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Trails of Wind: Data Visualization of the Architecture of Airport Runways (figures.cc)
118 points by Osiris30 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

Cool visualization! One thing that isn't mentioned is the difference between true and magnetic compass directions. The runway illustration shows a runway 05 with a heading of 50°. The illustration makes it look like these are true degrees, since 0° is at the top as it would be in a typical map aligned with true north.

But runways are not named by their true heading, they are named by their magnetic heading. It's generally not a huge difference, for example true and magnetic north are about 12° apart at JFK in New York. But it's something that one would want to take into account in any simulation or visualization like this.

Good point. For purposes over a quite-small space, it's not a huge difference. However, I was quite surprised the first time I saw a magnetic declination map. Before flying I had never really considered the difference at all.

Very cool, might use it in my aero eng lectures! Regarding this topic, in 2011 I did a quick Mathematica script to calculate the historical wind rose for any given airport and display it together with the airport map: https://wechoosethemoon.es/2011/11/08/mathematica-rosa-de-lo... Sorry, it's in Spanish, the notebook itself is available here: http://wechoosethemoon.es/assets/files/RosaVientos.nb

Pretty cool. I am just wondering why they choose to color the runways from yellow to blue while using blue for mountains too...

Link is broken from the parent figures.cc site too.

EDIT: Google DNS or doesn't resolve, but Cloudflare DNS servers do. Interesting.

One thing that sticks out is how many airports the US and Canada have and how few China has.

Does anyone know if the data is incomplete for China, or is this accurate?

Heres a list of Airports in China vs the US. Looks to me that America has a lot more smaller airports, vs china which mostly has bigger airports for airliners and such.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_by_ICAO_code:... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_by_ICAO_code:...

I can't speak for China, but after a quick glance, I can name two actively used airports in the US that I can find on this map that are nothing more than flat stretches of dirt.

[Edit] They're generally used for hobbyists. Although, I once watched a V-22 Osprey practicing touch-and-goes at [1] below -- kicked up all kinds of desert dust. I've never felt more like being in Half-Life than at that time.

[1] Ocotillo Wells Airport https://www.google.com/maps/@33.1469143,-116.1300329,587m/da...

[2] Salton Sea Airport https://www.google.com/maps/@33.2420755,-115.9513012,1246m/d...

The US is fairly unusual in its vibrant general aviation infrastructure. A lot of those airports are tiny ones suitable to only propeller and small jet planes, not airliners.

China's extensive recent work on a high speed rail network is probably relevant here, too.

I also don't think China has anywhere near the general aviation community as their airspace is controlled by the military.

Seriously! Russia too. It looks like there are more airports in New Jersey than in China and Russia combined. That's got to be _some_ kind of opportunity?

This is more of a regulatory issue than anything. Airspace is very strictly controlled in both countries.

Further, outside of NA and Europe, GA is simply not as commonplace and in many cases like China/Russia, it's because it's (for all intents) inaccessible. Besides being heavily regulated, it's also relatively expensive, even by first-world standards.

Is there a way to search airport codes? Would be interesting to pull up a specific airport with relevant runway analysis.

I think AeroData does this also.

Im on mobile and dont have the link but you can easily get the list of airport codes - just google about.


Whats interesting about the airport codes (the three letter designation) is that they are commonly derrived from the plot of land or field they were created on. Sometimes even the name of the land owner.

Oh here you go:


Not only does the domain not resolve for me (Google DNS), but looking up the IP and connecting directly gives me an nginx 404. (

In case the creator is here... a large part of the internet can't access it right now.

it's disheartening to think that so many (technically-minded) people actively configure their networks & devices to give google even more of their data for free.

fwiw, i use adguard dns[0] which i initially learned about right here on hn (edit: and figures.cc resolves just fine with it).

[0] https://adguard.com/en/adguard-dns/overview.html

it'd be fun to drop this vector field on a graph (maybe a sphere's surface), interpolate between points, and then drop in particles and watch their streamlines.

[Edit: I am wrong. Ignore this]

>"Runways generally point in the wind direction, as aircraft take off and land more easily upwind. The designation of these is based on their respective alignment angles."


This is exactly 180º wrong -- what generates lift on a wing is _relative_ airflow and thus pilots preferentially prefer to take off or land into a headwind -- which mimics speed "for free".

Likewise, tailwind landings are downright dangerous for the same reason, and each aircraft has strict (and low) limits for the maximum permitted tailwind. The illustration is exactly the other way around.

"Upwind" means "into the wind", right? This seems to be written correctly to me.

I'm an idiot -- you're right. Apologies. The graphic vectors looked like the wind was blowing the wrong direction and I missed this.

Haha no problem, you're not an idiot! You still explained why this is relevant to pilots, which is helpful to know.

Yes, just like downstream and upstream for rivers.

Very cool. Why does Florida have so many airports?

- It has a bunch of popular vacation destinations (beaches on the Gulf Coast, beaches on the Atlantic, theme parks at Orlando, cruise ship ports, and the Florida Keys)

- It's both really large (it would take ~10 hours to drive from Pensacola to Miami) and pretty dense (8th densest state as of 2015[1])

- It has a lot of military bases: 5 active Air Force bases and 4 Naval Air Stations, along with a bunch of other installations that also have airfields.

More broadly: It has good weather most of the year, it's the closest point in the continental US to a lot of places (the Carribean, Central and South America), and it had a ton of empty land during the period that the US started building a lot of airfields.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_and_territories...

Many reasons, but likely the most prominent is that Florida has long been the country's locus for pilot training.

The reason for that in turn likely has something to do with being extraordinarily flat, with good year round weather and close to major population centers.

Because nobody wants to drive there.

Scroll broken in Firefox on Mac.

Why does the Southern US seem to contain the highest concentration of North-South runways in the world?

> Why does the Southern US seem to contain the highest concentration of North-South runways in the world?

It has to do with prevailing winds. Thanks to the Gulf of Mexico, winds in the eastern half of Texas and the surrounding states pretty consistently blow south to north.

Broken on Windows too.

Works for me in Firefox on Windows

You can use arrow keys

More precisely: click on the sidebar and then use the arrow keys.

Couldn't get arrow keys (or scroll) working on FF on Windows. If you select text and drag to select, the screen scrolls.

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