I'm a big fan of Google Earth and have been known to spend hours just cruising around the globe. But now I fear I'll spend even more online aerial time with my recent discovery of one of the coolest Web apps in the universe. You've probably heard of Web sites like FboWeb and FlightAware that allow you to track the position of an airline flight and see data like the plane's speed and altitude. While that's cool enough by itself, the map is a boring two-dimensional graphic that shows little beyond state boundaries and the flight's origin and destination. But then the other day I discovered that FboWeb offers a 3D tracker in conjunction with my beloved Google Earth. Trust me, it's completely awesome.
After downloading a layer from FboWeb.com and opening Google Earth, you almost become an airplane yourself. Rather than looking at a simple dot on a map, you can zoom in on the tiny plane-shaped icons and sweep around them as they fly above the virtual landscape. It's all in real time and the icons (all aircraft in a 30-mile radius) continuously move across the sky as their positions changes. So if Aunt Jenny is flying in from O'Hare for a visit, you can see exactly where she is above the planet.
FboWeb offers a few options. You can track a specific flight or ask to see all flights en route to a specific airport. Only the larger U.S. airports are supported but it's pretty fun to see a line of flights lined up for an LAX arrival. Each plane is labeled with its airline and flight number (though the airline is abbreviated) while the route the flight has traveled is displayed with a solid line. Occasionally, the GPS tracking can be a bit erratic; indeed I watched a United Airlines flight doing wild zigzags above San Francisco, but it's remarkably effective most of the time. By clicking on an individual flight you can get such information as its destination airport, and you can even see all flights in the air over the United States at once (a mind-blowing number to say the least). Plus, you're able to see elements such as restricted airspace.
The best thing about the service is it's completely free if you have Google Earth, which is a free download as well. Check it out as it's definitely worth the trip (so to speak).