I always wanted to know how sites like FlightGear24 or FlightAware worked. Doing my research I found they use Digital Radio receptors to decode the signals planes are continuously broadcasting on the 1090MHz band.

 

How FlightRadar24 works

 

Well, turns out its more simple than it looks! There are plenty of tools out there to help you decode and visualise all the data coming from above.

 

What Hardware do I have?

The best combination out there to do this is to use the demodulator RTL2832U with the tuner R820T2. These 2 chips gives you an amazing range/price ratio and are present in most SDR kits out there. The dongle I got is the famous RTL-SDR BLOG V3.

 

RTL-SDR BLOG V3

NOTE: Beware of fake dongles sold online for suspiciously low prices, they usually are RTL2832U demodulators with the FC0013 tuner, which is NOT SUITABLE for plane tracking.

 

In this post I’ll show you how to use your SDR dongle to track planes at home.

 

Using macOS

Everything you need on macOS is 1090dump, a magical piece of software that runs on the terminal and displays the frames on it as they come. It has the option to start a webserver on your local machine to display all planes found, nice and easy to use.

Screenshot of dump1090 web interface

 

Using Android

The best app I found to do this is called “Avare ADSB”. Just by plugging in the SDR dongle and activating the OTG option on your Android device, the app will start collecting frames and displaying the planes on the map. Very easy!

Screenshot of Avare ADSB