NOVEMBER 3, 2022
In November, 2021, I received a private message from Elon Musk on Twitter, asking me to take down my Twitter account. The account, ElonJet, tracks the whereabouts of Musk’s private jet. It currently has almost 500k followers.
Musk offered me $5k to take it down, but for the amount of work I had put in, and for how much I enjoyed it, I didn’t want to give it up for an amount that wasn’t life-changing.
I think it’s kind of insane that the world’s richest person, who puts rockets into space and can make a car drive itself, was asking a teenager, who was a freshman in college, to stop tracking his plane.
I started the ElonJet Twitter account when I was in high school, in June 2022. It was my first coding project. I’ve always been interested in technology and computers, as well as SpaceX and Tesla. I became aware of flight-tracking apps as my dad works in aviation as a maintenance controller. I had the idea that you could take some of this data and track planes you’re interested in.
Then Covid came along and I had a go at it, using the little bit of coding experience I had from classes in high school.
Why I chose to track Elon Musk’s jet
Elon Musk is a cool guy. My original major was aerospace engineering, and I would say that’s definitely because of SpaceX and all that.
I wanted to track his jet because I feel like he’s always got something up his sleeve—you never know what he’s doing or where he’s going. He’s always got multiple projects going on, so I thought it would be interesting to see where he was going. You never know what this might reveal.
For instance, everyone knew he was in the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco earlier in the week but I was probably the first to know he is now in New York—I figured that out before he even changed his bio to “Twitter, New York.”
I also wanted to track Musk’s jet because there’s a demand for it—as there is for other celebrities, which is why I also track the jets of Jeff Bezos, Taylor Swift and Donald Trump, among others. People who are fans of these people want to see where they’re going.
But there’s a climate side to it, too. I believe these high-profile people shouldn’t be flying that much. I think it’s good to bring attention to that, then maybe some of them will change their habits or invest in greener planes.
How ElonJet works
My program analyzes data for planes that I want it to look at, monitoring position, longitude, latitude, speed, altitude to figure out the location of take-off and landing. Then it generates a map and automatically tweets out the coordinates of its location.
The information I use is publicly available. There’s a mandate for all planes to transmit their position, altitude and speed, and people around the world have receivers that are built to receive that information. Companies have built a network of these receivers, meaning they have global coverage, and I receive data from that network.
My code is automated, so the only maintenance it needs is for me to either add planes, fix bugs or add features. Some days I spend no time on it, other days I spend several hours. But it doesn’t interfere with my university work as a sophomore at University of Central Florida.
Gaining popularity—and being blocked by Elon Musk
I didn’t initially publish my findings on Twitter—I just tracked the jet myself. But a month or two in, a friend of mine had the idea that I put it on Twitter. Then I saw there was a demand for it.
It blew up in January, 2022. My friends went crazy about it—they thought it was unbelievable that I was in the news. You never would expect your name to be in the same story as Elon Musk, the world’s richest person. It was an insane experience.
A week into the news, Musk blocked the ElonJet account, and my personal account. It was kind of sad but, at the same time, I thought: I’m 20, I’ve done all this stuff, I’m on the news. It was such a cool experience, it didn’t bother me that much.
I’ve made some money from ElonJet, through donations from Twitter users, but it’s not crazy: maybe a couple thousand dollars. I made the most when the news came out, but even now I get a little bit every month.
I would consider selling the account to Elon Musk if the criteria were right. I’d still want $50k—or a Tesla. It’s always been my dream car.
What happened when Elon Musk bought Twitter
I haven’t had any interactions with Musk since he took over Twitter. But when he first discussed buying Twitter, he unblocked the ElonJet account. I think he didn’t want to seem like a hypocrite, as he has been such an advocate of “free speech.”
I’m not worried now that Musk owns Twitter. If he banned ElonJet, the news would be all over it, so I don’t think he will do it. That being said, there’s always a chance. I put out a poll recently, and some of my followers think my account will be banned.
I’ve kept my account going for over two years for the same reason why I didn’t sell it for $5k: it’s my project and people are interested in it. Even though some people won’t like it, I’m not going to stop. There’s always going to be haters.
I’ll keep the account going for as long as I can, provided we can verify that Musk still has whatever jet we are tracking. He apparently has another jet on order, so I’ll be tracking that.
Jack Sweeney, 20, is a sophomore from the University of Central Florida. He manages the ElonJet account on Twitter.