Tagged: collinear

Review: FlightAware 1090 MHz ADS-B Antenna and Filter

In this post we will review the FlightAware ADS-B Antenna and their 1090 MHz band pass filter. The FlightAware ADS-B antenna is claimed to have 5.5 dBi of gain, a rugged weatherproof radome and N-type female connector. It costs $44.95 USD on Amazon for US customers and $54.95 USD on eBay for international customers (plus shipping). They write that they are selling this antenna at cost in order to improve FlightAware coverage.

The FlightAware ADS-B filter is a bandpass filter with a pass range of 980MHz – 1150MHz, ~1.5dB insertion loss and more than 40dB attenuation of unwanted frequencies. It costs $19.95 USD on Amazon for US customers and $24.99 USD on eBay for international customers (plus shipping). Generally it is much cheaper than other ADS-B filter options on the market.

FlightAware.com is a company that specializes in aggregating ADS-B data from contributors around the world. People can contribute by using the FlightAware official hardware, or with a simple SDR, like an RTL-SDR dongle. They display the data on their website as it can be used to help track flight arrival times. A similar company is flightradar24.com.

If you are interested in getting started with ADS-B reception with your RTL-SDR then we have a tutorial here.

FlightAware ADS-B Antenna

The FlightAware antenna is about 64cm in length and about 2cm in diameter. It uses an N female connector and comes included with mounting brackets and U-bolts. It is painted olive green.

In the photo below we compare the size of the antenna against a reference monopole antenna, an RTL-SDR dongle and the FlightAware ADS-B filter. The antenna appears to be very solidly built and of a high quality finish. The antenna is wareproofed with some silicon caulking used around the seams of the endcaps.

Size comparison
Size comparison

The FlightAware ADS-B antenna is a collinear type antenna. Collinear antennas are omnidirectional (receives equally from all directions) and have a higher gain compared to most other omnidirectional antennas, but their radiation pattern is flattened and directed more towards the horizon. This is a good thing for receiving planes that are far away as they will be at lower elevations, but aircraft at higher elevations relative to your antenna may be received poorer. Although, it is likely that any aircraft at high elevations to your position will be closer to you anyway, and thus have a stronger signal making the reduced gain at higher elevations less important. Judging by it’s ~60cm length and it’s specified gain of 5.5dBi, the FlightAware antenna is likely to be a 4 element collinear.

A 4 element collinear generally has positive gain from 0 – 20 degrees of elevation, whereas a simple dipole or ground plane may have positive gain from between 0 – 40 degrees of elevation. A typical commercial jet flys at about 10km. At a distance of 100km this jet would be at a 5.7 degree elevation, and at 10km 45 degrees. Smaller aircraft fly at about 3km maximum, and at 100km would have an elevation of 1.7 degrees, and at 10km 16.7 degrees, so the collinear covers most cases.

A reader wrote in to us to let us know that the internals of the FlightAware antenna had actually previously been posted in an old thread on their forums. From the image it looks like the antenna may be a sleeved dipole + whip + impedance matching design, or something similar. This design is somewhat of a collinear design thanks to the additional whip which also gives a flatter radiation pattern with more gain direction out towards the horizon. These antennas are omnidirectional (they receive equally from all directions) and have a higher gain compared to most other omnidirectional antennas, but their radiation pattern is flattened and directed more towards the horizon. This is a good thing for receiving planes that are far away as they will be at lower elevations, but aircraft at higher elevations relative to your antenna may be received poorer. Although, it is likely that any aircraft at high elevations to your position will be closer to you anyway, and thus have a stronger signal making the reduced gain at higher elevations less important.

The internals of the FlightAware antenna.
The internals of the FlightAware antenna.

If you live in a valley, or have multiple obstacles such as trees or buildings blocking your view of the horizon then the higher gain design may work worse than a dipole/quarter wave ground plane/folded monopole type antenna. In this situation you’d mainly only be able to receive ADS-B signals from higher elevations, so an antenna with a less flat radiation pattern would work better. See the end of this post for some example radiation pattern diagrams.

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Discone Vs. Homemade Collinear for ADS-B

YouTube user nerdsville shows a signal reception comparison of his discone antenna and his home made 1090 MHz tuned ADS-B collinear antenna in this video. The collinear antenna shows a dramatic improvement over the discone.

ADS-B is a broadcast system which can be used to track aircraft like a radar. More information about rtl-sdr and ADS-B here.

RTL-SDR Tutorial: Cheap ADS-B Aircraft RADAR

The RTL-SDR can be used as a super cheap real time air radar. Modern planes use something called an ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) Mode-S transponder, which periodically broadcasts location and altitude information to air traffic controllers. The RTL-SDR can be used to listen to these ADS-B signals, which can then be used to create your very own home aircraft radar system. Compared to dedicated commercial ADS-B receivers which can go for between $200 – $1000, the $20 RTL-SDR is very attractive for the hobbyist in terms of price. However, note that the RTL-SDR probably shouldn’t be used for ADS-B navigation in a real aircraft for safety reasons. 

ADS-B broadcasts at a frequency of 1090 MHz. It has been discovered by the RTL-SDR community, that the RTL-SDR with R820T tuner has the best sensitivity at this frequency. The E4000 and other tuners perform poorly in comparison. So it is recommended that you obtain an R820T tuner if you want to set up ADS-B decoding with the RTL-SDR. Recently there has also been talk about the R820T2 tuner, which seems to have slightly better performance too. See the Buy RTL-SDR dongles page for more information on where to purchase.

We also now note that recently new higher end SDR’s like the $199 Airspy have developed very good ADS-B receivers that are several times more sensitive that the RTL-SDR.

Examples of RTL-SDR used as an ADS-B air radar

In this video, YouTube user Superphish shows a timelapse of air traffic over New Zealand using RTL-SDR, ADSB# and Virtual Radar Server.

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