With so much news about Elon Musk’s private jet being tracked, this post addresses how to track planes with osint.
One can look for the plane registration as a starting point. The registration is written on the side of the plane. And is usually visible in photos of a plane.
Aviation news sites:
There are actually a lot of news websites devoted to aviation and are full of article about specific aircraft.
For example here is an article titled “Royal Air Force’s newest aircraft fleet reaches full-service capability” from UK-based Royal Air Force News ( https://www.raf.mod.uk/).
The article includes this photo that clearly shows the registration G-ZABH.
A google search of the registration will find a lot, be here we will focus on specific websites and what they offer.
Plane Spotting Sites
https://www.jetphotos.com/ – includes user uploaded photos of planes and all other forms of aircraft. A search here identifies the plane with additional data. At the top we see a photo uploaded to the site and several other photos below.
Click on the photo (not the text to the right of the photo) and you see this information about the photo from the user that uploaded it. most importantly, notice the date and location. Using this photos and the others, you can track where the aircraft has been observed over time.
Note that other plane spotting website can have additional photos, which is why you want to also google the registration to find other sites with photos of the same aircraft.
https://www.planespotters.net/ is another great resource that will often have additional photos of the same aircraft.
This site presents Airframe Info which gives a history of the aircraft from production to different operators over time as well as the different registration numbers assigned to the plane when it was used by each operator.
To find this, under a given photo find and click where its says “Airframe Info”
And you get the data presented as in the screenshots below.
ADS-B websites like Flight Radar 24 (https://www.flightradar24.com/) use ADS-B data to track aircraft. Once again there are different websites with different ADS-B networks and unique data. Therefore it is helpful to google the registration to find those other sites. But using Flight Radar 24, we get the following information that includes the current location of the aircraft and it’s movements over the previous 7 days. (Notice direct links to photos of the plane from jetphotos.com)
The site only gives you 7 days of history (try other sites to see if more data is available at that time). You can get more flight history by paying a fee.
If you want to keep tracking the aircraft and build your own history for it, you can use Visual Ping (visual ping.io). This site is used for tracking changes on a webpage. So you can input the specific webpage from Flight Radar for your aircraft and request updates daily or once a week.
See below where I have input the webpage url at Visual Ping and set it to look for updates in the page’s flight history section .
See the following advanced setting to make set up how it scrapes the photo (clicking a pop up button that would otherwise obscure the screenshot.
I prefer to get updates once a week and paste a screenshot in an ongoing word doc.
In addition to google, twitter is a great place to search the registration number and you will get all sorts of data, especially updates over time.
For a more expansive flight tracking guide, I highly recommend this one from GIJN (like finding the owner)