Category: Airband

dump978: UAT Decoder for the RTL-SDR + FlightAware App now supports UAT

In most of the world aircraft use the ADS-B standard for location tracking which transmits at a frequency of 1090 MHz. However, in the USA there is the option for aircraft to instead use the Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) protocol which transmits at 978 MHz.

UAT has some extra features for pilots compared to ADS-B. In addition to location information UAT provides a Traffic Information Service (TIS/B) which allows pilots to see what ground control sees on their traditional RADAR system. It also provides a Flight Information Service-Broadcast (FIS/B) which includes weather and other information. It seems that most small aircraft in the USA prefer to use the UAT system due to it’s lower cost and additional features. 

A few months ago an experimental version of dump978 MHz was released which is what we believe to be the first working UAT decoder for the RTL-SDR. It’s still in experimental development, however the FlightAware team have already referenced it for developing their Android ADS-B app which we posted about a few days ago. Because of the work done with dump978, the beta version of the FlightAware Android app has recently been updated and can now support UAT decoding. To download the beta version with UAT you may need to sign up to their public beta. More information about the beta can be found on their Google+ beta testing community page.

FlightAware ADS-B App which now supports UAT decoding.
FlightAware ADS-B App which now supports UAT decoding.

ADSBox: New ADS-B Decoding Software for Linux

Recently Roman, a programmer and reader of RTL-SDR.com wrote in to let us know about his ADSBox software which is a free opensource Linux based ADS-B decoder (page in Russian, use Google Translate) with several interesting features. ADSBox contains a decoder and a nice web interface which allows you to view flight information in a table or in Google maps, or even through a Google Earth interface. The software also automatically loads up a photo of an aircraft if you click on it in the map. Roman has actually been working on ADSBox since 2011 and seems to have recently added RTL-SDR support.

The software can be compiled on a PC with gcc, or on an embedded ARM device with arm-linux-gcc. We gave the software a quick test on an Ubuntu PC and found that it worked as expected. Install instructions are on the page linked above, but just in case here are our notes on compiling the software.

  1. Download and extract the latest version from the bottom of the page into a folder called adsbox on your Linux system. (Latest version at the time of writing: adsbox-20150409.tar.gz. Note that the Google translated download link did not work for us, use the original untranslated link if you need to)
  2. Download and extract the latest sqlite source files from http://www.sqlite.org/download.html (at the time of writing: sqlite-amalgamation-3080900.zip) into a folder called sqlite3 on the same level as the extracted adsbbox folder (not inside adsbbox folder)
  3. Edit the Makefile and set “WITH_RTLSDR = yes”. If cross-compiling for an ARM device set CC = arm-linux-gcc, otherwise leave this setting alone.
  4. Run “make”.
  5. Now you can run ADSBox with ./adsbox –rtlsdr.
  6. Go to 127.0.0.1:8080 in your browser to see and use the interface.
Screenshot of the ADSBox web interface.
Screenshot of the ADSBox web interface.

A self contained ADS-B Receiver using a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR

Over on the Raspberry Pi Reddit discussion board user spfoamer has posted about his Raspberry Pi + RTL-SDR based outdoor ADS-B receiver. ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast and is a signal broadcast by aircraft that contains information about their locations. With a receiver like the RTL-SDR and correct software you can make an aircraft radar.

In his design the Raspberry Pi transmits location data back to a PC via an Ethernet cable. In addition the Raspberry Pi is also cleverly powered via power over Ethernet (POE) which uses unused wires in the Ethernet cable itself to carry the power. Since he uses a 12V power source, to obtain the needed 5V to power the Raspberry Pi spfoamer uses a UBEC (Universal Battery Elimination Circuit) which is an efficient device that converts voltages from up to 23V down to 5V. Additionally, he uses a 1/4 wave ground plane antenna and a 1090 MHz bandpass filter to eliminate out of band interference.

On the Pi itself he runs PiAware and contributes his data to the FlightAware network.

ADS-B with a Raspberry Pi, RTL-SDR, Bandpass Filter all powered via Ethernet cable.
ADS-B with a Raspberry Pi, RTL-SDR, Bandpass Filter all powered via Ethernet cable.
ADS-B with a Raspberry Pi, RTL-SDR, Bandpass Filter all powered via Ethernet cable.
Close up of the inside of the box.

