Every once in a while, I travel to the big city of Portland, Maine, and swing by the airport to watch a plane or two. I have a radio to listen to the control tower, so I know when planes are landing or preparing to take off. It's fun listening to the radio chatter, but these FAA-sanctioned conversations tell me little about the plane itself and its flight. To fill in these blanks, I recently started using FlightRadar24 Pro.
FlightRadar24 Pro is a universal app so it runs on the iPhone and the iPad. It's convenient on the iPhone, but I prefer the slightly larger screen of the iPad mini, which is perfect for a visual, mapping app like FlightRadar24. When it launches, FlightRadar grabs your location and shows you the planes that are near you. The app is regional so you can see planes even when there are none directly overhead. It's also a real-time view so the planes move along their flight path while you have the app open. When you tap on a plane, a pop-up window shows information about the plane model, the flight and the plane's current speed and altitude.
Besides the map view, FlightRadar24 Pro includes a 3D view that lets you peer through the cockpit of the plane. It's rendered for a mobile device so the land and water textures are decent, but not great. It's no Microsoft Flight Simulator. There's also a handy flight path view that shows the entire flight of the plane. Since I live on the Eastern seaboard, there are a lot of international flights overhead and it's fun to see how the planes fly over from Canada, the Middle East and Europe.
FlightRadar24 Pro is available for the iPad for US$2.99. There are a few in-app purchases that'll let you add on flight model graphics for 16 planes, arrival tables and unlimited alerts. If you want to try out FlightRadar, you can download a feature-limited free version that lets you track overhead flights, but lacks the details on the plane and its flight. If you prefer not to buy an app, you can also just Ask Siri about those planes overhead.