So on a whim I subscribed to FlightRadar24's Premium Service

I was drawn to the "feature" that VORs and NDB's (radio transmitters that aircraft use for navigation) will be visible in the flight radar display, and impulsively signed up. Well, I got exactly that:

Yeah those few extra dots. The square dots are NDBs and the round dots are VORs.

I instantly felt buyer's remorse. 8-)

As for the other premium features:

  • no ads -- I already have adblock in my google chrome.
  • no timeouts -- honestly, when I'm in front of flightradar I'm fiddling with the display so much it never timeouts by mistake. Unless I leave the pc for a while. In which case, go ahead and timeout, I shouldn't be burdening the servers streaming to my pc when I'm not watching.
  • bookmarks -- I mostly look at the my local region only.
  • Premium version of mobile app that include all in-app purchase -- I've already bought the in-app purchases.
  • Extended query of up to 30 days instead of 7 -- possibly useful, but if I've forgotten to check something within 7 days I'm likely to forget within 30 days too.

Anyway, I consoled myself with the thought that given all the hours I've spent gazing at FlightRadar24 paying some money towards them would only be fair.

Oh there's another premium mode feature:

  • Radar View
What does this do? Well it presents the same flightradar information in a format typically used by radar operators. i.e. no google map background.

Riiiight .... just how is this even useful? Well, if you enable tags, you can show call sign / altitude / type:

Okay so for a very much less pretty display, you can know which aircraft is which at a glance. On the standard flightradar24 display, you have to click on an aircraft to see its details, and you can only view one at a time. So monitoring a few aircraft becomes a crazy game of hunt-and-peck.

Based on the colours of the aircraft symbol in Radar View, you can also distinguish between aircraft that are cruising (white), descending (green), and on the ground (orange). I believe the length of the line in front of the box for each aircraft is indicative of its speed, so I suppose data wise the presentation is more informative. Clicking on an icon replaces shows more information -- squawk code, heading, IATA origin and destination, and airspeed -- in the tag as well as the path travelled (but only for that one aircraft that you clicked on).

So yeah ... it is kinda better but -- let's face it, most of the woo factor of gazing at flightradar is being able to say "now the plane is over so and so" and not having a google map takes away a lot of the visual reference we're used to seeing to be able to come up with that conclusion. So yeah ... this "radar mode" is useful but I'm not sure how much time I'll spend with it.

If you are a contributor to FlightRadar24 (i.e. you have a radio receiver and receive ADS-B data in your local area and relay them to FlightRadar) Radar mode has one more use which is that it can also show you data from your own local receiver (Local AC in red). Not much use to me.

Wait ... where are VORs and NDBs ? It seems those appear only in Premium standard display, not in radar mode. *sigh*

One other feature of Radar View is that you can upload your own waypoints and outlines and it will be displayed on screen.


This got me thinking. Most of the time I'm gazing at FlightRadar24 to see which routes and departure/arrival procedures the aircraft are flying. Which is kind of hard to do, given that there are no airways or reference points on the map (something I was hoping having VORs and NDBs onscreen would help with -- except that [1] a lot of flying is done RNAV (i.e. with GPS fixes) these days and [2] not showing airways makes it difficult to envision which VORs/NDBs are involved.

If only I had could upload a list of VORs, NDBs and fixes into the Radar View, it would be so much more useful. But where would I get all that data from?


AHA! Am I not flying using those same NAVAids and airways in my X-Plane flight simulator? Have I not just recently subscribed to Navigraph's FMS data to get up-to-date NAVaid and airway data? All I need to do ... is extract the NAVAID waypoints from X-Plane, and convert them into some usable format for use with FlightRadar24's Radar View!


