Most people already know about ADS-B aircraft tracking, but few know about FLARM (FLight AlaRM). FLARM is a low cost and low power consumption ADS-B alternative which is often used by small aircraft such as gliders and helicopters for collision avoidance. It is used all over the world, and is especially popular in Europe, however it is almost non-existent within the USA.
Back in 2014 we posted about FLARM reception with the RTL-SDR, and also about the Open Glider Network (OGN). The OGN is an online FLARM aggregator that is similar to sites like flightaware.com and flightradar24.com which aggregate ADS-B data.
Łukasz’s tutorial uses an Orange Pi Zero which is a very cheap (~$7 USD) Raspberry Pi embedded computing device. He also uses an RTL-SDR dongle and an antenna tuned to the FLARM frequency of 868 MHz. The tutorial goes over the Linux commands for installing the decoder, calibrating the RTL-SDR and setting up the Open Glider Network feeder.
Remember that FLARM is typically 10-100 times weaker than ADS-B so a good tuned antenna is required, and the OGN recommend building (pdf) a collinear coax antenna tuned to 868 MHz.
Adam 9A4QAV is mostly known as the manufacturer of the popular LNA4ALL, a low cost low noise amplifier which is often used together with the RTL-SDR to improve reception of weak signals. He also sells an ADS-B bandpass filter and an ADS-B antenna, the latter of which we reviewed in a previous post.
The first new filter that he has developed is for FLARM (FLight Alarm System). FLARM broadcasts at 868 MHz and is a protocol similar to ADS-B. It is used by Gliders and some Helicopters for collision avoidance. It is possible to decode FLARM with an RTL-SDR which allows you to track gliders on a map, as discussed in one of our previous posts.
The second filter is for amateur radio astronomers who wish to detect the Hydrogen Line at 1420 MHz. Hydrogen molecules in space occasionally emit a photon at 1420 MHz. A single emission can’t be easily detected, but space and the galaxy is full of Hydrogen and the net result is an observable RF power spike at 1420 MHz. This can be detected with a high gain antenna, LNA, RF filter and radio like the RTL-SDR. The Hydrogen line can be used to measure things like the rotation and number of arms in our galaxy. Filters are very important for radio astronomy work as man made interference can easily drown out the relatively weak cosmic signals.
FLARM signals are transmitted at 868 MHz and are effectively weaker by 100-1000 times compared to standard ADS-B signals. The project recommends use of a high gain collinear antenna for receiving the weak FLARM signals. The open glider network project wiki contains information on how to set up their Linux based FLARM decoder that relies on the RTL-SDR for various embedded devices.