Sector 33

Ever wondered what’s like to be an air traffic controller? In Sector 33, you can guide planes through the Northern California airspace to the San Francisco International Airport as quickly and safely as possible! Developed by NASA, the app—available for Android and iOS—is a companion game to the Smart Skies LineUp With Math curriculum, designed to spark students’ interest in science and math.


The app is realistically detailed: it has the look and feel of a real air traffic control screen, and it follows standard flight rules. The objectives are quite specific, and they require a good deal of problem solving and math to guide the planes successfully through your airspace. You’ll have to adjust flight paths and speed to maintain even spacing of planes, but your best-laid plans can easily be derailed by rough weather conditions that force you to readjust flight paths. The physical details may be a little watered down from a real air traffic control simulator, but the mental calculations the game requires you to make throughout each level offer a realistic take on the decision-making process of an air traffic controller.

The game starts out on the simple side, but quickly escalates into real problem solving. Leveling up is especially rewarding: once you earn enough points to advance to the next level of controller certification, you’re given additional planes to manage which requires increasingly complex calculations. The game does offer hints, but only when you’re close to getting it right and could really use the extra push. Finally, Sector 33 doesn’t require any special in-app permissions, making it a great choice for kids.


The app may be available for Android, but it doesn’t run on all Android devices—Samsung Galaxy, in particular, seems incompatible with the app. The other biggest drawback (if you can call it one) is that once you play all the way through, it’s basically over since there are a finite number of available puzzles. There is an option to modify existing levels or create your own custom levels, which seems like it would allow for infinite play, but it was a little buggy—new levels could be created and played, but not saved. That’s not a big deal for an individual player, but it makes it impossible for a teacher or parent to create levels for their students to play.


Much like the objectives of a real air traffic controller, Sector 33 requires planning. This isn’t a game for messing around and muddling through to the answer, but the wins are far more satisfying for having had to think through them. The game is perfect for students who are using the NASA Smart Skies curriculum, but it’s also an excellent puzzle game for anyone who loves math or craves a little mental stimulation.