Aaron who created and maintains the DragonOS SDR Linux distribution has recently uploaded a new video where he uses a KrakenSDR to simultaneously receive and decode multiple aircraft tracking, telemetry/messaging signals including ADS-B, UAT, ACARS and VDL2.
The video shows how to setup all the software including FlightView GUI which is a graphical user interface that allows users to manage and configure various Docker based aircraft-related services including tar1090, readsb and acarshub.
Thank you to a contributor for submitting an article about Airframes.io, which is an ACARS/VDL2/HFDL/Satellite ACARS aggregation site. The article below it attributed to Kevin Elliott and was edited by Frank Vance. They would also like to attribute the large group or volunteers at Airframes.io.
One of the most popular hobbyist uses of SDR is receiving and decoding vehicle information data such as ADS-B for aircraft or AIS for marine traffic. Some hobbyists have been banding together to exchange their mutual data streams to provide coverage over wide geographic areas.
One of the largest and most successful such projects in the aviation realm is ADS-B Exchange (https://www.adsbexchange.com/), where over 8,000 volunteer feeders provide ADS-B data to a global aviation map in real time.
But modern air carriers have much more data to and from their aircraft than just the position information from ADS-B. In the 1970s, ACARS was created to carry that traffic. Today, ACARS is seen on its own frequencies on VHF, embedded in AVLC on the VDL2 VHF frequencies, on HF (shortwave) frequencies using the HFDL network of stations worldwide, and on satellite on both the Inmarsat (ACARS over AERO, or AoA) and the Iridium (called ACARS over Iridium, or AoI) systems.
Airframes.io (https://app.airframes.io/) is a project that has been under development for a while to aggregate ACARS data in the same way ADS-B Exchange is aggregating ADS-B data. Under the capable leadership of Kevin Elliott (https://github.com/kevinelliott), software development has progressed to the point that new feeders are actively being sought to improve the global coverage and provide a broader base of data to improve the decoding.
With a wide variety of data sources, this is a collaboration project that is open to all levels of SDR hobbyists. A simple RTL-SDR.COM unit attached to a Raspberry Pi with a smaller antenna works well with the VHF coverage. Depending on one's interest level, an HFDL feeder may require multiple SDRs with much broader frequency range, capable of reception in the sub-30 MHz bands. The L-band based Iridium AoI uses a small antenna as well, but requires a wide bandwidth SDR. Finally, reception of the C-band Inmarsat (AoA) traffic may involve a moving dish antenna of at least 6 foot diameter to obtain usable signals.
What kind of data is seen in ACARS? One can observe weather conditions aloft, messages to/from the carrier operations staff, information about the origin and destination of the flight, and technical data on the aircraft operation (not all of which can be decoded at this time.) Additionally, the HFDL and satellite feeds offer location information out of sight of the traditional ADS-B coverage, such as over the oceans and polar regions.
Additional information about setting up a receiver/feeder for HFDL, Inmarsat L-band, Inmarsat C-band, and Iridium L-band is available on The Bald Geek's GitHub page: https://thebaldgeek.github.io/Consider joining with the dozens of volunteers already feeding and contributing software updates to the Airframe.io project.
Thank you to Tomasz Lemiech for writing in and sharing with us the release of his new software "dumphfdl". Tomasz is the author of dumpvdl2 and also maintains RTLSDR-Airband. Regarding dumphfdl Tomasz writes:
dumphfdl is a multichannel HFDL decoder for Linux. HFDL (High Frequency Data Link) is a protocol used for radio communications between aircraft and a network of ground stations using high frequency (HF) radio waves. Thanks to the ability of short waves to propagate over long distances, HFDL is particularly useful in remote areas (eg. over oceans or polar regions) where other ground-based communications services are out of range. While many aircraft carriers prefer satellite communications these days, HFDL is still operational and in use.
Available HFDL decoding applications typically run on Windows and take an audio signal on input. The signal has to be delivered to the decoder via a physical cable from an external shortwave receiver or via a virtual cable from an SDR. This makes these apps inherently single-channel. This shortcoming does not apply to dumphfdl which interfaces directly with the SDR, so no pipes or virtual audio cables are needed. The program can decode multiple HFDL channels simultaneously, up to available CPU power and SDR bandwidth (there is no fixed channel count limit).
dumphfdl uses SoapySDR library (https://github.com/pothosware/SoapySDR) to communicate with the radio. Any HF-capable receiver for which a SoapySDR driver exists, should work. I have tested it briefly with an RTL-SDR v3 dongle in direct sampling mode. While I had a bit of a success with it, HFDL signals are often quite weak, so a real HF radio (like SDRPlay RSP1A or Airspy HF+) gives much better results (more decoded messages).
