FlightAware Discussions

Balloon at 60,600 feet

Been watching all the motorgliders down around Moriarty, NM but noticed this new icon. Never seen a balloon on the map before. :grin:

Between Carlsbad, Clovis, and Lubbock.

Edit: It’s part of “Project Loon” - a communications balloon. https://loon.com/

There was some discussion only a few days ago that other flight tracking sites have a unique icon for balloons but flightaware did not yet have this.

Looks like someone made some changes very very rapidly. Excellent responsiveness if so.

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Skyaware has had that icon for a long time (git history suggests since 2016). Whether it’s used or not mostly depends on whether the transponder identifies it as a balloon.


I hadn’t seen the icon before, but I can confirm numerous objects that were shown as fixed wing aircraft only a week ago, now have the balloon icon. So it does appear some sort of improvement has been made that now correctly identifies more objects as balloons than it did before. That’s a nice improvement.

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Just checked and the balloon is still up and headed into Texas again.

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We did make a change to the website just this past week. Previously, aircraft icons were only determined by the aircraft type specified in a flight plan. Effectively, this meant that only aircraft operating IFR would have accurate icons, and position-only flights almost all had the generic “unknown aircraft” icon.

This past week we finished work to take the aircraft category information from ADS-B messages and propagate them all the way to the data used for the site. As a result, we’re now able to display accurate icons for far more flights.

There’s another improvement coming in this Monday’s release: the balloon icons on the website will now stay “upright” instead of rotating (as seen in the SkyAware screenshot above). All our other icons rotate to represent the current heading of the aircraft, but since the balloon icon is a profile view (unlike the planform of the others), rotating it to show heading just looks ridiculous.

We figured that since the new category-based icon selection means there will be a lot more balloons seen on the maps, we should make them look better while we’re at it.


Thank you for all the little improvements you make tweaking the code away in the background.

Thanks for also taking the time to explain the changes in detail.

I was slowly getting around to post a new thread about many helicopters not showing as the helicopter icon, but I guess the recent changes will also have fixed that issue at the same time.

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