Can someone explain these two planes?


I was using my new iPad to record video of a carpenter bee. I noticed a very high, very fast plane going by. There was no contrail. A couple minutes later, another plane went by, this time with a contrail. The time span was 6:22 to 6:26 local time. I had the iPad pointed up about 60 degrees from horizontal to the southeast. I’m about in the middle of the 78757 zip code. Is that enough information to identify these flights?

A few minutes after shooting these, I had the bright idea of using flightaware to view KAUS area activity. I noticed one plane (in green) had a trail about 5 times as long as any of the others.

Here are links to the videos. The first plane enters from bottom left and travels to upper right. It’s very hard to see unless you watch in HD. The second clip starts with the second plane already in plain view with a contrail.


I can’t help you with identifying the planes, but the presence and lack of a contrail for two planes that appear to be in roughly the same place can easily be explained by differences in altitude and exhaust temperature.


Thanks. I figured that was probably the case.


There’s an app for the iPad that allows you to view a plane in flight with the camera and, based on your GPS position, it can tell you exactly what flight you’re looking at.


Wish I’d had it at the time. What’s it called?

Looking around, I see one by pinkfoot. I don’t think it will identify many flights in Texas.


The image with the contrail is about 27% longer than the one without. If the planes are the same length (BIG IF), then the one with the contrail is about 78% the altitude of the other one.

Is there a way on this website to display historical traffic? Or is it only current data that is available?


Sorry, I’m unsure. Pretty sure it’s from the same people that made the app that allows you to take a view of the night sky and it tells you what constellations, stars and planets you’re looking at.

I’m not an iPad user, but I’ll ask my son the name, he uses it.


I believe the app is called “Plane Finder”. I have never used it so I can’t say how well it works.


Yeah, that’s the pinkfoot app. I think it tracks ADS-B broadcasts, so it won’t include aircraft that don’t use it. I don’t know this for certain, but that’s the impression I have.


WolframAlpha will identify flights from current geoIP location. Go to and enter flights overhead. WolframAlpha is a pretty slick resource.


I see this a lot in the summertime where high altitude flights tend to not produce a contrail. As someone already stated, its just differences in air temps at different altitudes.

Speaking of identifying aircraft, I saw 2 flights late last night (approx. 1:30-2:00am was the first flight, 2:45 was the second) I checked out Flightaware to see who they were, but nothing was coming up on the map, both for approaching flights to my airport (PHL) and non-PHL destined aircraft. They were flying a W to ENE direction, roughly 2500 ft in altitude. They were flying as if they were approaching PHL to land from the north, but they continued on towards NJ without turning for the final. Couldn’t have been military as they don’t ever fly that pattern, and the lights on both planes were set up just like a regular commercial airliner. Military doesn’t tend to be lit up at night like commercial flights do. Was beginning to think there was some sort of Governmental VIP activity occuring in the area today and they were flying in early this morning, but haven’t seen anything so far.

Anyone know of any commercial sized airliners that are civilian that would be blocked from people seeing who it is?



I understand the bit about the contrail vs. altitude. I’m also wondering about the size of the trail that flightaware draws. I wish I’d taken a screen snap, but I didn’t. I thought the trail was meant to illustrate the plane’s speed. If so, and it was accurate, it must have been supersonic. Perhaps it was a bug.


Military charter flights into McGuire are normally blocked.


I would have to say this is incorrect. I can say, fairly surely, that 90% of the charter flights DO show up. If one flies over my house, I can go here and see it. However, things like C-17s, KC-10s, and KC-135s DO NOT show up.


I would like you to be right and me wrong, but I’ve had some sojourns at Deborah of late and the approach path had them flying right past my window. I’d try looking them up and had very poor results. Could be me though.


I’ve noticed that tracking the planes at Mcguire is a bit iffy. I’ve had it happen where they won’t show up in the enroute, but they are already under the arrived column. If you click one of the planes in “Arrived,” there is a chance it is not really arrived, but enroute. Does this make sense? I am tired, and I don’t know if my message got through.


While I do agree that military flights in and out of Maguire don’t show up for civilian eyes, the civilian cargo and passenger flights do indeed show up, such as GTI, CKS, EIA, SOO, OAE, RYN, WOA, and NAO.

The two flights I saw were not in the flight path for Maguire. The flight path for Maguire for both military and civilian is north of my location, but these 2 flights in question were right over the house headed in a pattern normally used for PHL west-to-east traffic. They were also at an altitude where they would be approaching PHL, but they never made the right hand turn to line up for final. Was rather unusual, especially since nothing was coming up on the FA map. Oh well, no big deal.

The only thing I can compare the aircraft were is to a 757 or A321. The planes had the long, narrow overall fuselage length but with a short wingspan. If I were to guess as to who it was, I would say it was possibly VP Joe Biden coming to the area for an appearance. I believe he flies in a 757, dubbed ‘Air Force Two’. Perhaps one was carrying the VP, and the other was a decoy. Although I didn’t hear anything about him making an appearance in the area this past week…so who knows?