OK, everyone who has ever had to wait around for some plane to arrive, raise
Particularly with the holidays looming and the loved ones soon descending from
all areas of the world into your home, you're going to want to be ready for
them. But a lot of time can be wasted waiting around airports for planes that
have been delayed. How great would it be if you could turn on your computer
and, with a few mouse clicks, check to see exactly where that plane now
is located, while in flight! You can! And in this article, I'll tell
you all about how you can accomplish this feat. In fact, I'll even be taking
you on a couple of virtual flights with a couple of my favorite pilots.
Greg Chapman, my personal favorite pilot, is a private pilot. Because of this,
I've been learning a lot about how to track flights in the air so I can keep
a virtual eye on him from above to help calm any fears I might have while he's
up in the wild blue buzzing around working to get his higher instrument rating.
He recently had to take his cross-country flight for his training and we'll
look at that flight.
But first, allow me to introduce you to one of my other favorite pilots. Jeffrey
Struyk is a commercial pilot who currently flies for American Airlines. And
Jeff also happens to be a Microsoft MVP! In preparing for this article, I thought
it would be more interesting to watch someone I knew flying on a commercial
flight, than just tracking any old plane for the sake of a few screen shots.
I was thrilled to learn that Jeff would be flying just when I needed to track
a plane. But not only flying in a plane, he would actually be flying
the plane. To help you, too, enjoy this virtual flight, take a few moments here
to read more about just who this Jeff guy is, anyway.
Jeffrey Struyk, First Officer
Jeff took his first flying lesson when he was 2 years old! Yup, only 2, although
he says he doesn't remember it. It was about 15 years later that he took his
next lesson. He soloed on his 18th birthday, started work on his advanced ratings
when he got out of college, and within 18 months of graduation, he had a job
as a Flight Instructor. He worked as an instructor for a little over a year
and then got promoted to the charter department. He flew a Cessna 310R from
St. Louis to Indianapolis and back, then to Chicago DuPage and back. He was
hauling medical specimens (drug screen samples, blood tests, biopsy tissue,
etc.) He says it was grueling workstarting at 7:00 p.m. and finishing
about 6:30 a.m. MondayFridaybut the experience was worth it. Within
8 months, Jeff had an interview with TWA and was hired as a Boeing 727 Flight
Engineer. That was June of 1998.
Jeff was a Flight Engineer for about 7 months, spending about 450 hours sitting
"sidesaddle," and then he got his MD-80 First Officer bid. He's been
on the MD-80 since April 1999, logging more than 2,600 hours as a First Officer.
The sad part in this, Jeff is being laid off soon. American Airlines bought
TWA in April 2001, and with the turmoil the industry is in right now, about
40% of the former TWA pilots are being laid off. Because of the way the unions
at American Airlines handled the seniority integration, most TWA employees were
placed on the list with absolutely no credit for length of service at TWA. Once
the layoffs started, they take place in reverse seniority order. Very sad times,
In Jeff's spare time, he's working with his dad (Steve Struyk, also a TWA/American pilot), building a kitplanea
Van's Aircraft RV-8. Jeff says things have slowed down lately given his impending
income uncertainties, but they're still planning to try and press on with the
project. They hope to have it flying next summer.
For those of you interested in building your own kitplane, here's a couple of
shots of Jeff and his dad in the workshop. And you can see more photos on Jeff's site at: http://geocities.com/vans_rv8/ and more details on the plane kit can be found on the Van's Aircraft web site: http://www.vansaircraft.com/public/rv-8int.htm
As for Jeff's MVP status, he's just entering his second year as a Microsoft
Most Valuable Professional. His area of expertise is Windows XP. He was also
a member of the beta testing teams who worked on Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows
XP, Whistler Server, Office 2000, Office XP, MapPoint, Windows Update and Wireless
Broadband Networking, and, suitably, Flight Sim. You can find Jeff working away providing free tech support
in the Microsoft Newsgroups, which can be found at: http://support.microsoft.com.
OK, so now you know all about our pilot for this trip. Let's see just how well
he can maneuver one of those big planes!
Commercial Flight Tracking Sites
The first bit of information that Jeff provided me with was his flight times
and destinations. But I didn't know the flight number and I needed to get that
to more easily track his flight. But I knew I could get that information from
the American Airlines web site. So off I went to www.aa.com
to get the info I needed.
From there, I can click on the Travel Info link, punch in the flight
times and destinations to get the flight number.
Because I set this up a little earlier than the flight itself, I was even able
to set up an email request to have American Airlines send me an email message
when the flight was on it's way.
If you need to track flights for your loved ones or just want to make sure
your own flight will be leaving on time, you can use this feature to have an
email sent to you, or have a phone message sent to your cell phone while you're
waiting around the airport. Much easier than trying to understand those tin
can announcements when a hundred people are chattering away around you.
With flight details in hand, I can now go off to one of the many flight tracking
web sites. There I can enter the details and not only get live updates of the
flight's status, but even watch a live graphic of the plane traveling along
to it's destination!
I'm sure there are many more sites, but I first discovered FlyteComm.
After entering the flight details, I can see that Jeff's flight hasn't yet
I can also see that the previous leg of this plane's route has landed and
that Jeff's flight is schedule to leave on time. And I can even see that the
flight should last about three hours and eleven minutes. Once I get my email
letting me know that the flight has taken off, since that's the info I requested
to have sent, I head back to the site and now the graphics are enabled, since
the flight is in the air, and I can now see Jeff buzzing along his flight path.
