Behold, the "point your iPhone at a plane and know where it's headed" app!

I haven't downloaded this yet, just noting the buzz around the blogs today: Plane Finder AR is an iPhone augmented reality app that promises to identify the origin and destination of any plane you might point your phone toward, overhead in the sky. A quick peek at the app's entry in the iTunes store shows some very upset user reactions: the $2.99 app only works with planes carrying ADS-B equipment, and only in areas where the app developer has equipment in place to read those signals. Sounds like Australia is the only country so far with full ADS-B coverage. Again, the developer is not using FAA data, so caveat downloader.

Still: I'll give it, oh, 30 minutes before a US lawmaker flips out over the app as a perceived terror threat.


  1. Well, the commenters there don’t seem to love it; they claim it barely works.

    But what a world. Who’dathunk five years ago that you could ID airplanes and their destinations as they zoom overhead… with your phone?

    But that you still couldn’t keep a call connected while standing on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Blvd.

  2. If this were available for Droid, I’d be all over it – as would my husband! Very cool if it works (at least most of the time.)

  3. There are websites that show you the position of flights in the US… it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me to use your GPS position along with the data those sites use to do the same thing. I suppose it might not be as precise, and I don’t know that those sites are accurate or if they just show a calculated position based on the departure and arrival time, but for most cases it seems like it should work.

  4. It’d be awesome if it worked. I often see planes landing and I wonder where they are coming from. However, it claims that there are no flights in or around Florida at all.

  5. Cool!!! This reminds me of the “SkyScout” – the little gadget you can point at objects in the night sky to find out what they are/how far away/requisite folklore. I fly constantly, but never cease to look at those little tiny planes way way up with a little bit of awe, and wonder where they’re going, and who’s on board. If they can overcome the glitchy coverage issue, I’d buy the phone just to have the app.

  6. Pfaw! I can point my rotary phone at any plane and know exactly where it’s going: Away From Me.

    Just saved a whole $2.99, yes I did.

  7. I believe the FAA requires delays to public flight position information by 5 minutes (I assume its terrorism related but I never cared enough to find out). At least flight aware says they are delayed five because of the FAA. So in the US you could point your phone to the sky and find out what that plane was you saw five minutes ago :-)

    1. If the FAA are delaying flight data by 5 minutes then in most cases you could just work out which planes were 5 minutes away from the place that you’re looking at.

      (Of course this wouldn’t work in a very busy area, or if the FAA’s delay isn’t consistent)

  8. I have nothing productive to add, other than my slack-jawed amazement.


    I love it when I get floored by a ‘simple’ idea that is non-obvious until it is implemented.

  9. Soon enough we’ll be triangulating signals and identifying people’s stats/info… and then when the facial recognition software is up to speed… goodbye anonymity.

  10. I had this same idea but was thinking to use data from FlightAware somehow. Not that it will make me write any software quicker, but I was going to use the Android platform. I was completely unaware of the existence of this ADS-B stuff. Still, pretty nifty.

  11. Yes, FlightAware can do this on a computer screen without the augmented reality part.

    The nice thing is that for podunk airports with out-and-back flights from a hub, you can find out if the plane you’re flying out on has left en-route to your airport. If not, no need to hurry to the airport.

    The last several times I’ve been delayed at airports, the airline didn’t post a delay until after the scheduled departure time

  12. For the US, ADS-B out (what this uses) isn’t mandated until 2020 and I suspect most airlines won’t bother until then. At least that’s the vibe I’ve gotten.

    There may be slightly more luck with GA as some private plane owners are true gadget freaks who may already have an ADS-B transponder but even then there’s the issue that only certain areas have the ground stations in place.

    Still, an interesting concept. ADS-B in for a smartphone.

  13. I actually looked into developing something like this but did not have the time to commit to the project. One of the first barriers was that the flight data is somewhat delayed from the FAA (by a minute to more) and you have to go through a bit of a hurdle jump to get the stuff. While not a big deal when looking at a plane overhead at 30,000 feet, for those lower to the ground you’d have the data out of whack quite a bit.

  14. There’s been a free Android equivalent available for some time now from

    If you install Layar from the android market, then one of the optional add-ons is for flight info. It works pretty well in the areas that support it. There’s a 40 second delay, but otherwise it’s pretty cool.

  15. Australia does have ADS-B coverage for aircraft at and above 10000 feet but that requires a network of several dozen receivers spread across the continent. I doubt this person is providing the ground stations themselves if they have 100% coverage.

  16. I’m curious HOW a terrorist will use this info. I don’t see any practical use for this info other than curiosity. Knowing where a plane is headed doesn’t mean you can flag it down and catch a ride. I guess if a terrorist had a surface to air missile he could blow up a particular plane, but if you take away the app, he still has the missile, which is the real threat.

    1. If you just wanted to cause mayhem, it doesn’t matter which plane you blow up with your SAM. But if you’re a hitman targeting a particular person, this will be helpful.

      But you don’t need it. Just have your accomplice at the airport watching the planes taking off, and phone you when the one you wants is taking off …

  17. So, an AR version of , then. I love this – we’re on a main transatlantic route, roughly 100 miles west of Heathrow, and it’s fascinating to see how far away a contrail at 35000 feet is visible. Finding out it’s full of German optometrists heading for a conference in Boston is just the icing on the cake.

  18. As a pilot myself, I find this interesting. However, in order to know where the plane is going, you have to know where the plane is going. I frequently fly “unannounced” – under visual flight rules, you aren’t required to file a flight plan, or even be in touch with ATC for most of the United States.

    Only in heavily populated areas near major airports is there the requirement to contact ATC, and even then, no flight plan is required.

    no matter how “good” the app is, it can’t know more about my flights than I’ve filed, and the majority of noncommercial flights have no flight plan on file.

  19. In concept, a good idea, but there are few places currently where it would be effective. ADS-B is transmitted automatically by transponders on (many) international aircraft, but most domestic aircraft do not include the extended dataset contained in ADS-B. I was not aware that smartphones were able to receive data bursts on this frequency!
    On the routes I fly, the only ATC facilities that appear to use ADS-B are in Northern Canada. The rest all receive ADS data through sat feeds.

  20. I really don’t see the point in this app. It’s not like you can run and catch the plane like hailing a taxi or a waiting for bus. I would perceive it as a potential terror threat.

    1. “Potential terror threat”?
      How so?
      I mean, can you sketch out how this could be so used?
      I don’t see the manner in which this could be used by a terrorist, without that terrorist already being possessed of a lot lot more info and equipment, other than just this app.

  21. I like the app – where are the ones that allow me to ID stars, plants, animals, boats, automobiles, and people?
    I’m generally speaking pretty curious to know what it is that I’m seeing.

    1. Starwalk and a number of other iPhone astronomy apps allow you to ID stars and planets by pointing your phone towards them.

Comments are closed.