Tracking Airplanes with ADS-B

A project log for (me) Learning to speak SDR

I recently purchased an RTL-SDR from NOOELEC and started fiddling around with it. This is my documentation of what works and what doesn't.

Timo BirnscheinTimo Birnschein 05/09/2021 at 01:120 Comments

ADS-B is a system to communicate the position of airplanes to other aircraft as well as towers.

It's making sure that fewer mid air and ground collisions take place. An SDR dongle allows to receive these signals as well and plot the received airplanes on a google maps chart.

We need two pieces of software for this: 1090dump (you can also find the binary for windows in this forkas a zip file) and Virtual Radar Server.

Download both, unzip 1090dump and install virtual radar server as usual.

Go into the folder containing 1090dump and double click the 1090dump.bat file. A command box should show up with a bit of text, showing that the RTL-SDR was found.

 The window then changes into the actual tracking window showing airplanes in range of your antenna. This might be only a few or none depending on your area and vicinity to an airport and the quality if your antenna. Here in the Bay Area around San Francisco I saw more then 20 tracked airplanes and right now...

If you see something here, fantastic!

Now fire up Virtual Radar Server, click on Tools and then Options. Go to the Receiver -> Receivers section:

In the top right corner click Wizard.

Select Software Defined Radio

Select Dump 1090

Click yes.

Click Finish and then Test Connection on the right under the Wizard button. The connection should be made successfully.

Now, your system should be set up and you should be seeing the number of total messages ticking upwards:

To view the google maps window with tracked airplanes, simply click on the link in the center on the left. A browser should pop up and show the tracked airplanes with some additional data. the view can be configured in various ways. I have mine set up to show the track of every airplane as long as they are still being tracked.

Like I said, at the day of writing, I'm not seeing much. But hey, airplanes tracking. I need a better antenna for this sort of thing.