If you’ve ever looked up at a plane and wondered where it’s headed, this simple project is for you. Thanks to cheap, miniaturized electronics, you can now build a receiver that connects to your smartphone and shows details about all the aircraft in the sky around you. It takes less than an hour and costs about $115.
The device receives and decodes ADS-B, a data broadcast from aircraft that transmits a callsign, location, altitude, speed and a few other bits of information. If you live near an airport or under a flight path, there’s a good chance you can receive these transmissions easily.
A commercial ADS-B receiver can cost $1,000, but the Stratux project receiver we’re building uses a Raspberry Pi 3, the low-cost mini computer that’s become the basis for hundreds of electronics projects.
ADS-B transmits on two frequencies, 978MHz and 1090MHz, so we’ll need two radios. We can repurpose a couple of digital TV dongles as wideband software defined radios to pick up the broadcasts. A couple of antennas finishes off the radio portion. The Stratux page has the shopping list.
Decoding software can be downloaded from the project website and installed onto a MicroSD card, which is inserted into the Raspberry Pi.
And that’s about it. It really is plug-and-play construction. The parts cost a total of $115. A GPS dongle is optional and only needed if your phone or tablet doesn’t have built-in GPS.
The Raspberry Pi connects to your phone or tablet over WiFi and there are several pieces of software that will make sense of the signals and show planes on a map. In our tests, we used FltPlan, which was free through Apple’s App Store. We downloaded detailed maps for our area through the app.
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