Bao's weblog


Meandering thoughts of a Bay Area college student… be prepared for some bipolar vocabulary

Technology (more specifically, internet)

Gonna warn you, this post is pretty damn boring. =P At least for you most likely. Below is one of my hobbies

Through the UPS Tracking system, I can see what time the aircraft carrying my package leaves an airport, the local time of course. A simple conversion can give me my local time (Pacific) or GMT time, at my choice. Pretty easy right?

Using this information and the current time, I can roughly estimate where the aircraft would be using the general direction it has to go to reach the U.S. along with cruising speed of the plane found on a site such as Wikipedia. However, I can’t take into account airport delays or complications with the aircraft’s hardware, since I wouldn’t know where to find such minute details. After all, UPS only tells customers the time of a “departure scan,” not the moment their aircraft clears the runway, be it on schedule or an hour late.

But what I can determine is the direction and speed of wind of where the plane might be. Using simple physics (vector addition with either head to tail drawings or, preferably, adding by components… uhh, vector AB + vector BC = resulting vector AC), I can increase my accuracy and therefore increase my chances of finding my desired plane. Obviously that would be overkill, but I’ve done it for fun before.

Next I can go to a website called If the plane is near one of the 250 ADS-B receivers around the globe and the aircraft is equipped with an ADS-B transponder (unfortunately, not all of them are), I can see its current location, live. If I manage to find it, I can also find other information in its flightplan, such as current speed in knots, its altitude, its destination and departure airports, the type of aircraft, be it a Boeing or an Airbus or something else, heading, its callsign, etc.

If I’m so ridiculously bored and anxious for the package to arrive, I can usually determine the area control center that is in charge of the airspace the plane is currently in. Then it’s possible to go and listen in to their radio chatter and see what’s going on with the plane.

A lot of pieces must fall in place for this to work. The plane must be carrying the right transponder and there has to be a valid receiver nearby, so flightplans that go over oceans or mountains are ruled out. It has to be near a busy air traffic control site or else people wouldn’t be interested enough in that area to put apps for listening in. As scientific as I put it, a lot of luck is required, especially with packages shipping from overseas.

Still, if everything goes right, I can do all of this from my room and through an every day laptop and an internet connection.

In this particular case, I’m tracking a package originating from Hong Kong. After taking off from Chek Lap Kok, the UPS aircraft will inevitably (I think) fly to the U.S. using the Pacific Organized Track System, a route connecting the continental U.S. to Japan and Southeast Asia. I’m not quite sure about this hypothesis, since the plane landed in Anchorage. There are no ADS-B receivers in the Pacific, Alaska, Yukon Territory, or the northern portions of British Columbia. Through research, the only aircraft in UPS’s fleet that can make that trip is either the MD-11F or the 767-300F, with cruising speeds of 470 and 473 knots respectively. Departure scan at Anchorage is 4:57 local time, or 5:57 Pacific. Assuming the plane took off around, say, 45 minutes afterwards (~6:45), it’s been airborne for about 2 hours and 20 minutes. We can assume the plane has traveled 1095.1 nautical miles. If it’s been going on a direct route (unlikely), it should be in range of flight radar 24… no such luck. That means it hasn’t been going the direct route, which means I’d have to research current victor and high altitude airways, basically highways in the sky. Ahhh, maybe some other time when I don’t have an econ midterm breathing down my neck =P

If that isn’t fucking amazing, then I don’t know what is. I’ve never taken the internet for granted ever since I found out how to do this. Reading through all of this, I just have to ask: HOW IN HELL CAN ALL OF THIS EVEN BE LEGAL?!


Filed under: General

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