This tutorial provides information on effectively using the Flight Path
Tool. The following topics are covered:
How to Use the Configuration Manager
Each time the Flight Path Tool Application is started, the Configuration
Manager allows a configuration file to be selected and loaded. The
configuration file can save almost anything from the tool that is configurable
such as data layers, data overlays, favorite flight routes, vertical cross
sections, and zoom levels. There is a Default file that comes with the
application, and if no files have been previously saved, this will be the only
option. Once configuration files have been saved, those will be listed, as
well as the Default file, andOther. The Other option is
used to browse the local file system to load a configuration file from another
location. Left click the arrow in the drop down box to select a configuration
file, then click the Load button to load the application.
The Configuration Manager is also used to save and load
configuration files. To load a different configuration file after the
application has started, left click File->Load and choose a
configuration file from the local file system.
How to Zoom
The zoom button is selected by default when the flight path tool is
loaded. When a different button is used, the zoom button is
automatically re-selected after that operation is completed. To zoom, click
and hold the left mouse button and drag the mouse (creating a "rubber band")
over the area of interest. Release the button and the map will redraw to the
The back button reverts to the previous zoom state. If the Continental
U.S. is currently showing, and the zoom button is then used to zoom
into Colorado, clicking the back button will re-draw the map over the
Continental U.S. Note that the displayed data will be any currently selected
Background Grids or Data Overlays
The overview button changes the area displayed in the main window. Left
click the overview button. In the Overview window, click and
hold the left mouse button down within the red box and drag the box to the new
area of interest. Release the mouse button and the map in the main window will
redraw to the selected area. Zoom on an area in the main window (see above)
and a smaller box will appear. Note, the red box surrounds the area selected
by zooming, so if a zoom state has not been selected, the box will surround
the entire map. The edges of the red box may also be dragged to resize the
The View menu item is used to view other parts of the world in the
main window. If Europe is selected, the World map overlay should also
be selected in the Data Layers area. In the Data Layers dialog,
scroll down to the Map Overlays item and check World in the list
of checkboxes. Then, select the desired data type from the Data
Overlays check boxes. Note that the background grid data sets are not
available for places outside the Continental U.S.
The pan button is for moving to different areas of the currently
selected view. To pan the map, click the pan button, then click
and drag the map with the left mouse button to the new area of interest.
Release the button and the map will redraw to the selected area.
How to Change the Altitude
The altitude slider is marked with text indicating altitude in feet.
Click and hold the left mouse button within the orange box on the
slider and drag the mouse until the desired altitude turns orange.
Release the mouse button and the map will be redrawn with data at the
How to Choose the Data Valid Time
The time slider is used to change the data in the main window. The
red line shows the current time, and the orange slider
determines the selected data valid time. Click and hold the left mouse
button within the orange box on the time slider and drag the
mouse until it is on the desired time. Release the mouse button and the map
will be redrawn with data at the requested time.
How to Choose the Time Range and Animate
The time range shown below the map limits the valid times which can
be selected and defines the time range which will be animated. To
change the time range or animation properties, left click on the
Configure->Time menu at the top of the main window to open the
Time & Animation Configuration window.
The Time & Animation Configuration window has two tabs. The
first, Time, is used to control the visible time range. The second,
Animation, is used to control the length and speed of animation. The
Cancel button closes the dialog without making any further changes,
while the Apply buttoncommits all changes.
- Time Tab
The Time tab allows configuration of the number of tick marks on
the time slider and whether or not the sliding button snaps onto
the nearest tick mark. It also controls whether the application is in
Archive Mode or Real-time Mode.
In Real-time Mode (the default), the application automatically looks
for new data on the interval specified in the Update every pulldown
menu. In this mode, there are several options for the range and
selected time in the time slider. By default, the selected
time is always now, meaning that it moves forward as time
progresses; New data are selected as they become available. Other options are
to have the selected time stay Fixed at its current setting or to have
the selected time always be Offset from the now time. The
Date Range is the time range shown in the time selector and the
time range over which animation will take place. By default this range
moves forward as time progresses, always showing the same number of hours
before now and after now. Selecting a Fixed start time
instead, allows the range to be fixed from a Fixed start time to a
Max date range.
In Archive Mode, the application does not automatically look for new
data or change the selected time. In this mode, the Start time
and End time must be explicitly set.
- Animation Tab
The Animation tab allows configuration of the number of frames used to
represent the time range and the frame delays.
By default, the Number of Frames is equal to the number of tick
marks in the time range. Sliding the selector left or right
increases or decreases, respectively, the number of frames. The Frame
interval automatically updates to show the amount of time between frames.
The Number of Frames can also be set by typing a number into the
Frame interval field and pressing the Enter key.
The Delay between each frame and the delay between the end of the loop
and its automatic restart can also be set. The Enter key must be
pressed for changes to be registered.
- Animation Control Buttons
The animation buttons to the left of the time slider in the main
window are used to launch and control animation. During animation, each
frame's selected time is shown in the time slider.
