If you’re like most pilots, you look up to the sky every time you hear an airplane flying above and try to guess the type and where it’s going. If you have time, you might even reach for your phone and launch one of the many free aircraft tracking apps to learn more, like aircraft type, altitude and destination. It’s a fun way to hone your aircraft spotting skills on clear days using the tech you already own.
Pilots and aviation enthusiasts with an Apple Watch can add another resource to help identify air traffic, in the form of the new PlaneWatcher app. This app displays a well-organized map showing high-resolution traffic symbols, flight number and nearby airports for reference.
The app uses the compass and accelerometers in the watch to smoothly rotate the orientation of the map and traffic relative to the direction you’re facing, which is pretty slick when you see it in action for the first time. You can zoom in and out on the map using the digital crown and drag your finger to pan around the screen.
Here are examples of a wide view of traffic in the Cincinnati area, and then a close-up of a Piper Aztec on final approach at our local airport:
Tap any of the aircraft symbols for full details, including flight name, registration, type, category, operator, altitude, speeds and more (depending on data availability).
PlaneWatcher shows all aircraft, unfiltered, using data provided by ADSBExchange. In addition to viewing traffic near your local location, you can also enter any airport identifier and jump right to that location.
There is also an impressive list of customization and filtering options too, including the ability to filter by altitude, aircraft type, callsign or registration. The map can also be customized to show or hide airplanes, balloons, helicopters and UAVs, as well as ground features like airport location, runways, ICAO codes and more.
And thanks to the app’s support for home screen complications (shortcuts), you can launch the app in literally seconds and start identifying traffic. The app is only available for Apple Watch, so you’ll need to head to the dedicated App Store from your watch’s screen to purchase and download the app for $2.99.