Review of Adam 9A4QV’s Folded Monopole ADS-B Antenna

Recently we bought and tested one of Adam 9A4Qv’s ADS-B folded monopole antennas. This is a well thought out 50 ohm antenna designed for receiving ADS-B signals between 1030 and 1090 MHz. It has an omni directional radiation pattern (receives from all directions in the horizontal) and 3.67 dBi gain.

This antennas main defining feature is that it uses a DC grounded design which eliminates the static electricity problems other antennas can have. This allows this antenna to be connected to a receiver 24/7 without having to worry about ESD destroying the front end of your receiver or LNA. It is also small enough to be able to be used as a desktop antenna.

Folded Monopole ADS-B Antenna
Folded Monopole ADS-B Antenna. Comes in two pieces which need to be soldered together.

The antenna is made of FR-4 laminate (PCB material) with conductive layer covering the ground plane board and an upside down U-shaped trace in the vertical section. The antenna requires assembly and detailed assembly steps can be found on the antenna’s web page. Assembly of the antenna itself was straight forward just requiring two solder joints to be made to connect the vertical part to the ground plane. You will need to take care to ensure that the vertical antenna is completely vertical once soldered in.

The antenna also comes with no included coax cable and so a cable must be soldered on to the antenna first. The assembly instructions recommend using Teflon coax cable (such as RG316), however we didn’t have any on hand, so we just used regular RG174U and carefully soldered it on, making sure to not melt the inner insulation too much.

Fully constructed ADS-B antenna with RTL-SDR dongle for size comparison.
Fully constructed ADS-B antenna with RTL-SDR dongle for size comparison.

After fully constructing the antenna we ran a SWR test using an RTL-SDR and a noise source and found the antenna to have a SWR of approximately 1.46 at 1090 MHz resulting in about a 0.155 dB loss due to mismatches. A SWR value of 1.46 is very good for a receive only antenna like this. In one of Adams videos he used some higher quality coax and his tests showed the SWR of the antenna with a value of about 1.2102.

As for actual real world ADS-B performance we did not test it against any other ADS-B antennas, but it received aircraft from almost 350 km away from an indoor desktop location which we think is pretty good. In comparison the standard 11.5 cm stock antenna that comes with most dongles only had a range of about 250 km when placed in the same location. The maximum range of an ADS-B signal is around 500 – 600 km, which should be easily achievable with this antenna mounted outside on the roof.

Compared to other hobbyist ADS-B antenna offerings, Adam’s folded monopole antenna is one of the cheapest we could find, costing only 20 euros + 5 euros for shipping (~$26.5 USD total), although it does not come with a mount or weatherproofing. It is also one of the smallest, measuring just under 6 cm high and 14 cm in width and depth. Below we table Adam’s antenna with some alternatives for a comparison (prices converted from Euro to USD where applicable).

Note remember that as passive antenna gain is increased, the receive radiation pattern becomes flatter (which you may or may not want – you’ll receive better out towards the horizon but worse at higher elevations) and that an active antenna with an LNA is most useful when long runs of coax cable is used.

Antenna Type Passive Gain (dBi) Length (cm) Notes Price (Excl. Shipping) (USD)
9A4QV Antenna Folded Monopole 3.67 6 DC Grounded. No cabling, mounts or weatherproofing included. $21.9
Diapason MCX PCB Stripline 2.1 21 Comes with 3 m of RG174 with MCX connector, mast clamp and weatherproof radome. $63.36
A3 ADS-B ? 5 55 Comes with mast clamp and weatherproof radome. $85.23
Active Diapason PCB Stripline 2.1 21 Has built in LNA and SAW filter. Comes with bias tee, USB cable, mount and weatherproof radome. $193.870
DPD ADS-B Vertical 1/2 Wave Colinear 9 144 Very high gain passive antenna. Comes with mount and weatherproof radome. $149
DPD ADS-B Indoor Blade 1/2 Wave Colinear 4.6 61 Aesthetically pleasing as it is designed to be mounted indoors. $89.95
DPD ADS-B Double 1/2 Wave Mobile 1/2 Wave Colinear  5 33 Magnetic mount mobile antenna. $68.95
5/8 ADS-B Antenna 5/8 Wave Ground Plane 5.15 30 Comes with mount and weatherproof radome. $21.55
ADS-B J-Pole J-Pole 4.45 30 Comes with mount and weatherproof radome. $14.85

Disclaimer: We bought this antenna with our own funds and we are not being paid or reimbursed in any way for this review.

