Giant fridge magnet tracks flights

Colin Waddell did a whoopsie and moved into a new house directly under a flight path from the local airport. He decided to lean into it and created this Raspberry Pi-powered flight tracker so he and his wife can look at the fridge and put a name to the rumbling flights overhead.

giant fridge magnet tracks flights
Modelled by a human-size cool box


It’s a nice chunky build so it makes for a striking addition to Colin’s fridge. He programmed it to display the date, time, and temperature when there are no flights overhead, so it doesn’t become a boring lifeless black square at any point.

How does it work?

A Raspberry Pi runs the FlightRadar24 live flight tracking software. Data is pushed to the Adafruit LED panel via an Adafruit HAT designed especially to help Raspberry Pi boards talk to its nice LED displays. Here is the source code if you want to build your own. Colin added a scrolling feature so that the make and model of the plane scroll along the bottom of the display underneath the flight details, as well as some shapes and lines to space out the information nicely and make it easier to read.

fridge magnet flight tracker
Innards

Parts list:

The electronics were chosen partly due to their size, as Colin wanted the box to be as slim as possible.

Sleek design

fridge magnet flight tracker

giant fridge magnet tracks flights


Colin designed a custom box around Adafruit’s 32×64 LED panel and found a local carpenter to make his Adobe Illustrator dream a reality. The focus is on the screen itself, with a only a single — and fancy — cable to distract from the display and a nicely chosen retro-looking toggle switch on the top.

Be friends with Colin

Here is the original project post on Colin’s blog. Give it a click to make Google like him. You can also find him on Instagram as @MrWarmToast. We’re big into being friends with Colin because he moved into this new house during lockdown when no one flew anywhere, so the flight path bother didn’t reveal itself until it was much too late. Way to make lemonade, Colin.

13 comments
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Nice piece of work! I would dream of holidays al the time when a plane flew over and made noice.

Reply to Niels

Ashley Whittaker

Ahhhhh that’s a nice “lean in” too, Niels! I wouldn’t mind living under a flight path or next to a train line. Maybe a train line better as there’s more opportunity for actual people watching. Speed people watching, but still.

Reply to Ashley Whittaker

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Eh… this could be an ESP.

Reply to Facundo Montero

Liz Upton

…and I could be a patisserie chef, and the glass on my desk could be a mug – but no!

Reply to Liz Upton

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No need to get defensive here, lol. To each their own, but to me, this seems like a waste of money/computing power.

Reply to Facundo Montero

Liz Upton

$15 with wifi (which you’ll need for this project) – doesn’t really feel like a waste of money/power. I get the impulse to go microcontroller-only (some of us are microcontroller people), but really any “waste” is right in the margins in this use case.

Reply to Liz Upton

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…or maybe a Pico-W?

Reply to CRG

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I live next to LIN airport. Gotta try to build it

Reply to Gianluca

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I would like to build this. I already run two PiAwares, and live close to a hospital with air ambulance landing less than 50 yards.

Reply to James Horn

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Live under flight path of Perth Australia Airport and use Flightradar24 all the time. Must build this and give it a try.

Reply to Bill Hawkins

Ashley Whittaker

Might need to get in on this Flightradar24 action. I’m not even that interested but I AM that nosey.

Reply to Ashley Whittaker

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Ashley,
Would like to build this as I am 15 minutes away from Lehigh Valley International airport…. My life is electronics and love Pi projects. What is the easiest way to get this code without typing 183 lines?
Thanks!

Reply to Scott Thompson

Ashley Whittaker

Copy Colin’s! 🪄

Reply to Ashley Whittaker

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