Check out this great project from Jeremy Merrill about tracking airplanes using software defined radio on a Raspberry Pi. Jeremy lives near LaGuardia Airport in New York City and wanted to know what planes were flying overhead every day. Using the RTL-SDR dongle on a Raspberry Pi Jeremy can tune in to transponder broadcasts that identify the location and call sign of every nearby aircraft. Once the aircraft details are known Jeremy can display them on a 16×8 LED backpack so he has a nice visual indicator of what planes are flying overhead. Check out the blog post for all the details and links to software Jeremy created:
This contraption uses a Raspberry Pi and a Software-Defined Radio antenna, along with some neat software and databases, to display on a 16×8 LED display the departure airport of the airplane that’s flying overhead. The software that runs it, which I’ve dubbed Flyover, is open-source.
So how does this work? Let’s start from the beginning.
Passenger jets reportedly collect one terabyte of data about themselves per flight. Of that terabyte, most airliners broadcast a tiny portion, unecrypted, over the air, via radio systems called ADS-B and Mode S. Every few seconds, they announce their location, altitude, registration number and – usually – the flight number.
Dump1090 is a program that listens to those broadcasts. Its web interface shows each plane’s precise location and path. I can pick up just about any plane within line of sight of my north-facing window in Prospect Heights. I can “see” planes well into Connecticut or Rockland County, but if the plane shows up even over Prospect Park, I often can’t detect it.
Photo from Jeremy B. Merril’s blog.