The program may log decoded messages to a file or send them over the network for external processing and storage.
HFDL messages often contain diagnostic data accompanied with aircraft position information. The program may extract this data from decoded messages and provide a positional data feed for external plane tracking apps (eg. Virtual Radar Server). An example screenshot from VRS is attached - taken after about 2 hours of decoding eight HFDL channels spread across three HFDL subbands: 6.6, 8.9, and 10.0 MHz with two dumphfdl instances on two radios - RSP1A and Airspy HF+. Definitely a nice way to expand the coverage of a home ADS-B radar :-)
Refer to the README.md file in the project repository for more details. The program is still under development, so new features and further improvements might be expected in subsequent releases.
In the previous episode Rob from the Frugal Radio YouTube channel showed us how to decode HF ACARS using PC-HFDL and an HF capable SDR such as the Airspy HF+. In that episode he mentioned that it is possible to decode HF ACARS using a WebSDR as well.
In this weeks episode, Rob shows us how to do just that, making use of WebSDR receivers and the PC-HFDL software. Like the previous episode we see how to plot the aircraft HF ACARS position data on Google Earth and how to read and interpret some example messages received.
In Rob's latest episode of his excellent aviation communications series on his Frugal Radio YouTube channel he shows how to decode aircraft HF ACARS (HFDL) using a software defined radio. HFDL is short for "high frequency data link", and is a method aircraft use for sending text and data communications to ground stations. It is an alternative to VHF or satellite ACARS communications methods.
In the video he shows how he's been able to receive HFDL from all over the world using a simple HF dipole antenna and an Airspy HF+ Discovery. He goes on to show how to find HFDL signals, and how to decode signals using SDR# and the PC-HFDL software. Finally he shows examples of aircraft received, and how to interpret some of the information being received, including location information.
How to decode HF ACARS (HFDL) free with your SDR - Monitoring Aviation Communications Episode 8
In the latest episode of his YouTube series on Aviation monitoring Rob explores how to decode L-band satellite ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) and CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link Communications) messages using JAERO, an SDR like an RTL-SDR, and a appropriate L-band antenna such as our RTL-SDR Blog Active L-Band Patch (currently out of stock).
In the video Rob shows examples of what you might receive such as CPDLC ATC instructions, digital ATIS information, arrival information and suggested landing data configuration instructions. He goes on to show satellite coverage maps, what hardware is required to receive these signals, and finally how to setup the receiving and decoding software.
How To Decode L band Satellite ACARS and CPDLC messages with JAERO and your SDR
Rob from Frugal Radio has recently uploaded episode five in his YouTube series on Aviation monitoring. This episode covers VHF ACARS decoding with an RTL-SDR. ACARS is an acronym for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System and is a short text based wireless communications system used by aircraft when communicating with ground stations.
In the video Rob overviews the frequencies that ACARS is transmitted on in various regions of the world and what equipment you need to decode ACARS. He goes on to explain in depth what some typical data messages that you might receive are including D-ATIS/WX Reports, Pre Departure Clearance, Loadsheets, OOOI, Aircraft performance telemetry, ATC/Oceanic Clearances and arrival airport and parking gate information. Finally he shows various ACARS software decoders that can be used including ACARSDEC, Black Cat ACARS and ACARSDECO2.
Decoding ACARS on VHF with your SDR Radio - Monitoring Aviation Communications Ep 5
Back in late 2019 we posted about the Electrosense network which is an open source project aiming to deploy radio spectrum sensors worldwide. The idea is to help analyze and understand radio spectrum usage across the globe. Each sensor consists of an RTL-SDR, Raspberry Pi and an optional downconverter to receive the higher bands.
Recently Dr. Sofie Pollen wrote in and informed us that they have recently upgraded Electrosense and now users can use any sensor on the network to actually decode signals remotely over a web browser. The currently supported demodulators/decoders include FM/AM, ADS-B, AIS, LTE base station info and ACARS. This makes the Electrosense network kind of similar to the KiwiSDR or OpenWebRX SDR network where there are also various decoders built into the web software.
To test it out you need to create an Electrosense account at electrosense.org. Once logged in, go to "My Electrosense" on the top right, and choose "Spectrum Decoder". You can then choose from a number of Electrosense contributors stationed around the world. Once the waterfall is displayed you can click on signals to decode and listen to them, or change the decoder. Changing to ADS-B or AIS will bring up a map with decoded aircraft or boat positions. Changing to ACARS or LTE will show a text window with the decoded information.