Category: Airband

RadarBox24 Specialty ADS-B RTL-SDR Reduced to $9.95 + Shipping

RadarBox24.com is a flight data aggregation service similar to sites like FlightAware.com and FlightRadar24.com. They aggregate ADS-B aircraft data obtained from (mostly) volunteer RTL-SDR based feeders based all over the world and use this to power their flight tracking map and flight information database.

Last year RadarBox24 came out with a specialty ADS-B RTL-SDR dongle. This is a custom RTL-SDR which contains a built in 1090 MHz tuned amplifier and filter. We have not tested this dongle yet, but we expect that the design and performance would be very similar to the FlightAware ADS-B dongles. A network analyzer report from RB24 is provided here.

These dongles can only receive 1090 MHz and do so better than a standard RTL-SDR due to the built in LNA and filter. The LNA reduces the noise figure of the dongle leading to greater sensitivity, and the filter removes any strong out of band signals that could overload and desensitize the dongle. This results in greater reception range, and more flights tracked. Please note that these dongles cannot be used as wideband general purpose RTL-SDRs due to the filtering.

Recently in an attempt to gather more volunteer contributors, RadarBox24 has decided to sell their ADS-B dongles at a loss, pricing them at only US$9.95 + shipping (or on Amazon USA with Prime). Shipping appears to be anywhere from US$5-$8 depending where you are in the world, and shipping does not increase with two or more dongles being ordered.

ADS-B data can easily be shared to RadarBox24 with their Raspberry Pi image and RadarBox24 write that if you share data to their site, you will receive the following kickbacks:

  • Free Business Account while sharing (worth $39.95 /mo). This allows you to access RAW and historic flight data as well as enabling other features such as more advanced data filtering, and a weather layer.
  • Strong and enthusiastic Community on Whatsapp
  • Track your own station's flights in real-time not only on website but also on RadarBox apps
RadarBox ADS-B RTL-SDR Dongle
RadarBox ADS-B RTL-SDR Dongle

Feeding the dump1090 Aircraft Database with VDLM2DEC

For ADS-B decoding, dump1090 is an RTL-SDR compatible program that is commonly used. In order to provide information about the aircraft being detected (e.g. icao24 hex address, registration/tail number and sometimes the type of aircraft like A380), dump1090 uses an offline database. Unfortunately this database has not been maintained in a very long time, so it is now out of date, and so cannot display information about many aircraft.

Recently Thierry had the idea to use the data from VDL2 aircraft transmissions to update his dump1090 database. VDL2 is a short data messaging system used by aircraft that will eventually replace the older ACARS messaging system. With an RTL-SDR and vdlm2dec decoder, the VDL2 signal which broadcasts at around 136 MHz can be received and decoded.

Contained within the data is the icao24 hex address and registration/tail number. By collecting this VDL2 data over a number of days, a new database can be generated which can then be imported into the dump1090 database. It however, doesn't seem to acquire aircraft type data.

An aircraft registration/tail number displayed on the fuselage.
An aircraft registration/tail number displayed on the fuselage. Image source: Wikipedia

An Open Source VOR Receiver for Airspy and RTL-SDR

Thank you to Thierry Leconte (TLeconte) for writing in and submitting his new command line based open source software called vortrack. Vortrack is a simple VOR decoder which calculates the angle towards the VOR. It is compatible with both RTL-SDR and Airspy radios, and runs on Linux.

In the past we've seen several other posts about RTL-SDRs being used to decode VOR signals, but Thierry's implementation appears to be the easiest way to get a bearing straight away. You'll get the most use out of the software if you install it on a portable device like a Raspberry Pi and take it out for a drive as you'll be able to see the VOR angle changing then.

VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range and is a way to help aircraft navigate by using fixed ground based beacons. The beacons are specially designed in such a way that the aircraft can use the beacon to determine a bearing towards the VOR transmitter. VOR beacons are found between 108 MHz and 117.95 MHz, and it's possible to view the raw signal in SDR#.

