Visualizing all US flights

Quick, how many airplanes are airborne in US airspace at the busiest time of the day? Answer: just over 5000 (that’s IFR airborne aircraft for you aeronautical sticklers out there). Next question: how many airplanes are in the air RIGHT NOW? Answer: go ask the insane detail-obsessed people who put together FlightAware. They’ll not only tell you (as I post this, the answer is 2732 aircraft), but they’ll show you a freakin’ picture of it. They’ll even tell you how many Cessna Skylane 182s are in the air right now. And the sky is lousy with Airbus A320s. Show me the inbound and outbound flights for Newark International? No problem. They’ve got minute-by-minute altitude, position, and speed for every plane in the air. The more I dig into the site, the more amazed I am at the wealth of completely free information available to me, the lazy web-surfing airplane geek.

And the pièce-de-résistance? A movie of all flights over a 24 hour period. Every time I watch I see more fascinating things. Watch the east coast wake up, roll over and poke the slumbering west coast. Look at Maine being hosed down by Europe until it overflows and boils back the other way. Avert your eyes from Florida’s rude Caribbean drip. See the trans-Pac crowd huddling nervously in Seattle before walking the lonely tightrope to Alaska. I can’t stop looking…

The overall effect is of fire, or of bugs pouring out of their underground colonies and marauding. Every single one of those red buglike dots is great big metal tube filled with people. I declare: that do beat all.

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