Plane Talking

See – and hear – how Air Traffic Controllers shepherd us safely through the skies in this interactive simulation.


Most of the aircraft in Britain’s skies are under their control. But quite likely, you’ve never heard of them.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS), better known as the UK’s air traffic controllers, asked us to help them give the world a new appreciation of their fascinating work.

We used digital storytelling to recreate a real 40-minute flight from London to Manchester, taking the user of a journey of understanding into Air Traffic Control and air travel itself.

We designed the conversations between Air Traffic Control and the aircraft’s pilots to appear like a message thread. And we decoded each bit of dialogue with a handy explanation, helping people to learn the code words, abstract concepts and commands. Audio recordings gave the experience an even deeper level of realism.

Alongside this scrolling audio-textual message thread, we built an interactive 3D recreation of the aircraft’s entire journey from Heathrow to Manchester airport. You’ll watch the aircraft taxi along the runway, take off into the air and fly above England’s cities.

There are several mind-expanding stop-offs on our journey, too: animated explainers that deep dive into the aviation alphabet (Alpha to Zulu), the difference between ‘Altitude’ and ‘Flight level’ and how runways work.

A screenshot from the plane talking website. On the left is a graphic of a plane flying over the UK. On the right is text showing the conversations of air traffic controllers during the flight.
Three side-by-side screenshots of how Plane Talking appears on mobile. The first screenshot shows the front cover of the site. The other two show a graphic of the plane's journey in the top third of the vertical screen while the bottom two thirds shows the conversation of air traffic controllers and pilots during the flight.
A flat colour map of an airport with a 3D air traffic controller sticking up out of it.
A flat colour map of an airport with a 3D air traffic controller sticking up out of it. A 3D plane is cruising along one of the runways next to the text 'Bravo 3'.
A page of statistics summarising a flight from the Plane Talking project titled 'Take me through it'. Stats include 73 messages in total, 4.2 seconds average per message amd 5 airspace sectors covered.
A graphic of the timeline used at the bottom of Plane Talking to track times messages were sent during the flight.
Four side by side screenshots of different sections of the NATS website. Each has a map showing the plane's position at the top of the page, followed by text and visualizations exploring the process in more depth.

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