Pretty cool stuff, eh? As you can see from the image above, it also provides
you with altitude and groundspeed info, as well as how long before the flight
arrives. This information was great when I first discovered it and tracked one
of Greg's business flights from Boston. Chicago was experiencing a nasty thunderstorm
and I was worried about his flight. I was able to watch Greg's flight circling
around O'Hare for about half an hour until it was clear to land. I didn't have
to worry why he was late. I knew the problem because I was watching him flying
around and around!
I also checked out another site that a support list friend, Don Elias, passed
along to me. He uses FlightView.
This site also provided some great information and cool graphics of the plane
actually moving along while in flight.
So the next time you need to keep an eye on someone traveling in the air, you
literally can do just that! Have email or automated phone messages sent to you
letting you keep up with the status of the flight and then hit the old PC to
watch how things are moving along.
Professional Flight Tracking Software
However, for those of you who want more than just an image of a little plane
zipping along a flight path, check out this image below!
If you notice the tiny red plane in flight amongst the hundreds up there
at the moment, you can see that Jeff has a little bit of traffic in front of
him on this highway in the sky! Ok, so this image won't be of much comfort to
those who are afraid of flying. But it's amazing to see everything that's going
on up there. Realize, too, that many of those planes are flying at various altitudes,
so they're not really sitting on top of each other.
The above image is from Flight
Explorer. You, too, can go to this site and use it to better track a commercial
flight as I showed you above. But many of these flight tracker sites offer personal
editions of their tracking software. Since Greg is in flight a lot while training,
he got me a subscription to this software for about $9.00 US a month, for 10
hours of tracking time.
Chapman, Pilot in Command
Let's take a look at this software and see some of the details I was able
to track while watching Greg take his first instrument cross-country training
But, of course, you'll want to know about your pilot for this flight, too,
right! You can read more about the technogeek side of Greg via his TechTrax
Greg was not only born on the anniversary of the Wright Brother's first flight
and grew up in Dayton, the home of the Wright Brothers, but he also worked for
many years at Wright Patterson Air Force base.
He was a test mechanic working in the Aircraft Survivability and Landing Gear
Development division. Some of his projects involved breaking in and testing
the landing gear for the Space Shuttle, as well as certifying F15s and F16s.
Greg first got the bug to fly after he had a chance to sit at the controls
of a family friend's Cessna 150, while in flight, when he was 15. Life got in
the way of his plans a bit, but he was finally able to realize his dream of
becoming a pilot when he started his flight training in August of 2000. True
to his calling, Greg first soloed after only 9.6 hrs of training. Pretty much
record time, as the average pilot in training requires about 1520 hours
of instruction before their instructor feels they're ready to take to the skies
on their own. Greg received his PPL-SEL (private pilots license-single engine
land [craft]) a few months later, again, after just 43 hours of flying. The
minimum flight time requirement for a license is 40 hours. Most take 50-70 hrs.
Now Greg is working on his IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) certification so we
won't have to worry about having to see the ground all the time when flying.
Right now he's only rated to fly in weather that allows him to fly below the
clouds so he can use VFR (Visual Flight Rules) to negotiate his flight path.
With an IFR rating, we can climb above the nasty weather and enjoy life above
For this second virtual flight, we'll be tracking Greg in a 1979 Piper Archer-II
I know the tail number of his plane, so I punch it into my software and mark
it with red coloring so I can easily track him amongst all the big boys.
At this point, he's already halfway through his flight, and recently departed
from a fuel stop in Indiana, on to Ohio. As I check the screen to see if I can
find him out thereyup, there's our boy. Notice the tiny red plane in the
middle of the mass of planes in the image below.
HA! Looks like there's a little traffic out there in those skies, eh? <lol>
If you look at the upper/left of the above image, that pile of planes near the
water is the O'Hare Airport traffic at Chicago.
I can zoom in a bit to see his flight pathwhere he's been and where he's
Taking advantage of the many overlays available in the professional version
of the software, I can add visual or various flight identifiers to help me get
a better idea of exactly where he's located.
He's headed to Portsmouth, Ohio. A little airport not far from his parents
home in Ohio. By adding the city overlay, I can see exactly where he needs to
go. Pilots will appreciate all the flight information overlays, such as the
one in the image below showing the restricted flight areas.
As Greg prepares to land, he cancels his flight tracking so he can get into
the landing path. I can tell he's about to land now because his plane has changed
to gray, as you can see in the image below.
And sure enough, a few minutes later he was giving me a call to let me know
he landed and everything was ok. Well, everything except for a bit of a headache
after wearing foggles for about five hours! Foggles are goggles that
are specially made, kind of like horse blinders, that only allow the pilot to
look straight down at the instruments. This insures that IFR trainees don't
cheat and look out the window while flying. They're only option is to use the
instruments to make sure they're flying upright and on target. And yes, a flight
instructor is sitting next to him to make sure he doesn't make any critical
I hope you've enjoyed your virtual flights with Jeff and Greg. If you enjoyed
this, be sure to check out the many real in flight photos I've taken
of the various landscapes from the air during several of our flights around
Chicago, Wisconsin and the Virgin Islandseven our dog's first flight!
You can find them on MouseTrax.com's TailWinds
Have fun tracking your loved one's next flight. Or if you're bored, track a
Thank you for flying along. Bye-bye now. Bye-bye. Bye! Thank you. Bye-bye.
Bye. Bye. Bye-bye, now!