The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) a.k.a The American National Association for Amateur Radio has put online a freely available ADS-B tutorial featured in their monthly QST magazine, written by Robert Nichols, W9RAN. The tutorial focuses on using an R820T RTL-SDR dongle to receive ADS-B signals, and then using computer software to decode the signals and create a virtual aircraft radar.
ADS-B is a protocol used by most modern aircraft to broadcast their position and altitude which is determined via GPS. ADS-B is intended to supplement and eventually replace traditional radar.
In this ADS-B tutorial, they show how to create a weatherproofed 1090 MHz collinear antenna from RG-6/U coax and PVC pipe and how to use the ADSB# and virtual radar server software to decode and visualize aircraft positions, like a radar.
YouTube user 907h9879070g9790 has posted a video showing Virtual Radar Server running on a Raspberry Pi with the Raspian hardfloat image OS installed. He used Mono to allow the .NET based Virtual Radar Server to run on the Raspberry Pi. Instructions for using Virtual Radar Server with Mono can be found here.
Combined with an rtl-sdr and dump1090, ADS-B packets can be sent to Virtual Radar Server, and then the aircraft radar map can be viewed on a PC or internet enabled device via a network connection. This can allow a small self contained remote ADS-B monitoring system to be set up.
EDIT: Unfortunately the video owner has taken down the video.
The RTL-SDR can be used as a super cheap real time air radar. Modern planes use something called an ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) Mode-S transponder, which periodically broadcasts location and altitude information to air traffic controllers. The RTL-SDR can be used to listen to these ADS-B signals, which can then be used to create your very own home aircraft radar system. Compared to dedicatedcommercialADS-Breceivers which can go for between $200 – $1000, the $20 RTL-SDR is very attractive for the hobbyist in terms of price. However, note that the RTL-SDR probably shouldn’t be used for ADS-B navigation in a real aircraft for safety reasons.
ADS-B broadcasts at a frequency of 1090 MHz. It has been discovered by the RTL-SDR community, that the RTL-SDR with R820T tuner has the best sensitivity at this frequency. The E4000 and other tuners perform poorly in comparison. So it is recommended that you obtain an R820T tuner if you want to set up ADS-B decoding with the RTL-SDR. Recently there has also been talk about the R820T2 tuner, which seems to have slightly better performance too. See the Buy RTL-SDR dongles page for more information on where to purchase.
We also now note that recently new higher end SDR’s like the $199 Airspy have developed very good ADS-B receivers that are several times more sensitive that the RTL-SDR.
Examples of RTL-SDR used as an ADS-B air radar
In this video, YouTube user Superphish shows a timelapse of air traffic over New Zealand using RTL-SDR, ADSB# and Virtual Radar Server.