3-D Position Data: Interesting Experiment

I’m not much of a programmer, nor do I use or fully understand the workings of FlightXML, so for those that do that sort of thing on a regular basis, this is probably old and uninteresting news.

Anyway, today I did a little experiment. I took the route data of a flight into SBN and copied it into Microsoft Excel. I then took the longitude, latitude, and altitude data and copied it into a MATLAB* array. I then used MATLAB to create a 3-D plot of the position data. Well, two interesting things happened. First, it worked. Second, I had a 3-D plot of the flight, which I could manipulate, view from different angles, and so on. In 3-D space, I could see the climb, descent, and maneuvers toward the runway. It’s really not more than it sounds; I just thought it was pretty cool. It’d be interesting to take several flights and plot them together to see how the routes cross above and below each other and things of that nature. I’ll have to try that next. If I have some time, I’ll try to upload a picture of some of the plots I generated in case anybody is interested.

  • For those not familiar with MATLAB, MATLAB is a programming language and interactive environment for performing computationally intensive technical operations. It is well suited for creating and analyzing experimental data through plots and data analysis functions. You may be familiar with similar types of programs with similar functionality.

Is it something similar to seattleavionics.com/v_screenshots6.shtml?

Voyager is a free (the version I use anyway) flight planner program.


Yes, it’s very similar to that, only a lot less “pretty,” but it is the same general idea. The plots I generated were very rudimentary. But, in theory, going from the rudimentary plots of raw data to something rich with maps, waypoints, etc. is only a matter of some extra calculations and higher level programming.

I just found it quite interesting to see a flight track in 3-D. I’m always interested by these sorts of things, which, at first glance, seem quite simple, but the implications are often very interesting. Perhaps, use a 3-D display to show how aircraft avoid or transition different airspace, show how traffic maintains safe separation, or analyze an accident aircraft’s flight profile. The fact that this can be done quite easily from the data given by FlightAware is a testament to the quality and versatility of the service that FlightAware provides.