FlightAware Discussions

Using a Pan-Tilt HAT to Track & Point at airplanes captured by FlightAware

I live in San Francisco — near both SFO and OAK airports. I have a raspberry Pi and am currently running FlightAware. My stats are at /wasauce#stats-106041

I am interested in building a tracking system that will identify the closest airplane and then point at it using two servos and the Pan-Tilt system (https://shop.pimoroni.com/products/pan-tilt-hat?variant=22408353287). I’m planning on attaching a stick to point at and follow along as planes land and depart — following a plane until it is out of range, and then finding a new one to track.

I feel comfortable extracting data from FlightAware (I already have a script capturing the JSON data). And I feel generally comfortable controlling the servos.


  1. In FlightAware (see attached), what is the “heading”? Is that the heading of the airplane or the heading from my location to the airplane (i.e. where I would need to look?
  2. What is the reference point for the heading — i.e.7° degrees off what?
  3. What the other methods might you recommend for determining how to point the Pan-Tilt at the plane and track it as it departs or comes in for a landing?
    1. I’ve thought about trying to calculate the bearing between the two lat/long pairs (my location and the airplane)
      1. https://gis.stackexchange.com/questions/29239/calculate-bearing-between-two-decimal-gps-coordinates#new-answer?newreg=0410583f53304895a7995ddf18df96b81.

Thank you for any guidance you can provide!