Flyover Country App, or What Do Airplanes and Dinosaurs Have in Common?

By Katrin Kleemann

On my flight home to Berlin from Munich last month (7 April 2016) I tested an app I recently read about. The app allows you to learn about places, points of interests, and geological features, such as lakes and mountains, when you fly over them. As you have to switch to airplane mode on the flight, the app allows you to download a flight path in advance, so you can access it when you are in the air.

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Here you can see the app’s logo, and the downloaded path Munich-Berlin Tegel, all the black and turquoise dots contain several points of interests. The black ones are Wikipedia articles, the turquoise ones contain information about dinosaur fossils, which is fed from (c)Flyover Country. Author screenshots.

The app Flyover Country was developed by Shane Loeffler, at the time a geology student at the University of Minnesota, with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation. The app is fed by geological and paleontological databases. The content is linked to Wikipedia and the app also downloads the articles for you, so you can read them offline, but it’s saved without the images—for reasons of memory space.

I recently switched my minor to geology and I was particularly interested in learning more about geological features, but I was happy to find out that there are also turquoise dots with information—specifically about dinosaur fossils below my flight path!

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Did you know there were so many dinosaur fossils around Bavaria?  (c)Flyover Country. Author screenshots.

The offline version of your flight path is quite broad, which is good, as you don’t always fly in a straight line. For the first half of the flight there was no point of orientation on the ground as it was very cloudy. So it was useful that the pilot announced half way through the flight that we were flying over Pilsen in the Czech Republic, towards Dresden, and then descending to Tegel Airport.

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Flight over Pilsen and Dresden towards Berlin. One of the geological features in this region is the Cottaer Spitzberg. (c)Flyover Country. Author screenshots.

My plane even flew over / in the proximity of a geological point of interest that also happens to be one of my research subjects: The Cottaberg (Cottaer Spitzberg) near Dresden. Contemporaries in 1783 believed it to be the source of a volcanic eruption, which explained all the extraordinary weather phenomena of the summer. The Cottaberg is in fact of volcanic origin, but its last eruption did not occur some 200 odd years, but rather circa 25 million years ago. The real reason behind the summer’s strange weather was in fact a volcanic eruption, but it was located in Iceland.


A view out of the window reveals: We are in Berlin, the TV Tower is clearly visible in this shot. Photo (c) Katrin Kleemann.

One of the only landmarks near the airport in Berlin was the Teufelsberg (Devil’s mountain), which was also visible on the horizon while we were landing—thanks to its location on top of an artificial mountain, easy to spot in an otherwise flat landscape, it is not a naturally occurring geological feature but was made of debris and rubble from the air raided and destroyed city of Berlin after WWII.

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(c)Flyover Country. Author screenshots.


The lower dot on the first picture symbolizes the Teufelsberg, when you tap on it, you receive the information shown here in the second picture, and when you are lucky enough to have a window seat on this side of the plane (and good weather), you can see it, too! Photo (c) Katrin Kleemann.

I was lucky to have gotten a window seat, but the app is great even if you happen to be sitting by the aisle or there is low visibility outside due to clouds or bad weather. The app is certainly a great way to broaden your horizon while you are sitting on a plane waiting to get from A to B. It can be a great exploratory tool to get to know a foreign land, or indeed, your own country. You can download the app in iTunes or Google Play.


(c)Flyover Country. Author screenshot.

Post scriptum: Yesterday (13 April 2016) the app was updated on my (android) phone and the app now has a few new, fantastic features, which seems very helpful in terms of locating yourself on the map. I was lucky the pilot mentioned where we are flying, now you can see for yourself:

The updated version comes with new buttons in the bottom corner on the right-hand side: If you enable the GPS, you can see where you are, which direction you are travelling in. In the framed field at the top of the screenshot you can see your altitude and the speed you are travelling at (in this case, the speed you are travelling at when you are sitting on a couch making a screenshot).

The logo is taken from the Flyover Country website.


Katrin Kleemann is a Ph.D. candidate at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at LMU Munich and a research associate with the Environment & Society Portal. Follow her on twitter @katrinkleemann.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Iris Reply

    Thanks for this. I will be sure to test it on my next transatlantic flight!

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