Past Flight Tracking?

First - my kudos to the whole FA team…great work, folks! I’m wondering when the “past flight tracking” capability is going be available.


Hi Everyone,

Karl from the mapping team here…

We have been collecting and storing flight tracks in the database for quite some time, but there are several gaps and we are implementing technology to “replay” all of the historical data (yes, thanks to our incredibly anal-retentive data team we have saved every single flight position since March of 2005) to generate a complete set of tracks.

One thing I’ve mentioned before is the inexact mapping between flight tracks and departure and arrival data (sometimes we get tracks when we have no filed flight, sometimes huge gaps as flights move in and out of radar coverage, etc) and we are continuing to experiment with that to come up with the best methods for correlating them, searching them, etc.

The mapping team’s main focus since December has been on the “back office” side of things. Without changing the appearance of the site, we’ve doubled the performance of map generation through careful optimization and implemented a load-balanced cluster of map servers. This is now operating so smoothly that we can add a new mapserver, syncing over 100,000 tracks comprising tens of millions of points from an existing mapserver and have it make itself available without any service interruption.

The next thing you’ll see will be showing aircraft headings in the maps in a way that will be convey more information in a more visually pleasing presentation than any other we’ve seen. You can expect to see our first iteration within the next two weeks, and we will continue to evolve it as we gain experience with it and get your feedback. After that we’ll be adding zooming and panning, navaids, display of filed routes, and very powerful and flexible searching, although we have yet to work out the exact order this stuff will be rolled out in.

Great news Karl! Thanks for the update. I know we are all looking forward to it!

Karl, I see that the little plane icons are on the flight maps as of today. Great idea! Occasionally I’m seeing a flight orientation (of the icon) that looks incongruous with the flight tail. It’s too soon to judge whether this represents any kind of problem.

I see also that ID boxes are now two lines, instead of three. This seems to allow more flights to have IDs posted. (It must be that the new box has less area than the old.) Great work! Thanks.

I’ve looked into this. In all the cases I’ve examined, this occurs when we get two radar hits in the same minute from different radar sites. On an east-west flight, for instance, the second hit may come from a different radar and show the position at the same longitude but with a slightly different latitude. Hence you’ll see the plane appear to be turned 90 degrees from its route of flight and then, a minute later, back on course.

We need to study ways of trying to filter this – we know which radar station reported each position. Just riffing off the top of my head here, but if we have several hits in a row from one site and then get one from a different site that has a substantially different altitude and a position that doesn’t follow the track, either to drop that hit or mark it provisional or something. The problem is of course distinguishing between that and when an aircraft is actually moving from one radar’s coverage to another. Also we don’t want to induce any additional delays in the processing pipeline.

I don’t think they ever had more than two lines. Thanks for the kudos, Toby. I’m really happy with the new look, although of course it will continue to evolve.

tobyz1 wrote:
I see also that ID boxes are now two lines, instead of three. This seems to allow more flights to have IDs posted. (It must be that the new box has less area than the old.) Great work! Thanks.

Karl replied:
I don’t think they ever had more than two lines.

Maybe I’m losing a few memory cells, but I’d swear that, yesterday, ID blocks were three lines:

Line 1: Flight/tail number
Line 2: Aircraft type
[These are now merged into a new Line 1.]
Line 3: Altitude and groundspeed [Now Line 2]

Just a suggestion, but where the flight enters non-US airspace, how about showing the track of the flight by using its routing? This could be problematic for the Atlantic flights as the routing will show something like the oceanic entry point, say BOBTU, then NATZ/NATY/NATX etc, which is the NAT (North Atlantic Track) followed by track identifier (Z/Y/X etc) then the oceanic exit point, say MIMKU. The problem with the the NAT tracks is that they change from day to day, hence why the co-ordinates rarely appear in the flight routing and instead appears as NATZ/NATY etc.