A DVOR Ground Station at an Airport. Source Wikipedia.
A DVOR Ground Station at an Airport. Source Wikipedia.

An Overview of Aircraft Communication Modes from HF to UHF

Over on YouTube icholakov has uploaded an informative video that gives an overview of the main communication modes that aircraft use from HF to UHF. In the video he also gives examples of those modes being received and decoded with an SDR.

The modes that he explains and demonstrates are VHF voice, VHF ATIS automated weather, ACARS short data messages, HF voice, HF automatic weather, HF data selective calling (SELCAL), HF data link (HFDL) and UHF ADS-B aircraft positioning.

Monitoring airplane communications

Setting up Air Traffic Control Audio Sharing with Broadcastify, RTL-Airband, RTL-SDR and a Raspberry Pi

Over on YouTube Fuzz The Pi Guy has uploaded a video tutorial showing how to set up a Broadcastify air traffic control audio feed with RTL-Airband and an RTL-SDR running on a Raspberry Pi. This allows you to publicly share your received air traffic control audio online via sites like Broadcastify.

The video is based on a comprehensive Radioreference text tutorial which takes you through the process from scratch. Setting it up involves installing the Raspbian OS, installing RTL-SDR, installing and setting up RTL-Airband, configuring ezstream and then ensuring that everything runs automatically on boot. It's a fairly involved setup process, but the video helps make things easier.

How To Setup Broadcastify On A Raspberry Pi Using RTL_AM For Aviation

AERO C-Channel Voice Audio Now Decodable with JAERO

JAERO was recently updated by programmer Jonti, and it now supports the decoding of AERO C-Channels which are voice audio channels that exist on both the L-Band and C-Band frequencies of AERO. AERO is a satellite based communications service used by modern aircraft. The information transferred are normally things like aircraft telemetry, short crew messages, weather reports and flight plans. It is similar information to what is found on VHF/HF ACARS.

Jonti notes that these C-Channel voice signals are very weak as they are spot beams, so a good antenna system is required to receive them. Over on Jonti's JAERO website there is now some information about these C-Channels (scroll all the way down to the C-Channel heading and read to the end of the page), as well as a frequency list. An excerpt of the information is pasted below:

Inmarsat C and in particular AERO C channels provide circuit switched telephony services to aircraft. The channels of interest are those that carry AMBE compressed audio at a channel rate 8400 bps and voice rate of 4800bps. There is also an older speech codec still in use, LPC at a voice rate of 9600 bps and an overall channel rate of 21000bps.

Telephone channels are two-way duplex. In the from-aircraft direction transmissions are roughly in the 1646 to 1652 Mhz range. The satellite up-converts these transmissions to C band, similar to T and R channel burst transmissions. So it is possible to receive the from-aircraft transmissions although it is significantly more difficult than those in the to-aircraft direction on the L band. So for those who want to get started receiving these transmissions the L band is by far the easiest place to start.

Another aspect of the C channels is that they most often use spot beams rather than global beams which makes it more difficult to receive transmissions for aircraft using a spot beam that is aimed at another region. However if you are inside the spot beam the transmissions are relatively easily received on L band. A 60 cm dish with an LHCP helical and L band LNA will provide excellent results but even with a patch antenna it can be done.

Decoding these channels to audio in JAERO takes a little effort to setup. Due to the uncertain legal status of the digital audio AMBE codec, the codec code needs to be compiled manually first, and then placed into the JAERO directory. Jontio has uploaded the AERO AMBE codec source code at https://github.com/jontio/libaeroambe. Since JAERO is a Windows program, compilation of libaeroambe involves using MSYS2.

Once fully set up with the audio codec, the audio will come out of default soundcard set in Windows audio properties, so ensure that any Virtual Audio Cables are not set as the default device.