The upper left button is used to step backwards one frame at a time, while the
upper right button is used to step forwards one frame at a time. The lower
left button starts animation going backwards in time, while the lower right
button starts animation going forwards in time. The lower center button starts
animation in "ping-pong" mode, alternately going forwards then backwards in
time. When animation is in progress, the upper center button may be used to
stop the animation.
How to Select Data Types
Data Layers and the valid times at which data sets are available are
shown in the scrollable window below the time slider in the main window.
Data Layers are organized into groups. Background Grids are
gridded, colored, data sets, derived from forecast models: temperature,
relative humidity, wind speed, icing probability, and turbulence
probability. Data Overlays are icons which can be drawn over grids:
wind barbs, METAR observations, pilot reports, AIRMETs and SIGMETs, and TAFs.
Map Overlays are static topographic grid and line features which give
geographic context to the data: topography, state outlines, country and coast
outlines, rivers, roads, and counties. Data Layer groups can be hidden
or expanded by clicking the circle to the left of their name.
- Data Layer Visibility
Data Layers are made visible by clicking the checkbox to the left of
their name. Only one Background Grids layer can be visible as a grid
at any given time. Turning on a grid automatically turns off all other grids.
Background Grids layers, however, can also be drawn as unfilled
contours. See the section on How
to Configure Data Layers for more information on displaying contours over
a grid. When a Data Layer is visible, the information in the
Available Data Sets area to its right is shown in color. When a Data
Layer is not visible, this information is greyed out.
- Available Data Sets
The Available Data Sets area shows the available valid times for each
Data Layer. Model-derived data is represented by a circle below
the time at which the data set is valid. Continuously updated data, such as
METARs and pilot reports, are represented by a single circle with "wings". The
width of the wings indicates the temporal extent of the available data. For
these data sets, only the most recent reports are available, regardless of the
selected time. Static data such as topography and state outlines are
represented by the text Static Data. For Model-derived data, the
selected data set is the latest data set which is valid on or before the
currently selected time. This data set is indicated by a larger circle than
for the unselected available data sets. As shown above, some Data
Layers may be showing data sets whose valid times are different than
- Layer Order Configuration
Data Layers are drawn one on top of another like sheets of acetate.
Any information which a Data Layer draws can obscure information from
a Data Layer below it. Generally, gridded data layers are drawn first,
followed by contours and wind barbs, topography, data overlays such as METARs,
and finally, map overlays such as state boundaries. When a gridded data set is
enabled as a contour, its Data Layer is automatically moved up so that
the contours are drawn over any other gridded data set. In some cases, it may
be required to manually change the Data Layer drawing order. Left click
the Configure->Layer Order menu item in either the Flight Path
Tool or Vertical Cross Sections window to change the order that
data layers are drawn. The Data Layer Order Manager dialog box will
appear. Left click and drag visible data layers up or down in the list to
change the order the layers are drawn. The names of visible layers are drawn
in black font, while the names of invisible layers are greyed out, and layers
can be made Visible or Not Visible by selecting the appropriate
button. The inner buttons move the selected layer one step, while the outer
buttons move the layer to the top or bottom.
How to Configure Data Layers
All Data Layers can be configured to change their appearance, but
the attributes which can be configured may be different depending on the
Data Layer. To access a Data Layer's configuration dialog, left
click the Configure menu at the top of the application, then select
the Data Layer group, and finally, the Data Layer name.
Data Layer configuration dialogs all have Apply, OK,
and Cancel buttons. Apply commits any changes to the Data
Layer configuration and forces it to redraw, but does not close the
dialog. OK commits any changes to the Data Layer configuration,
forces it to redraw, and closes the dialog. Cancel ignores any changes
to the Data Layer configuration and closes the dialog. All of the
configurations described below require Apply or OK to take
- Common Configuration
All Data Layers may be Enabled or Disabled. This is the
same functionality as using the checkbox in the Data Layers area at the
bottom of main window. All Data Layers also have transparency.
Sliding the marker between More and Less alters the Data Layer's
Transparency from clear to opaque, respectively.
- Gridded Data Layers
Gridded Data Layers can be drawn as grids and/or contours. When the
Show data as Grid checkbox is selected, the data are drawn as
color-filled polygons. When the Show data as Contours checkbox is
selected, data are drawn as contours. Contour Intervals, Colors,
and Labels may all be configured. In order to show contours of one
gridded Data Layer over the grid of another gridded Data Layer, the Fill
Contours option must be off.
- Wind Barbs Data Layer
The wind barbs Data Layer allows its Wind Barb Density to be
configured. Sliding the marker between Fewer and More changes
the wind barb density from very sparse to extremely dense, respectively. The
midpoint results in barbs which are spaced approximately one barb apart.
Because wind barbs are derived from the gridded windspeed field, there are
also controls for drawing the wind speed as a grid or contours. These controls
are identical to enabling the Wind Speed Data Layer in the
Background Grids group.
