Category: Airband

Reporters use ADS-B Data to Uncover the Role US Private Contractors Play in East African Air Operations

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have recently run a story about how they have used ADS-B aircraft data to uncover the role that US civilian aircraft contractors are playing in the East African "kill chain". The investigation began over concerns that while civilian contractors do not pull the trigger, they may be becoming too involved in the process of determining exactly who will be killed in combat via data collection and analysis through their high tech surveillance aircraft. In the article they also note how many of these civilian contractors hide their true owners behind a chain of multiple LLC companies, thus reducing any accountability for their actions.

OCCRP also supports the Dictator Alert project which we have posted about in the past. In a related article titled "Mapping the Secret Skies: Lessons Learned From Flight Data" Emmanuel Freudenthal who helped setup the Dictator Alert project discusses how censorship free ADS-B tracking is helping journalists uncover new stories. In the article he notes how he uses uncensored ADS-B data together with the leaked Paradise Papers to reveal the true owners of aircraft hidden behind multiple LLC and shell companies. Regarding the "kill chain" article Emmanuel's post also explains how the story came to be:

An upcoming OCCRP story focuses on U.S. surveillance flights over Somalia. The U.S. military operates out of a small air base at Manda Bay just over the border in Kenya. We had a tip that it would be worth checking on planes in the area, so we set up an antenna nearby, which fed us information about planes taking off and landing from the base.

We eventually had to take down the antenna due to security concerns. But we managed to collect data on a number of planes that had been purchased by obscure shell companies and modified with advanced surveillance equipment before being sent to Kenya.

Why is this article posted on this blog? ADS-B data from aircraft is most often received these days via RTL-SDR dongles due to their low cost, so it is interesting to see to what extent cheap SDRs may be affecting the world via this type of reporting.

We note that ADS-B Exchange is the only censorship free ADS-B data aggregator available. All other online flight trackers censor flights from the government as well as from some private jets that may be owned by high profile company directors or in some cases dictators. The argument for censorship is that ADS-B data collection may be made illegal otherwise.

In a previous post we also discussed how censorship free ADS-B data from ADS-B Exchange revealed how military Blackhawk helicopters and Predator drones were used for surveillance during the early Black Lives Matter protests. 

Emmanuel installs an ADS-B antenna in Liberia

Frugal Radio: Using an Airspy and RTL-SDR To Scan the UHF Military Airband in SDR#

In Frugal Radio's latest video he explores how you can use an Airspy or RTL-SDR dongle to scan the entire military UHF airband spectrum in a few seconds via SDR#. Frugal Radio notes that there are often many signals in the UHF milair band, but they can be difficult to find without a scanner.

In the first video he compares his Uniden BCT15X hardware radio scanner against an Airpsy, noting that his Uniden takes 1:10 minutes to scan the entire band, whereas the Airspy running SDR# with the frequency scanner community plugin can scan the same bandwidth in less than 2.5 seconds. Faster scanning means that you are less likely to miss an active signal. In the second video he tries scanning with an RTL-SDR and notes that it can scan the band in 9 seconds.

How to use Frequency Scanner to Search UHF MilAir in 2.3 seconds in SDR# using AirSpy R2

$25 RTL-SDR v3 Military Air band search in under 10 seconds! Frequency Scanner SDR Sharp plugin test

Frugal Radio: 2020 SDR Guide Ep 1 – The Incredible World of Software Defined Radio (RTL-SDR, Airspy, SDRPlay etc.)

Frugal Radio has begun his YouTube channel a few weeks ago, and we've already posted about his YouLoop and SDR-Kits L-band patch antenna reviews as well as his results with the YouLoop on LF & VLF.

He's now begun a new series on his channel where he will be exploring the world of software defined radio in more depth. The first video that he's uploaded today is an overview where he overviews EMS communications, aircraft signals, military air signals, maritime signals, space signals, as well as other interesting signals he's received like wireless earpieces for musicians at concerts and  TV studio talkback links. He writes:

The 2020 SDR Guide Episode 1 has just been released.  It serves as an introduction to the incredible world of Software Defined Radio and will be of interest to both beginners and more advanced users.

Over the next few weeks, Frugal Radio will be exploring various aspects of using SDRs within the  hobby.  These include :
  • Using Free online SDRs
  • Comparison videos (eg Budget dongle shootout - Generic / RTL-SDR V3 / Nooelec SMARt v4)
  • "Must have" software guide
  • Antenna options and more

Users can view the channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/FrugalRadio or visit https://www.youtube.com/c/FrugalRadio?sub_confirmation=1 to subscribe directly.

If you're getting started with SDR, or are looking for new projects this might be a series to follow.