On the L-band link you can get conversations from the ground to the plane. The C-band link would get you the plane to ground side of the conversation too, but that is a challenging signal that would require a large dish and Jonti doesn't know of anyone who has managed to receive that before. Typically the conversation topics are things like Medlink which is a multilingual medical support line that can provide backup to doctors or aircrew handling medical emergencies in the air. In Europe the USAF also apparently use C-Channel.

AERO C-Channel Being Received with JAERO
AERO C-Channel Being Received with JAERO

Using an RTL-SDR to decode VOR Aircraft Navigation Beacons in Real Time

VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range and is a way to help aircraft navigate by using fixed ground based beacons. The beacons are specially designed in such a way that the aircraft can use the beacon to determine a bearing towards the VOR transmitter. VOR beacons are found between 108 MHz and 117.95 MHz, and it's possible to view the raw signal in SDR#.

Over on RadioJitter author Arnav Mukhopadhyay has uploaded a post describing how to decode VOR into a bearing in real time using an RTL-SDR dongle. His post first explains how VOR works, and then goes on to show an experimental set up that he's created using a GNU Radio program.  With the software he was able to decode an accurate bearing towards the VOR transmitter at a nearby airport.

Arnavs post is a preview of an academic paper that he's worked on, and the full paper and code is available by request on the radiojitter post. We've also seen on YouTube that Arnav has uploaded a video showing the software working in action, and we have embedded it below.

Bearing to nearby airport VOR transmitter determined with an RTL-SDR and GNU Radio.
Bearing to nearby airport VOR transmitter determined with an RTL-SDR and GNU Radio.

Real Time Demo of VOR Bearing

RadarBox24 Release their XRange RTL-SDR ADS-B Receiver

The team at radarbox24.com recently wrote in and wanted to share some new developments including news about their recently released RadarBox XRange receiver, which is an RTL-SDR based ADS-B receiver. Radarbox24 are an ADS-B aggregation flight tracking website, similar to sites like flightaware.com and flightradar24.com.

The RadarBox XRange receiver costs $649.95 USD and is available on their store. The box appears to include a full computing unit as well as a custom RTL-SDR receiver, and a built in filter and LNA as well. It is sold as a set that includes receiver, power supply, antenna and cabling. Compared to setting up an ADS-B receiver on your own by purchasing an RTL-SDR, ADS-B LNA/Filter, Antenna and Raspberry Pi separately, the XRange is well over three times more expensive. But it may have some value as an easy to set up and ready to go ADS-B receive system. They write:

1- We have release the brand new RadarBox app for iOS and Android where data sharers are able to see what what their own stations receive using the MyStation feature.

2- We've released the brand new RadarBox XRange receiver, RTL SDR based whcih is being sold and placed all over the world to increase network coverage.

3- Our RadarBox24.com flight tracking portal reached 3 millions viewers per month and, together with our apps, is growing really fast by providing an easy way for Raspberry Pi owners or users with our XRange and Micro RadarBox receivers to share flight data with us and benefit from a free Business account.

More information:
- Link to our Store where users can buy the XRange receiver and accessories below:
https://www.radarbox24.com/store

- Link to a real-time listing of newly added stations (Raspberry pi, XRange and all other supported receivers)
https://www.radarbox24.com/stations/new-units

- Link for users to install our software on their Raspberry Pi receivers and start sharing data with us (we get up to 5 new added units added to our network daily):
https://www.radarbox24.com/raspberry-pi

- Link to our worldwide station ranking:
https://www.radarbox24.com/stations

- Link to our MyStation, available to data sharers, where they can monitor their own station aircraft, stats and received aircraft listing:
Example for Texas, US: https://www.radarbox24.com/stations/EXTRPI009148
Example for Sweden: https://www.radarbox24.com/stations/EXTRPI006084
Example for Doha Qatar: https://www.radarbox24.com/stations/PGANRB300567

- The MyStation feature is also available on the Android and iOS apps so users can monitor their stations remotely.

XRange Receiver Set
XRange Receiver Set