In the past we've posted about the QIRX software a few times as it is an RTL-SDR compatible program that has a focus on DAB+ decoding. However, recently QIRX author Clem wrote in to let us know about version 3 beta, which is now a multi-mode receiver supporting modes such as ADS-B, AM, NBFM, WFM, SSB as well as DAB+ as it did in previous versions. It also now support ADS-B plane mapping, and can run multiple RTL-SDRs at once. We note that this version is not yet available for public download, however you can get the beta by contacting the author (details below). Clem writes:
In short, there are two main new features:
Multi-Receiver: More than one hardware RX can be connected, all I/Q data are fed via TCP/IP, local or remote. The configuration is read from the config file, per default prepared for three receivers.
As before, TCP/IP drivers for RTL-SDR dongles, the RSPs (RSPDuo single-channel), and Airspy. All binaries are part of the installer.
Although the software is "general purpose", particular emphasis has been given to serve aviation enthusiasts.
ADS-B: Aircrafts are displayed on the map. Information for about 450.000 aircrafts comes from an open database kindly provided by Opensky-network.org, updateable by the user from within the software, similar like the DAB database. The ADS-B decoder is a C# port of the well-known dump1090 software, with enhancements to decode aircraft ground movements.
The displayed aircrafts are those within the range of the attached receiver. In contrast to some other applications, it might be noted that the software is capable to decode the movements of the aircrafts not only when airborne, but also on the ground, of course when in range. This might be interesting for plane spotters, perhaps in the vicinity of an airport.
The AM decoder provides special features when tuned to the airband range and - as should be standard nowadays - 8.33kHz channel separation has been selected. In contrast to older times, in airband communications no longer frequencies in MHz are communicated, but channels. The software (in live mode, not visible in the above picture taken from a file replay) provides an own airband channel selector, directly accepting channel numbers as spoken by ATC controllers. This is paired with the indication of channels in the spectrum, together with the corresponding frequency. With 8.33kHz channel separation, cheap dongles should be calibrated to receive the correct frequency, e.g. with QIRX's DAB decoder (where DAB is available).
Readers interested to give this version a try might send an email to [email protected] and they will receive the current beta version (Win10 .msi installer). As it might not yet have its final stability, it is not yet provided for download. Of course all beta users are requested to give some feedback.
Clem has also provided a YouTube video demonstration 20 minutes of ADS-B and airband voice activity over Zurich airport via the new multi-receiver and ADS-B mapping features in QIRX.
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.
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.
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
The RTL-SDR compatible multi-mode digital decoder OpenEar has recently been updated to version 1.6. The latest version currently supports the decoding of FM/AM, TETRA, DMR, Pocsag and ADS-B. New features include a zoomable waterfall and other GUI and functionality improvements. The changelog reads:
6/4/2020 version 1.6.0 - saving last settings - waterfall - zoom on spectrum and waterfall with mouse wheel - better list placement (pocsag & ads-b) - wav(I/Q) loading (only 1024000 Sample/sec) - voice volume & mute button - spectrum range and offset - rtl gain and correction (ppm) - top menu - frequency list - some DMR improvement on SYNC detection - solved center frequency issue (DC problem) - and other few UI improvements
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.
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.
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.
Back in March we posted about "OpenEar" which was a newly released Windows TETRA decoder for RTL-SDR dongles. Back then the author "moneriomaa" noted that he planned to add several new modes. In the release that is currently available, OpenEar now supports TETRA, DMR, Pocsag, ADS-B as well as standard AM and NFM modes. We tested the software, and all modes appear to decode as advertised. In the future the author plans to add more modes such as MPT-1327 and AERO.
In the previous post we added an update noting that OpenEar appeared to be violating the GPL licence of OsmocomTETRA, and the author noted that he would remove the TETRA functionality until licencing was resolved. As TETRA decoding is back in the recent releases we assume these legal issues have been solved.
In the current release you also need to provide your own rtlsdr.dll file, which can be obtained from your SDR# folder, or directly from the Osmocom windows release (rename librtlsdr.dll to rtlsdr.dll).