2020 SDR Guide Ep 1 : The Incredible World of Software Defined Radio (RTL-SDR, Airspy, SDRPlay etc.)

Characterizing Yagi Antenna Directionality via ADS-B Reception

Over on his blog Alex Krotz has been investigating whether adding more passive director elements actually affects the directionality of his home made Yagi-Uda antenna. Instead of using modelling software, Alex wanted a more accurate result that took into account all the imperfections of his antenna.

His idea was to receive ADS-B signals with his Yagi and a dipole antenna, then compare the data received in order to determine in which directions the Yagi receives better than the dipole. To do this he first creates a standard 2D map of plane tracks collected over a 24hr period for both the dipole and Yagi. A gaussian blur is applied to the two maps in order to fill in blank space and the data is normalized. Then he simply subtracts the dipole plot from the Yagi-Uda plot. The resulting difference plot reveals a mapping of where the Yagi receives better or worse compared to the dipole in a 2D plane.

Directivity of the Yagi revealed by comparing against a dipole
Directivity of the Yagi revealed by comparing against a dipole

Tech Minds: Testing the OpenEar DMR TETRA ADSB POCSAG Decoder for RTL-SDR

Back in March we posted about the release of OpenEar, a standalone TETRA decoder for the RTL-SDR. Since then OpenEar has undergone massive developments, not only improving upon the TETRA decoder, but adding DMR, ADS-B and POCSAG decoders as well as a waterfall display.

Recently Tech Minds reviewed this software on his YouTube channel. In the video he shows how to download the software, install the rtlsdr.dll file, and run and use the software. He then demonstrates reception of an amateur radio DMR repeater, reception of POCSAG pager messages and finally reception of ADS-B aircraft messages.

OpenEar Digital Decoder - DMR TETRA P25 ADSB POCSAG RTL-SDR

Virtual Plane Spotting Livestream by Piping ADS-B Data into Flight Simulator

Over on YouTube we've recently discovered a live stream by channel Information Zulu that has created a virtual live 24hr view of LAX airport air traffic by piping ADS-B data into a flight simulator game. The stream also combines this with live air traffic audio and arrivals and departures information. Other videos on his channel show highlights like go arounds.

We're not sure what he's using to pipe ADS-B data into the simulator or exactly what simulator this is, but in the video description he notes that he uses a Pi 4, RTL-SDR blog V3 with ADS-B LNA, and an AirNav antenna to receive the ADS-B data. 

This reminds us of the Android ADSB Flight Tracker app which also has a 3D view, and the post about using ADS-B data to simulate what aircraft instruments would show on the real aircraft.

24HR LAX airport! Real Time Virtual Airport with LIVE aircraft data livestream

Using ADS-B Exchange to Track Police and Military Aircraft Monitoring the George Floyd Protests

During the recent George Floyd BLM protests police and military aircraft have been playing a large part in the surveillance of protestors. All these aircraft are required to transmit ADS-B which of course can be monitored with an RTL-SDR or other SDR. Many volunteers around the world use RTL-SDRs to upload ADS-B data to an online aggregation service, so flight data from all over the world can be accessed in one place. However, most ADS-B aggregation services like FlightAware and FlightRadar24 censor police and military aircraft from the raw ADS-B data received from the RTL-SDRs. ADS-B Exchange is the only service that has a policy to not censor any aircraft.

Buzzfeed recently ran an interesting article that used ADS-B Exchange to highlight the flight paths of various surveillance aircraft used during the protests, as well as the aircraft types used and who they are registered to. Most interestingly they saw that two military Black Hawk helicopters and a CBP Predator drone was used in Minnesota, and two military Lakota helicopters were using in Washington, DC.

As mentioned in a previous post, ADS-B Exchange recently updated their interface and backend, and they now run tar1090, which is a fully featured ADS-B mapping platform that can display the historical tracks of any tracked aircraft.

We also note that on Twitter John Wiseman @lemonodor also runs several "advisory circular bots" that make use of ADS-B Exchange data to automatically tweet a notification when aircraft are detected as having a circular flight path.

Police helicopter historical tracks over Minneapolis via adsb-exchange.com
Police helicopter historical tracks over Minneapolis via adsbexchange.com

UFO Tracking Network using RTL-SDRs to Rule out False Positives from Commercial Aircraft

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Tracking Network (UAPTN) is an effort to set up crowd sourced Raspberry Pi powered cameras all over the world in order to record videos of "unidentified aerial phenomena" AKA UFOs. In order to rule out false positives from known aircraft, they are recommending that contributors install a FlightAware RTL-SDR in their system for aircraft tracking. 

For this purpose doing your own ADS-B flight tracking would be required as most commercial flight tracking sites censor military and private jets. The only site that does not censor data is ADS-B Exchange. However, of course military aircraft conducting operations are always able to turn ADS-B off if required for the mission which is what the UAP network will probably detect the most. 

If UFO tracking does not interest you, then you might instead be interested in creating a RTL-SDR based GhostBox to talk to spirits!