With the discontinuation of the Google Earth plug-in last year we began searching for a replacement for our 3D View. We wanted something that would work on more devices and include more features and we really wanted something that would thrill anyone who opened 3D View. After months of work, we’re very pleased with the results. Accessing 3D View is as simple as click on the 3D button next to the flight number in the aircraft information box.
In new 3D View we’ve added an Outside View that includes a realistic 3D model of most aircraft. Outside View allows the camera to move around the aircraft and zoom in and out, so you can follow a flight from any angle you’d like. You can move the camera to see what’s directly below an aircraft or see what the night sky looks like above.
Cockpit view is available as well, so you can see what the pilots see. In both views, you’re now able to continue viewing full flight information on the left hand side of the screen. We’ve also added a small moving map in the lower right corner to provide a reference location for the flight you’re following in 3D view.
Technical Details and How You Can Contribute
Our new 3D view is built on WebGL using a Cesium globe and MapBox for amazingly detailed imagery and terrain. Our initial 3D aircraft models come from the FlightGear project and FGMEMBERS repository. We have models for the most popular aircraft that we track, and we’re working on adding more models to our library. You may contribute a 3D model or house livery for inclusion in 3D View by posting a pull request here. At this time, we’re only accepting house liveries, but that may change in the future to include individual airline liveries.
Limitations and Future Features
As amazing as we think the new 3D view is, we’re not done improving it. We’re working on adding new models to the fleet so each aircraft type has a detailed model. At the moment, if we don’t have a particular model in the library, the aircraft will appear as a 737.
Right now, we’re using calibrated altitude for 3D view. Depending on the calibration of the aircraft and the accuracy of the transponder, this can sometimes lead to aircraft landing before the runway or overflying an airport and then dropping to the ground when viewing the flight in 3D View. As we begin to receive GPS altitude data from more aircraft we’re exploring incorporating that data to prevent those issues.
We’re also looking at the possibility of adding a 3D cockpit view in addition to the existing views.
How to Get the Most Out of 3D View
3D View is hardware intensive. It’s designed to work best on newer computers and modern browsers. For the best experience, ensure that your graphics drivers are up-to-date. We understand that the new 3D View may not work for all users as older hardware (especially older graphics cards) is generally unsupported. While this affects some users, we chose this technology because it works for more users on more devices and provides a much more immersive 3D experience.
If you haven’t tried our new 3D View yet, we suggest picking a flight over a scenic area (like the Andes or a major city) to begin. Just click or tap the 3D button after following a flight and choose your view. Happy tracking!