The Future Is Weird

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Yesterday, I noticed a peculiar plane taking off from Boston’s nearby Logan Airport. Though it was a few miles away, it caught my eye because it was nearly all red. Even with a pair of binoculars, I couldn’t see it very clearly, but I thought that it also had pandas painted on it.

Thinking quickly, I whipped out my phone and opened up an app called “Plane Finder AR”. Simply aiming my phone in the direction of the fast-departing plane let me learn all about it. Plane Finder AR is an augmented reality app that overlays plane details on a view of the real world. Below is an example of what this looked like, using another random flight (the red circle showing the difficult-to-spot plane has been added):

An example screenshot showing Plane Finder AR in action
Plane Finder AR in action

Plane Finder AR told me that the plane I’d spotted was flight number HU 482, a Hainan Airlines flight. A quick Google search showed that this was a direct flight from Boston to Beijing, and I could even see its flight path up and over Greenland, then back down over Russia and Mongolia, before reaching China.

The flight's path on a map
Flight Path via FlightAware

Better still, Plane Finder AR also provided me with the plane’s unique registration number, B-6998. Armed with this information, I learned that B-6998 was a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner which had been delivered to Hainan Airlines in January of 2018. And sure enough, I confirmed the pandas I thought I saw, because I found B-6998 was apparently painted in a special all-red “Kung Fu Panda” livery. I was also easily able to find dozens of pictures of the aircraft taken by planespotters all over the world, and even multiple videos of it in action.

The flight's path on a map
B-6998 in all its weird glory
[Photo credit: Thomas Ingendorn]

So it was that a truly shocking amount of technology was leveraged to answer one rather inane question: “Does that plane have pandas on it?”.

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