Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast – the service used by aircraft to provide real-time information about their location, speed, and altitude to Air Traffic Control and other aircraft operating nearby. You may have seen maps showing the various airplanes flying around and wondered where that data came from? It’s ADS-B.

As a side note – this is the same service that was used to track Elon Musk’s private planes – and garnered his negative reaction to the account that would post on Twitter the information. ADS-B is public data, and the basic foundation of the service relies on the public collection and sharing of the data.

As a fun Raspberry Pi project, you too can participate in the collection and sharing of the ADS-B data. There are a few services that make this (relatively) easy to do – FlightAware, FlightRadar24, and ADSBExchange – to name some. If you have basic Raspberry Pi and linux experience, this may be the project for you to use that spare RPi3 laying around.

Alternatively, FlightAware and FlightRadar24 have applications one can fill out and apply to receive a free ADS-B “kit”, providing all the necessary components one needs to get an ADS-B site up and running for free, given you can provide the power and internet connection needed.

I recently setup an RPi4 and antenna, temporarily in the window of our house, to test this out and learn about it all. I chose to feed FlightAware, and my page is located here. Since setting this up, FlightAware approved my application, so they are sending a unit to me which will arrive soon. I’ll repurpose my current setup to feed FlightRadar24 once the FlightAware kit is up and running. I’ll also be mounting the antenna’s onto the roof once the weather improves.

Given my proximity to Austin’s airport, my ADS-B tracking has been pretty active. (I suspect that is one of the reasons FlightAware approved my application for free hardware.) The more ADS-B sites around, the better the service works due to MLAT, or Multilateration. Multilateration is the use of mathematical calculations to derive positions for aircraft that are not yet transmitting their exact position via ADS-B, so the more sites available to synchronize MLAT, the more accurate.

A side benefit to participating in feeding these services is that they will upgrade your account to an enterprise or pro level account for free, which is a nice perk. This provides for detail on aircraft data, weather feeds, etc.

A few links to the various aggregators and the Raspberry Pi support:

(I’m currently leaving out ADSBExchange’s site due to a recent shake-up in the space. ADSBEx was recently bought out by another entity and there’s been some animosity over the whole deal. Until that shakes out, I’d probably steer clear from that service.)

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