Research

Radar View allows you to upload waypoints in .WPT format, a format software called BaseStation. I googled and found that the file format described here http://www.kinetic.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=693 (saved and attached as PDF in case that page disappears). It's essentially a "comma separated values" text file with the following fields:

Elstree,EGTR,2,1,51.655825,-0.325852778,334
Description, Waypoint Label, Waypoint Type, Detail Level, Latitude, Longitude, Height

Next I looked up how X-Plane stores the data. The file Navaids.txt holds the VOR and NDB data. By comparing what's on screen in X-Plan and the data file, I figured it out to be something like this:

VBA,BATU ARANG,114.700,1,1,195,3.32481,101.45692,359,WM,0
code, name, freq, ?, ?, ?, lat, long, ?, ?, ?

The Fixes are stored in Waypoints.txt and have an even simpler format:

AGOSA,3.14472,101.21917,WM
ID,lat,long,?

That's enough to work with. I whipped up a quick perl script to read the X-Plane NAVaids and Fixes and write them out in .WPT format as required by Radar View. So as not to overwhelm Radar View (there's a 3MB per-file limit, and a total 5MB limit on user data), I incorporated a filter into the perl script to limit the data to just my region.

Results

I uploaded the data into Radar View and got this:

The round dots are the NDBs, the square dots are VORs, and the triangles are Fixes. One of the fields in the data is supposed to control whether the waypoint appears always or only when zoomed in, but that doesn't seem to be working:


Ok having the NAVAIDs on the map helps a bit, especially when the flightpath changes direction over a given point. But when the aircraft are flying on the airways (specific paths between NAVaids) it's not immediately obvious on the Radar View ... unless I can also draw the airways ...

Research

Radar View accepts outlines (polygons) in .OUT format. I found the format described here http://www.kinetic.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=607. The polygons don't have to be closed, they can also be used to draw lines -- exactly what I needed. The format is essentially a header with a type description, followed by a list of polygons, terminated by a -1.

{ Coast outlines }
$TYPE=3
21.67+92.02
21.63+92.00
21.60+92.02
21.57+92.00
21.52+92.00
-1

On the X-Plane side, the format is similar ... a header, followed by a list of waypoints that the airway connects. I whipped up another perl script to do the conversion between the two formats. I filtered the waypoints by bounding box, essentially an airway must have at least one waypoint within my bounding box to be exported out.

A,A462,5
S,DAC,23.826422,90.413217,AKEVO,23.600833,90.047222,0,237,24.24
S,AKEVO,23.600833,90.047222,IKOGU,23.377500,89.647222,237,237,25.77
S,IKOGU,23.377500,89.647222,ABJR,23.100833,89.213889,237,237,29.09
S,ABJR,23.100833,89.213889,BEMAK,22.927500,88.898889,237,237,20.27
S,BEMAK,22.927500,88.898889,CEA,22.675972,88.448139,237,0,29.14


Results

Here's what the Radar View looks like with NAVaids and airways:

Ah ... now things are much more clear. You can see which aircraft are flying on the airways quite clearly. It's night time and there's not much traffic so some aircraft have been given clearance to fly direct.

Here's the middle east with much more traffic at this hour:

Almost all the aircraft are on the airways, and those that are not are either joining one or have departed an airway to begin their approach to their destination.

Ok ... with Radar View ... I can say with certainty that more time is going to be wasted gazing at FlightRadar24!


Now you want this too?

Well since my NAVAIDs and AIRWAY data are licensed as part of my subscription from Navigraph, I can't quite distribute the converted files.

But if you have a Premium FlightRadar24 subscription (and therefore have Radar View mode), you can just do a one-time monthly subscription to Navigraph's FMS data (https://www.navigraph.com/Subscription.aspx, EUR 5.90, you'll want to download the "X-Plane 10.30 Native format" files manually) to get the source data files. I've attached the perl scripts I used to convert them to this note, so you can run my script on your FMS data, and generate your own waypoint and airway files for Radar View. Drop me an email if you have any questions on this -- if there's demand I might write a detailed step-by-step HOWTO guide.

Notes
1. There's a bug in that the map in Radar View does not wrap around 180 degrees longitude, so airways that cross this don't display properly (they go the long way around instead). I'll need to think of a solution to deal with this in my converter script.


shahada AT abubakar.net

2018-01-19 Update




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