Mankind’s fascination with airplanes is unbroken. Whether you’re outside with your camera, getting an actual glimpse of the aircraft, or sitting at home with your RTL-SDR dongle and have a look at them from a distance, tracking them is a fun pastime activity. Provided, of course, that you are living close by an airport or in an area with high enough air traffic. If not, well there’s always real-time tracking online to fall back to, and as [geomatics] will show you, you can build your own live flight tracking system with a few lines of Python.
As it’s usually the case with Python, a lot of functionality is implemented and readily available from external modules, which lets you focus on the actual application without having to worry too much about the details. Similarly, plenty of data can be requested from all sorts of publicly accessible APIs nowadays. If you are looking for a simple-enough example to get into both subjects with a real-world application, [geomatics]’ flight tracker uses cartopy to create a map using Open Street Map data, and retrieves the flight information from ADS-B Exchange‘s public API.
We have seen ADS-B Exchange mentioned a few times before, for example with this ESP8266 based plane spotter and its successor. And if you’re more curious about the air traffic in your direct surroundings, it’s probably time for a DVB USB dongle.
Do you have commercial or general aviation flying over your home or near your home? Would you like to know more about these airplanes: identity, heading, speed, altitude and maybe GPS data along with even more information? Well then [Rich Osgood] has just the project for you and it’s not that expensive to set up. [Rick] demonstrates using a cheap USB dongle European TV tuner style SDR (software defined radio) tuner that you can get for under $30 to listen in on the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcas (ADS-B) (dead link, try the Internet Archive version) 1090 MHz mode “S” or 978 MHz mode “UAT” signals being regularly transmitted from these aircraft.
He steps us through configuring the radio to use a better antenna for improved reception then walks through detailed software installation and set up to control the radio receiver as well as pushing the final decoded data to mapping software. This looks like a fascinating and fun project if you live near commercial airways. You won’t need a license for this hack because you’re only listening and not transmitting, plus these are open channels which are legal to receive.
There are some frequencies you are not legally allowed to eavesdrop on—private communications for residential wireless telephones and cellular frequencies to name just a few (Code of Federal Regulations Title 47, Part 15.9). So remember you do have to be careful and stay within legal frequencies even if your equipment is not restricted from such reception. Also note that just because you have a legal right to intercept conversations or data on some frequencies it could be illegal to publicly share the intercepted content or any details on the reception or decoding (just saying for the record).
We wonder if [Rick] could partner with [G. Eric Rogers] to upgrade [Eric’s] motorized telescope airplane tracking system to extrapolate the radio telemeter data into vector data so his Arduino can track without relying on a video feed. That merger might just get them both on a short TSA list.
Join us after the break for some extra informational links and to watch the video on setup, installation and usage of this cheap airplane tracking rig.
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