Wednesday, 21 May 2014

ADS-B Virtual Radar Lab Project

If your like me and have always wanted your own "virtual radar station" your in luck!

I recently managed to get my hands on an awesome RTL2832U+R820 powered USB dongle. Although it's intended for DVB-T reception this dongle will open a new world for you between 24 - 1766 MHz

Back to the aircraft... basically many planes are equipped with ADS-B (many more in the future will also be) and send out great nuggets of information on 1090 MHz, including identification, altitude, velocity, GPS location.

If you have your own RTL2832U dongle you can give it a whirl using gnuradio (apt-get install gnuradio), and the downloading dump1090 (git clone git:// then cd into dump1090 and type: make <enter>

Once dump1090 has finished compiling your ready to give it a try: ./dump1090 --interactive (this should display a list of aircraft detected in your area - if any are available)

To run dump1090 in the background and enable the web based view:

dump1090 --net --net-http-port 80 --modeac --enable-agc

You can at this point also share data with sites like FlightRadar24 (our station code is T-FAWB4) or plane plotter - I'll dedicate a blog post to this.

Sample of dump 1090 raw output, the ICAO address is unique to the aircraft and doesn't change (not true for planes like Air Force 1 though, with good reason). You can use this address at AirFrames to find additional information about the aircraft if the registration is unknown.

CRC: 000000 (ok)
DF 17: ADS-B message.
  Capability     : 5 (Level 2+3+4 (DF0,4,5,11,20,21,24,code7 - is airborne))
  ICAO Address   : 00b026
  Extended Squitter  Type: 12
  Extended Squitter  Sub : 0
  Extended Squitter  Name: Airborne Position (Baro Altitude)
    F flag   : even
    T flag   : non-UTC
    Altitude : 29175 feet
    Latitude : -25.793839
    Longitude: 29.648132

It is also normal to receive output without a call sign or other details, it could be that these have simple not been received or arn't being transmitted.

The project turn out to be more like a hobby at the end of the day but very rewarding, the parts used also turned out to be a global collaboration:

1. Antenna from Bulgaria
2. Surge protector also from Bulgaria
3. Aluminium enclosure from China
4. Curtain rod as antenna pole from South Africa
5. Antenna bracket from South Africa
6. N-Type connectors from Germany
7. LMR-400 cable from India
8. RTL2832U USB dongle and hub from China
9. Raspberry Pi from the UK
10. Heat sink from some trashed amplifier
11. Old Cisco power supply for 5 volt

Please comment if you'd like any more information on the project.

To view it online visit: Monitman and click on the Lab link.

Raspberry Pi Model B

N-Type Connector

Surge Protection
- Update to this post -
I used a Cisco 1720 power supply, it outputs 5V and I simply jumped the required cables to fool it to switch on. I power both the Raspberry Pi (now a model B+), USB hub and the dongle with it.

The extra cables were simply for some future expansion I had planned but never got to, the one antenna is for ADS-B and the other a normal WiFi one I use to play around with.

I'm adding a few more goodies into the box at the moment and will post more soon!


  1. I came across your blog looking for ideas on mounting my ADB-S configuration. You have a nice mounted system. I have a couple of questions.

    What Cisco power supply did you use?
    Does that one power supply power your Pi and the powered USB hub?

    You have 2 antennas but appears to be 4 coax cables coming from your enclosure.
    Could you explain the cables that coming from your enclosure?


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