Anyone who has ever looked out a plane window and yearned to know details about what exactly is on the ground below can finally get the answers.
An app called Flyover Country created by University of Minnesota geologists is like a mashup between Google Maps and Atlas Obscura for plane trips, reports Outside Magazine.
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Minnesota geologists Amy Myrbo and Shane Loeffler received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop their free Flyover Country app as a way to make geological info more accessible and fun. The app is compatible with Apple and Android devices and works by analyzing a pre-determined flight path, caching relevant map data and points of interest to display them during the actual flight.
Flyover Country takes the user's current GPS determined location, altitude, speed, and heading as well as info pulled in from Macrostrat.org's geological maps, paleo data from Neotomadb.org and Paleobiodb.org, core sample locations, offline base maps, and Wikipedia articles. The beauty of the app is that it can still work during a flight in airplane mode -- and without Wi-Fi.
Outside Magazine's Michael Frank used the app on a flight between London and Frankfurt. The app isn't always perfect, he reported. For example the info won't match exactly if the pilot takes a different route, but overall he liked the interesting factoids. "I couldn't stop looking out the window," he wrote. "I read about the famous Koppenberg hill climb in Ardennes, Belgium, known for crushing cyclists in the Tour of Flanders because it's as steep as 22 percent and covered in greasy cobblestones."
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Admittedly it's been a while since I chose a window seat, but one time on a night flight I got to peer out at thunderstorms flashing in the distance and the bright moon reflecting over every body of water we passed. I would have loved to find out what was actually down there.
Although the app is designed for plane rides, it can also be used on road trips and hikes. Loeffler told Outside Magazine that he wants to add more data sources in the future, including info about rock climbing routes.
Many factors make commercial air travel uncomfortable these days. If Flyover Country can bring back a bit of wonder and amazement, that's at least worth toasting with a tiny soda can.