Keep Tabs On Passing Jets With Pi And SDR

Obviously Software Defined Radio is pretty cool. For a lot of hackers you just need the right project to get you into it. Submitted for your approval is just that project. [Simon Aubury] has been using a Raspberry Pi and SDR to record video of planes passing overhead. The components are cheap and most places have planes passing by; this just might be the perfect project.

We’re not just talking static frames with planes passing through them, oh no. Simon used two hobby servos and some brackets to gimbal his Pi camera board. A DVB dongle allows the rig to listen in on the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) coming from the planes. This system is mandated for most commercial aircraft (deadlines for implementation vary). ADS-B consists of positioning data being broadcast from planes using known frequencies and protocols. Once [Simon] locks onto this data he can accomplish a lot, like keeping the plane in the center of the video, establishing which flight is being recorded, and automatically uploading the footage. With such a marvelously executed build we’re certain we will see more people giving it a try.

[Simon] did a great job with the writeup too. Not only did he include a tl;dr, but drilled down through a project summary and right to the gritty details. Well done documentation is itself worth celebrating!

21 thoughts on “Keep Tabs On Passing Jets With Pi And SDR

    1. Why did I use a keyboard to type this message? It’s what I’m used to and it’s much easier for me to comprehend than a momentary switch on a gpio pin tapping in binary. I’m sure other people would have the same question about your implementation of the same project.

      1. They are already building on Raspbian for the pi so I doubt thats it. I did notice ec2 micro pricing for Windows and Linux are identical so cost is no decider.. I figure maybe its to make use of Smooth Streaming later on

  1. At first I thought he would use online data and I was wondering how he could circumvent the lag (afaik, online database return the positions of planes with a delayed of ~15 minutes for security reasons). But tracking the ADS is kind of cool.
    I also hope ISIS is not tinkering one of those and is attaching a rocketlauncher :D

  2. Actually this has a very practical application: Measuring noise levels of airplanes.
    This is something something that is enforced by aviation authorities, especially during/after takeoff.
    I know since I worked for a company that tried to develop such a noise monitor.

  3. Are most US airlines paranoid about sending out ADS-B data? I’ve only been playing with a nooelec RTL-SDR dongle and cheap included antenna,which looks about the right size for 1090MHz, and the results are fair-to-dismal: most planes detected reveal nothing about their position or just their altitude or tail #. Maybe 1 in 5 is broadcasting longitude, latitude, altitude, and tail numbers. Mainly, you can just tell there are some planes around…

    I’m using dump1090 to decode the ADS-B. I am close to Orlando, so there are always lots of planes overhead.

    1. Since upgrading equipment is expensive, many airplanes simply have older ADS equipment that doesn’t transmit all possible data. AFAIK, only altitude and squawk code are required at the moment, but there are plans to gradually phase in the rest of the info into requirements. So it’s not paranoia, just cheapness.

  4. That’s awesome.

    Hey, all you need now is mic to monitor sound levels and a script that automatically emails a complaint to the relevant minister when there’s a loud one…

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