G Edward Griffin
June 1st, 2011
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The first few days of experience with tracking live flights has been highly instructional, and we have had some surprises. One of them is that Plane Finder is not the best program for tacking commercial aircraft in the United States or Canada.
There are numerous areas with high levels of air traffic, such as Las Vegas, that show no aircraft at all on their maps. In Canada, only a few routes along the southern border are included. Other parts of the world, except Europe, seem to be similarly blank.
I think the reason for this is that the company is still in the process of adding data receivers to its network, and these areas are not yet included. While scanning the Internet for more information, I came across a posting from Pinkfroot, the company that owns this software, offering to provide free receivers to private parties in North America who were willing to share the data with the company.
That was posted on July 4, 2010, and there were numerous responses from private parties offering to help build the network. I don’t know if the company still is offering receivers on this basis, but I mention it because it suggests that their coverage may still be in expansion mode.
When I checked out Plane Finder where I live in the greater Los Angeles area, the program picked up a large number of flights, and I was able to go outside and verify visually that what was on my computer screen actually was flying overhead. It was on that basis that I thought we were in good hands with this program.
There are two other tracking programs that have better coverage than Plane Finder. They are Flight Explorer and Flight Aware. Flight Explorer (Personal Edition) costs $10 a month for ten hours usage plus a small fee for each additional hour. Flight Aware is free.
They are relatively easy to use if you are willing to spend about fifteen minutes exploring their features and controls. If you live in an area where Plane Finder does not work, you probably will find that one of these programs will.
There is, however, a drawback to both. According to the information provided on their web sites, flight data is delayed by five minutes because of FAA requirements. Only government and commercial users are able to access this data in real time.
That means that what you see in the sky will not show up in the tracking program until five minutes after you see it. That is not too difficult to work around insofar as keeping records. It just means you have to be a bit patient.
Plane Finder says its images are displayed in “near real time.” As far as I can tell with flights passing over my house (I am under a major air-lane into Los Angeles), the images either are in real time or within a minute of it. I don’t know why Plane Finder displays flights so close to real time when others services are not allowed to do so, but I think it may be because it takes its flight data from a different source.
Plane Finder says it derives its flight data from radio signals constantly generated from each aircraft. These are called ADS-B plane feeds. This is not the same as signals from aircraft transponders. That is another type of identification altogether.
Wikipedia says that a transponder “is an electronic device that produces a response when it receives a radio-frequency interrogation. In aviation, aircraft have transponders to assist in identifying them on radar and on other aircraft’s collision avoidance systems. Air traffic control units use the term “squawk” when they are assigning an aircraft a transponder code.”
The reason we have created a place on our data sheets for “Squawk” is to make a record of each plane’s transponder code.
So, what is the difference between a transponder signal and an ADS-B plane feed, and why are there two systems? As far as I can tell (I trust I will be soundly corrected if I am wrong, in which case I will pass along the correction), there are three differences.”
(1) Transponders send out signals only when they are contacted by a radio request, while ADS-B is constantly broadcasting; (2) Transponders have a wide range of responses available depending on the nature of the request, while ADS-B transmits only one set of information; and (3) transponders are used in larger planes and commercial flights, not available to everyone, while ADS-B is a kind of poor-man’s system, available to anyone who wants to have the safety benefits of being electronically visible to other aircraft.
According to Commercial Aviation Safety, 4th Edition, “ADS-B uses satellite navigation and datalink to enable an aircraft to broadcast its identification, position, altitude, velocity, and intent to every other aircraft in the vicinity as well as to the ground tracking system. This broadcast information may be received and processed by other aircraft or ground systems for use in improved situational awareness….”
That is the source of flight data used by Plane Finder. Data used by Flight Explorer and Flight Aware apparently are derived from a composite of other sources. Flight Aware says: “FlightAware compiles, aggregates, and processes data from a variety of government sources, airlines, commercial data providers, as well as FlightAware proprietary tracking network.” It is possible that this aggregate includes ADS-B feeds, but I have not been able to find any mention of it.
The primary reason to be aware of this is that it takes some of the mystery out of the technology and makes the process less intimidating. The important thing to remember is that all three systems are locked into data that comes from conventional sources that exclude military or classified flight missions.
Therefore, if there are such things as chemical tankers whose sole mission is to implement geo-engineering, they will not be tracked by any of these programs. Plane Finder has the advantage of being able to point an iPhone or Android camera at a specific aircraft and quickly identify it if it is in the system, whereas Flight Explorer and Flight Aware have the current advantage of being able to identify more planes. All of this leads to several challenges:
(1) If you look at the tracking screen of any of these programs and then try to locate them in the sky, you will never spot anything but a flight that is acknowledged by the system. In that event, do not be surprised if all of them show up as normal commercial flights.
(2) If you first spot planes in the sky and then try to locate them on the tracking screen (the preferred method for our purposes), they may not show up on the screen for up to five minutes or, possibly, not at all.
(3a) If not at all, and you are using Plane Finder, you have to determine if they are missing because they are private planes without ADS-B transmitters, your tracking program is not receiving ADS-B flight data in your area, or because the flight is blocked from the system. OR
(3b) If not at all, and you are using Flight Explorer or Flight Aware, you have to determine if they are missing because they are small, private planes without flight plans filed with the FAA, or because the flight is blocked from the system.
This may not be as difficult as it may seem at first. Knowing in advance that Plane Finder has areas with no coverage, the first step is to determine if your location is one of those. That can be done simply by looking at the tracking map and watching for a while.
It soon will be evident that planes either are being tracked in your area or not. If any planes are being tracked in and out of your nearest major airport, probably all of them are, in which case you are set to go. If no planes are being tracked, simply choose another tracking program until you find one that shows the flights.
We have other issues that also need to be clarified in this project, but I want to get out this notice right away for the benefit of those who have been having trouble with Plane Finder. Another update will be sent in the near future.
To all of you helping in this investigation, I send my deepest gratitude.
Overview of Weather Modification programs using published Government documents.