Have you tried any other commercial ADS-B antennas? Let us know in the comments how well they work.

New ADS-B Mapping and Decoder App for Android from FlightAware

Flightaware.com is a web based online radar service for aircraft. The plane position data is obtained from contributors running ADS-B decoding hardware, such as a special ADS-B receiver box or simply an RTL-SDR dongle.

To increase the number of contributors, the team at FlightAware have released a new RTL-SDR compatible ADS-B decoder app for Android devices. The App is totally free and is also ad free. It can be downloaded from the Google Play store at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.flightaware.android.flightfeeder. The intention of the app is to target users who may have an old Android device lying around, which can be put to good use in contributing data to FlightAware. More information about running the app can be found on their webpage.

When sharing data with FlightAware you are then eligible for a free enterprise account valued at $89.95 a month which allows you to access several advanced flight tracking features.

To use the app you’ll need an Android device, a USB OTG cable (ideally with external power port) and an RTL-SDR dongle. The USB OTG cable should ideally have an external power port and be powered from the mains with a power adapter as the battery can drain fast.

FlightAware ADS-B App
FlightAware ADS-B App

New ADS-B Decoder for the Airspy Released

Youssef, the main programmer of SDR# and creator of the Airspy software defined radio has just released a beta version of an ADS-B decoder for the Airspy. The software is called “ADSB Spy” and is similar in operation to ADSB# which is used with the RTL-SDR dongle. The increased sensitivity and lower noise floor of the Airspy should help ADS-B enthusiasts get longer ranges and more aircraft on their screen.

The beta version of ADSB Spy can be downloaded at http://www.airspy.com/downloads/adsbspy.zip.

ADSB Spy - An ADS-B decoder for the Airspy
ADSB Spy – An ADS-B decoder for the Airspy

Decoding and Plotting VOR Signals with an RTL-SDR: Part 4

Previously we posted about Will’s (aka hpux735) project [1] [2] where he has been using an RTL-SDR dongle to help understand and decode aircraft navigation VOR signals. VOR is an acronym for VHF Omni Directional Radio Range and is an older method of navigation used by aircraft which is used to provide a heading towards a VOR transmitter.

In his latest video, Will has been able to finish his code which allows him to actually plot some VOR data that he obtained from a flight on a map. In the video the VOR data is used to draw a heading line between three recorded VOR transmitters and the aircraft. The video clearly shows the accuracy of the VOR signals (about 1 degree) and shows what happens to the heading accuracy when reception is bad.

Fingerprinting Aircraft with Aircraft Scatter

Over on a Finnish aircraft spotting forum, one poster OH7HJ has been using the “Aircraft Scatter” technique to fingerprint individual aircraft (in Finnish, use Google Translate to read in English). Aircraft scatter is a method that can be used to detect aircraft via strong radio signals that are reflected by the aircraft body. OH7HJ shows that each different type of aircraft will present a different reflection intensity at different points of the reflection, allowing each aircraft to be uniquely identified.

In the thread the original poster used a standard hardware radio, but an RTL-SDR dongle or other software defined radio could also be used. He tuned to a strong analogue TV carrier and plotted the audio spectrograph in Spectrum Lab. If analogue TV is no longer available in your country other strong signals such as amateur radio beacons or radar signal carriers could also be used for aircraft scatter.

Below we show a small selection of some of the interesting images from page 9 of the thread, please see the actual thread for the rest. There is also more information and images contained in the other pages of the discussion thread too.

Fingerprinting a Boeing 777 with Aircraft Scatter
Fingerprinting a Boeing 777 with aircraft scatter
Comparing Aircraft Scatter Intensity Profiles
Comparing aircraft scatter intensity profiles
Comparing large and small aircraft with aircraft scatter
Comparing large and small aircraft with aircraft scatter