- METARs Data Layer
The METARs Data Layer allows the observed variables to be independently
selected, as well as adjustment of the METAR density.
When no METAR variables are turned on, which is the default, all METAR
stations display an icon. The icon is colored according to the flight category
and shaped according to the cloud coverage, as documented at:
METARs Help Page
METAR variables may be toggled on or off by clicking in the checkbox next to
their name, or clicking their title in the key image. The variables for each
station are drawn around the station location as shown below. Tables
explaining the weather symbols can be found at:
When any variable other than the default cloud coverage/flight category icon
is turned on, the Metar Density is enabled. The Metar Density
controls how many METAR stations are shown on the map using a feature called
"progressive disclosure." Levels of progressive disclosure include
All, More, Default, and Fewer. Under progressive
disclosure, more stations are displayed for a "close-in" zoom than
for a "far-out" zoom. The actual number of stations displayed
depends on the prioritized importance of the stations in the current view,
how close the stations are to one another, and the selected Metar Density
- All means all stations will be shown, and they will most likely overlap.
- More means most stations will be shown, and some may overlap.
- Default means the higher priority stations in the view will be shown, and none will overlap.
- Fewer means only the highest priority stations will be shown, with space between them.
- PIREPs Data Layer
The PIREPs Data Layer can be configured to Show Icing reports,
Show Turbulence reports, and/ or Show Weather reports. The
default is to Show Icing. Reports can fall into more than one category
if they contain information about more than one hazard. More information about
PIREP symbols may be found at:
ADDS PIREPs Help Page
The height(s) at which the PIREP was logged and/or any hazards reported may be
shown by enabling the Show Heights checkbox. The heights appear as
flight level numbers to the left of the PIREP symbol. When more than one
number appears, the lower one is the minimum height at which any hazard was
reported and the upper one is the maximum height. In some cases, the height
range may not correspond to the hazard identified by the PIREP symbol.
The number of PIREPs shown may be limited by using the altitude sliders. By
default, PIREPs at all altitudes are shown. To limit the display to PIREPs
between certain altitudes, drag the yellow sliders at the top and
bottom of the altitude slider to define a new altitude range. The
entire range may also be moved by dragging its dark grey center.
- AIR/SIGMETs Data Layer
The AIRMET and SIGMET Data Layer may be configured to show certain
types of warnings. By default, all warnings are displayed. Clicking the
checkbox next to their name toggles individual warning types off or on. The
entire group of AIRMETs or SIGMETs may also be toggled off or on by clicking
the checkbox next to the group title. The flight levels between which the
warnings apply may be displayed by toggling the Show Heights checkbox.
It is off by default.
- Topography Data Layer
There are 4 different resolutions of the static topography data in the
Flight Path Tool. By default, the 5km resolution is selected. In order
to match the topography grid cells exactly to a model grid, it may be
desirable to change topography to one of the other resolutions. Only one of
the resolutions may be visible at a given time.
When enabled, the topography is drawn in shades of brown, intersecting the
model data according to the selected altitude. The shade of brown indicates
the topographic height at each cell, with the darkest browns used for low
elevations and the lightest browns used for the highest elevations.
How to Create a Flight Path
- Creating a Flight Path
Left click the airplane button to begin a flight path.
- Using the mouse, place the cursor, which is now an airplane, on/near the
desired departure airport and click the left mouse button to begin a new path.
- Left click once on/near all en-route airport(s) to continue the route. A
line will appear connecting the points where you have clicked.
- Upon reaching the final destination, double-click on/near the destination
airport. The flight path can also be finished by clicking on the "airplane
button" once the path points have been clicked. Either of these actions
completes the path and the program requests the data from the server and
creates a new window called Vertical Cross Sections. This process may
take a few seconds.
- Navigating the Vertical Cross Sections Window
The window that "pops up" after a flight route has been created is
called Vertical Cross Sections. Once a path has been created, it is
stored in the tool's history. All paths created in a session or saved
in a configuration file can be accessed by selecting the View ->
History menu item in the Vertical Cross Sections window. There is
also a list of "classic" paths that can be selected from the
View->Classics menu item.
- Exporting and Printing
The File->Export Image menu item can be used to save either the
image in the main Flight Path Tool window, or a Vertical Cross Section as a
png file on your local hard drive. The images can be printed by selecting
File->Print Image and following the instructions in the subsequent
- Saving a Path in a Configuration File
Save flight paths and their Vertical Cross Sections, by saving a
configuration file. Left click on File->Save as in the Flight
Path Tool window and the
Configuration Manager dialog box will appear. Left click on the
arrow in the drop down box and select Other to open a file browser and
specify the name and location on the local hard disk for the new configuration
file. When the saved configuration file is loaded during subsequent sessions,
the data will be current, with the saved routes available via the
View->History menu in the Vertical Cross Sections window.