Guardian interactive celebrates 100 years of aviation

It’s one hundred years today since the world’s first scheduled plane service left Tampa, Florida for St Petersburg. To mark the occasion, The Guardian has published an interactive piece mapping thousands of global flight routes.

It’s one hundred years today since the world’s first scheduled plane service left Tampa, Florida for St Petersburg. To mark the occasion, The Guardian has published an interactive piece mapping thousands of global flight routes.

Designed by data visualisation studio Kiln, In Flight uses live data to map all planes currently in the air around the world. Users can also view flights paths from the past 24 hours, showing fluctuations in air traffic periods in each continent.

The piece also provides a look at the development and future of aviation using archive imagery, charts and a voiceover from Frank Burnet, a friend of the studio’s with acting experience.

Of course, this isn’t the first infographic we’ve seen mapping global flight routes – Michael Markieta produced one last year, and Aaron Koblin produced a great animation mapping US air traffic in 2006 – but Kiln’s is also beautifully designed and built to work on any screen. For full impact, though, we’d recommend viewing it on tablet-sized screens or larger.

To create the global flight map, Kiln’s content director Duncan Clark and technical director Robin Houston designed a background map using NASA and Natural Earth Data. Flight positions are calculated based on a live feed of take off and landing times provided by Flight Stats, and plans are drawn on the map using Javascript and Canvas: in the past 24 hours, 93,890 take offs have been mapped.

Clark and Houston worked on the project on and off for around six months and say the biggest challenge when building the piece was putting flight data in a file small enough for people to download in an acceptable time.

“Another major challenge was working on a project with so many moving parts – four chapters, each designed to play as a documentary pseudo-video and be explorable as an interactive,” they add.

Images in sections exploring the beginnings, development and future of flight were sourced from mostly from Corbis and Getty – in particular, the Bettman archive, which includes more than eleven million photos. “It’s amazing how much wonderful photography there is dating from as early as the 1910s,” say Clark and Houston.

It’s an immersive piece, and the combination of archive footage, live data and audio content provide a fascinating look at aviation past and present.

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Graphic Designer

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
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Integrated Designer

Centaur Media