The geek site that turns us all into planespotters

But, what is it to follow military aviation flight paths that can satisfactorily fill many hours of a day that could – arguably – be better spent reading, to garden, or even to work?

It was said of train tracking boom in the 1920s and 1930s that, “in the aftermath of the war and its chaos, there was a desire for order and permanence among the kids of the time”.

This surely applies while a war is unfolding, and in the prelude to its possible rapprochement ever closer to home.

The interest in steam trains was also due to the beauty of the futuristic aerodynamic engines – which must have looked impressive in an age of austerity.

There was also the companionship of a shared hobby and the deep appeal of just listing things, which is sometimes associated with men in particular.

There are elements of all of this in virtual spotting. Airplanes are awesome machines; they travel at inhuman speeds and carry deadly equipment. The threat of war makes us curious and afraid. Seeing thousands of other planespotters provides a degree of camaraderie.

But aviation is transnational, and the dark purple lines indicating the tracks followed by airliners also take us on whimsical flights.

We survey the map and discover new regions and cities, airfields and borders. We imagine the view from the ground and from the air. The hum and rumble of jet engines. The tension in the cockpit.

We see a refueling tanker, but we don’t see the jet or bomber refueling, as stealth and fighter planes are operating with their transponders turned off. Part of the appeal of Flightradar is that there is a mystery as to why a military aircraft is in such and such a location at the time.

Sherry J. Basler