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A Map of Every Passenger Plane in the Skies at This Instant

This site tracks thousands of passenger planes as they fly around the world

smithsonian.com

At any given moment there are about 5,000 commercial airplanes in the sky over the United States, shuttling people from home to work to grandkids who’ve long moved away. Now you can see them all, in real time, on a map.

Flightradar24 pulls data from the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States and the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system in other countries. About 60 percent of the airplanes that carry passengers are equipped with ADS-B, so the map isn’t even showing every flight there is. Even still, zooming out a bit shows a mad cluster of planes over the U.S. and Europe.

The site explains which aircraft you can see and which don’t have the ADS-B transponder just yet:

Common aircraft models that have an ADS-B transponder and are visible on Flightradar24:

  • All Airbus models (A300, A310, A318, A319, A320, A321, A330, A340, A380)
  • BAe ATP
  • BAe Avro RJ70, RJ85, RJ100
  • Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787
  • Embraer E190 (most new deliveries)
  • Fokker 70 and 100
  • Gulfstream V, G500/G550
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-10, MD-11
  • Sukhoi SuperJet 100
  • Some newer Ilyushin and Tupolev (for example Il-96 and TU-204)

Common aircraft models that do not have an ADS-B transponder and are NOT visible on Flightradar24:

  • Antonov AN-225
  • ATR 42, 72
  • Boeing 707, 717, 727, 737-200, 747-100, 747-200, 747SP
  • All CASA models
  • All Bombardier Dash models
  • All Bombardier CRJ models
  • Dornier 328
  • All Embraer models (except most new deliveries of Embraer E190)
  • Jetstream 32
  • Fokker 50
  • McDonnell Douglas DC-9, MD-80, MD-90
  • Saab 340 and 2000
  • “Air Force One”
  • Most older aircraft
  • Most military aircraft

The data covers mostly the U.S. and Europe, leaving behind South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. That’s partially because the site relies on about 500 ADS-B responders on the ground to receive the airplane data. It invites anyone with an ADS-B responder to get involved, and you can buy your very own receiver for anywhere from $350 to several thousand dollars.

Now let’s zoom into just the United States. Here’s a video from Animated Atlas, a team that visualizes flights.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Music for Airports Soothes the Savage Passenger
Judging an Airline by its Uniform

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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