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

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.


Niels avatar

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

Ashley Whittaker avatar

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.

Facundo Montero avatar

Eh… this could be an ESP.

Liz Upton avatar

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

Facundo Montero avatar

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

Liz Upton avatar

$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.

CRG avatar

…or maybe a Pico-W?

Gianluca avatar

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

James Horn avatar

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.

Bill Hawkins avatar

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

Ashley Whittaker avatar

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

Scott Thompson avatar

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?

Ashley Whittaker avatar

Copy Colin’s! 🪄

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