Wolfram Alpha Offers New Twist On Flight Search: Literal Answers To What Planes Are Overhead

wolfram-alpha-logoYou may not love this as much as I do, but that’s okay. Wolfram Alpha has just launched what I’d have to put on any year-end list of the coolest search technologies of 2011: a tool that tells you, literally, what flights are in the sky above you.

To access this literal, real-time flight search, just type “flights overhead” into the Wolfram Alpha search box, and voilá! If you’re using a desktop computer, Wolfram Alpha does its best to figure out your location automatically and — if there are flights in the sky above you — lists the commercial flights in the area. You’ll also see the planes’ altitude and angle against the horizon, how far away they are and the aircraft type.


Clicking on any of the flight titles gives more details — I can learn, for example, that American Airlines Flight 621 flies between Seattle and Dallas/Fort Worth. (This flight is probably a lot closer to Dallas right now than what Wolfram Alpha is showing me. I live in a rural area and we don’t get a ton of overhead flights, so it may be defaulting to show flights that have been overhead; those of you in more populated areas will probably have better real-time results than me.)

Chances are good that you have a solid roof over your head, so desktop search probably isn’t the primary use case here. You’ll probably be somewhere outside with a smartphone or mobile device and want to know where that airplane above you is going. And thankfully, the same search query works just fine on the mobile version of Wolfram Alpha. Here’s an iPhone screenshot, and I’m not using the Wolfram Alpha iPhone app — just the regular Safari browser.


Obviously, a couple flights left the skies above me between the time I did the desktop and iPhone screenshots. Not shown, but further down the page (on both desktop and mobile) is a sky map showing the same flights in a more visual way.

Wolfram Alpha’s blog post says you can also use this feature to find out things like what you were looking at when you shot a photo out the window of your airplane in mid-flight.

This super awesome, literal, real-time flight search is available for U.S. searches only. And since the data comes from the Federal Aviation Administration, it only works on searches for flights that have at least one endpoint in the U.S.

Seriously, when I was a kid, every time I saw a plane in the sky above me I wondered where it came from and where it was going. I’ll probably start wondering the same thing again now … and getting answers. Finally.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Search Engines: Travel Search Engines | Wolfram Alpha


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://www.monicawright.com Monica Wright

    Just learned you can use this with “satellites overhead” too!

  • Matt McGee

    Oh wow, that might be the coolest thing ever. It says there are 1,822 satellites above me. But it has my location wrong. Thinks I’m down in Oregon (where Charter’s IP must default to). Still – amazing.

  • http://goo.gl/KclW9 Carson J Gallo

    Imagine seeing a 747 Airliner with distance at 0.0 Miles, Angles 180 Degrees Down, with the Altitude going down live at 1,000 feet per second.

    That would be some scary shit.

  • http://hauntingthunder.wordpress.com/ Maurice Walshe

    So Flight Global have had this for ages (and a map to)


  • http://www.south-wales.org/ Paul Thomas

    You forgot to qualify your article with the words “…if you’re located in the USA.”
    Please remember that you have readers outside the USA.

  • Matt McGee

    Hey Paul – check the second paragraph from the end: “…available for U.S. searches only.”

  • http://www.contentping.com trinity_hartman

    Hi Matt. Sounds like a fun app. Too bad it doesn’t track non-commercial flights. I’m always wondering about the weird military & Boeing planes that fly over Seattle.

  • http://www.theonlinemarketingguy.com duane forrester

    HA! When you were testing this Matt, I was actually ON AA Flight 621 from DFW to Seattle coming home! LOL

    Very cool tech, though – gotta play with this on my phone. :)

  • http://www.n49Interactive.com Rick Silver

    Cool. Seems to work in Canada as well.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide