A few years ago when I got my first iPhone, I downloaded two Aircraft Tracking iPhone Apps. These flight tracking apps were FlightRadar24 and Plane Finder. The smartphone air traffic apps allow you to track the position, height, speed, Squawk Code, Aircraft type, heading, source, destination and Aircraft Registration, plus much more.
These amazing iPhone apps are brilliant, especially if you are interested in aircraft. You may also just want to know where a plane in the sky is heading. Ever since I was a child, when I got my first pair of binoculars, I have been fascinated with knowing which aircraft or which airline is flying overhead. Aircraft are such amazing feats of engineering, it is amazing to watch them as they fly 10km up.
So, back to the flight tracking apps. Which one is better, FlightRadar24 or PlaneFinder? I am going to look at the 2 apps and do a proper review…in no particular order.
The FlightRadar24 system was the first flight tracking app I downloaded. The main features of FlightRadar24 were full flight tracking plus visual tracking where you could hold the iPhone camera up to the sky where there was an aircraft and it would point to it with identification using augmented reality. At the time this was very new to smartphone technology but the Augmented Reality system makes it possible to point the camera to the sky and view aircraft information and all the details regarding air traffic over you.
The accuracy is stunning – I actually grabbed a pair of binoculars when a Lufthansa 747 was reported over Waterford, and it was indeed the aircraft mentioned on the FlightRadar-24 iPhone App. Amazing.
Check out http://www.flightradar24.com/ for more details.
I downloaded the Planefinder app just as a comparison as this one showed actual photos of the aircraft in question and also allowed for sharing of the spotted aircraft on Facebook etc.
PlaneFinder does almost everything that FlightRadar24 does, but I find that there are certain functions you can achieve such as advanced filters, e.g. show all aircraft above a certain height, speed or indeed of a certain airline. I also found some aircraft not listed on FlightRadar24 – for example, a Galaxy C5 showed up on Planefinder and at the same time did not display on Flightradar24 for some reason.
More information on PlaneFinder can be found at http://my.pinkfroot.com/
How do these iPhone Aircraft Tracking Apps Work?
These apps only show information regarding aircraft which are equipped with ADS-B transponders. About 60% of the passenger aircraft and some private aircraft have an ADS-B transponder installed.
The Flightradar24 and PlaneTracker apps use a network of ADS-B receivers around the world. These ADS receivers get plane and flight information from the aircraft with ADS-B (Broadcasts) and send this information to the main server. These apps simply collect the ADS data and displays this information on the iPhone Apps map. However the only aircraft within the coverage area of the ADS receivers are visible – so if you are in the USA you may have limited visibility as these apps are mainly covering Europe. Current coverage is approx 90% of Europe. However, there is also limited coverage in the USA, Australia and the Middle East.
Both Apps require WiFi or a 3G connection to work. If you only have a cellular data connection you may get 1 or 2 aircraft showing up but the app won’t work to its full potential – so ensure you have 3G turned on.
The only problems I saw was one aircraft which was a ghost image of itself – i.e., for example, an aircraft D-GBHF was showing up side by side but it was the same aircraft. Could have been a glitch.
However, the most fun glitch I saw was an aircraft which had a recorded cruising speed of zero knots – clever trick!
Flight Tracking Apps – Conclusion
Both apps are excellent in the way the aircraft are displayed plus the refresh rate and the accuracy is very good on both apps.
Both apps have been updated since my original post and I will be updating this post with the changes and new features.
PlaneFinder retails at €3.99 in the App Store
FlightRadar24 retails at €2.39 in the App Store.
FREE Versions of these Flight Radar iPhone Apps are available also and the desktop or web-based version of FlightRadar can be used for a limited session and with limited functionality for free.
If you have any comments regarding these flight tracking/aircraft tracking apps please comment below!
This post is a re-edit of the original post regarding FlightRadar24 and Plane Finder which was written earlier in 2015.
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Thanks Michelle – I will check that out.
Little worrying that things like the squark code are visable. Great set of apps if you want to shoot down a plane however.
Hi Shane, I bought the Plane Finder App & it’s very good. But I’m not getting photo of the aircraft. I wonder do I have to buy the dearer version Plane Finder pro to get this. I’m going to buy Flight Radar 24 anyway. Thanks for all the info
thanks for the comment. I have tested the app and if you click on one of the red planes, you will get the call sign, e.g. EI-OOK and a blue arrow to the right. Click the section with the blue arrow and more info should appear. Note, not all planes have info and you may see a black box – this is due to missing images. You will need 3G or similar coverage for the imagery to work properly.
I find it a very interesting app. Let me know if it works.
Great review Shane.
I prefer FlightRadar24 on desktop and app, but I agree PlaneFinder is more reliable, particularly here in North Mayo where ADS-B coverage is at its limits.
Overall, I would recommend FlightRadar24.
Thanks for the comment Anthony. I think the emergence of the FlightRadar24 website seems to have made the app a bit redundant – especially if you are doing some spotting from your home. I have seen some differences in coverage between the two systems. The funniest error I have seen is a 777 American Airlines which was at 37,000ft but speed reported as 0 kts… impressive!