The flight map statistical detail information is now displaying the plane as being en route at 2,200 feet and traveling at 183 mph – remember this is on a delay.

The iPod shows the flight information constantly being “refreshed.” It just refreshed again as I am typing these words and now the plane is traveling at 339 mph and is at 10,100 feet.

Almost 30 minutes into the flight now and the plane is at 19,800 feet and traveling at 497 mph.

The aerial map display shows a plane icon representing flight 1657 which is now positioned over the lower southwest corner of the Minnesota -Wisconsin border, crossing over into Wisconsin.

Something to note: I seem to be getting the information updated every five minutes as the last update occurred at 1:31 pm and shows the plane traveling at 554 mph at an altitude of 27,100 feet. The actual time the plane has been in the air is now 34 minutes.

The plane icon continues to move across the iPod screen and is now almost in central Wisconsin.

All of this information on speed, altitude and plane location is being refreshed automatically without any intervention by me. I am able to simply watch the flight information updated as I see the plane’s location change.

Update at 1:51 pm shows the plane traveling at 37,000 feet (which I would think is close to maximum altitude) at a speed of 545 mph; the plane itself is now located crossing over south-east Wisconsin and approaching Lake Michigan.

This FlightTracker app is very impressive (and entertaining).

Another cool feature is the ability to send this flight information instantly from your iPod/iPhone via an e-mail message by tapping the small plane icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

When I do this, the subject line automatically fills out with: “Flightrack Northwest Airlines 1657.” In the body of the e-mail message, all the flight information is automatically entered. A person only needs to type out the e-mail address of where you are sending it too – which is a great time saver.

I will have more information along with some pictures (and possibly a home made video) of FlightTracker on The Web Site of The Week, so be sure to check it out.