Quatas A380

Tracking airplanes with ADS-B & MLAT revisted- building a better and cheaper reciever for Flightradar 24 and Flightaware

A lot has changed since the last entry about tracking the aircraft using ADS-B messages. There are new options for data sharing, greatly simplified installation procedure and – optionally new equipment. This allows you to build a new receiver with an emphasis on simplicity, yet lower cost of purchase and maintenance with new feature (MLAT). Moreover, in addition to the aircraft you can now track other aircraft – i.e. meteorological balloons! I call that progress!

Malasian 747 @ RNAV
Malasian 747 @ RNAV – picture thanks to first run of FR24

What will you need?

Hardware:

  • Orange Pi Zero. It’s a competition to Raspberry Pi – board that gives a lot for $10 – four CPU cores, 256 or 512MB RAM. Onboard you will find Ethernet and WiFi along with single USB. There’are extension available – extra USB/IR/CVSB Out HAT or new USB2SATA HAT
  • DVB-T USB Dongle. Look for the upgraded version in blue chassis – AKA “DVB-T RTL2832U+R820T2” – it offeres better sensitivity in interesting frequency – and will give you extra range. The most important part in that equation is the new R820T2 (version ‘2’) and of course the included antenna
  • Micro SD – could a cheap 8G for $4, but better is to use Sandisk Extreme/Ultra – at least 4GB
  • Power supply – at least1.5 to 2A @5V with micro USB (i.e.: old charger from cellphone)
  • Two small heatsinks (radiators) for CPU and controller – for Orange Pi Zero
  • ALTERNATIVE: Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 – they have enough of CPU power, but triple the price
  • In summary: Our new reciever should be around 25-30$ in total!
Orange Pi Zero
Orange Pi Zero

Software:

  • Armbian for Orange Pi – the best at this point is to use the Ubuntu Xenial with legacy kernel, you can also try developer/beta version, with 4.9.x kernel. Go to https://www.armbian.com/orange-pi-zero/
  • piaware and fr24feed – software to recieve, decode and share the data about plane flyovers. Free ports on the Orange Pi – 8080 and 3000-30010 – if there’s nothing else there – they should be free to use.

MLAT – new functionality

MLAT is short for multilateration. Airships without ADS-B transponders do not advertise their latitude and longitude, so the Mode S they use is not useful for us. Thankfully those Mode S transponder messages can be used by means of multilateration – based on the delay of the received messages in at least 3 different receiving Mode S. A very precise clock synchronization is required – which means you have another oportunity to ask friends living so-so close by to start their own radars!

BAE 747
BEA 747 – fantastic visability at that day

Orange Pi Zero

As you noticed – we have been using mainly Raspberry Pi. The unprecedented success of this small computer spurred a number of “compatible” boards – Orange Pi Zero is very cheap, able, but the software is not yet quite there or stable. Well, it’s whatever $10 can buy!

The antenna

Start with the included antenna. Next use google to find out the optimal length – and cut it. From there to increase coverage – you will ned to dive into the wonderful world of pro antennas!
The roof top is the best place for antenna, but don’t forget that if you place your Orange Pi in the attic – it may get very hot!

Installation

Before first run of the Orange Pi Zero – please install the heatsink on the H2+ CPU, and on the chip next to it. With the heatsinks and no chassis the CPU works at 42-48C. Without it 60-65C – which can shorten the life of both Orange Pi and the micro SD card.

Let’s install – just as in the first blog entry about SDR – Armbian  with 4.9.x (Xenial) – using dd or win32diskimager.

On the first run Armbian allows you to login as root with the password “1234”, and immediately asks to change this default password, and create a user. Could be ‘pi’ user of course.

Let’s login now as pi and change the credentials to root:

Now – every commend we issue we do it as root, so be careful!

First: update and upgrade of the armbian system.:

To allow usage of the raw feed from airplanes we need to turn off the automatic loading of the DVB-T:

and paste:

Next comes the Flightaware – Pi Aware software – first part of our radar:

Install it:

Add auto upgrade of the piaware itself:

Now let’s turn to Flightradar24:

As with the first blog entry – please enter your data, key. postion of the antena.
Let’s connect FR24 with Pi Aware:

and paste:

Enable’em all!:

reboot:

After reboot – check out your new map!

Example:

Prezentacja odebranych danych z mapą z dump1090-fa
Data presentation using dump1090-fa

Go ahead and check this US military airplane… Nice example why MLAT is usefull! Couple of minutes later I found out circling… AWACS

Status “fr24feed” i “piaware” can be seen here:

Or

That is it!




  • Tesla

    Very cool!

  • ekupeku008

    Thanks for the tutorial! Works perfectly

    • Łukasz C. Jokiel

      Thanks, mine is working stable – even with quick updates from armbian.

  • Ray Chung

    Is it okay to use 256MB version? And does CPU matters at the range of ADS-B?

    • Łukasz C. Jokiel

      No problem – that’s what I have. CPU matters in the way of processing multiple planes – but not the range. The range is a factor of good antenna and best possible cheap tuner. I use colinear antenna from RG-59 calbe – 4 segments and 75Ohm resistor at the top. Gives me solid range of 150 nm.

  • tasmedic

    This works ok until I get to the flightaware repository. I download the files but the installation fails with “unable to locate package piaware” and “unable to locate package dump1090-fa”. The rest of the dependencies install just fine, but is seems to be a bit of a fatal error when the files can’t be found!
    Any ideas?

    • Łukasz C. Jokiel

      Hi,
      what is the exact message after installing the *.deb file? Did you do apt update? What is you OS version (lsb_release -a)?

      • tasmedic

        Hi Lucasz, and thanks for helping. Thanks for the speedy reply!
        I seem to have it working now. It was my fault, I didn’t copy and paste properly!
        Also, as a newbie, please could I make a suggestion? If this is for newbs, then we might need wifi setting up with nmtui, if they are going to put the pi near the antenna (which is probably the best way).

        I’m a little bit surprised to hear that you recommend using nightly builds. Aren’t these more likely to be buggy and unstable, or is there some project in progress which is progressively improving piaware?

        I’ve been running piaware on raspberry pi 3b for a couple of months but decided to set up a second location using the orangepi zero. I was sad to see postings all over pi forums saying that the orangepi zero would not work. Hope I can spread the message and your wisdom, in putting this right.

        Many thanks
        Chris.

        • Łukasz C. Jokiel

          Great!
          I don’t want to use WiFi from Zero YET – it’s a very slow chip, but – maybe I’ll reconsider – I just got two more units an will get into testing.

          The nightlies for my Zero have been fine so far, for over 6 months of testing – so I recommend them! They are the goal to keep the Zero’s CPU in better shape (temperature-wise)

          Zero works fine, and that is just a 256MB version! Probably with newer piaware functions we should go to 512MB version tough! The other one is working as FLARM station.

          • tasmedic

            I did have some problems with the wifi but I think better since installing the nightly build, and I am having no problems using wifi on it’s own for SSH to the device and using the piaware web server. I did notice that the chip temp went down from 54C to 45C when I installed the build you suggested, so thanks heaps for that! I’m still getting a heat sink for it though. Is there some way to enable MLAT? It’s not enabled at present, can the CPU keep up with MLAT?
            I’m having heaps of fun, and will connect it up to the antenna tomorrow to see how it does.

          • Łukasz C. Jokiel

            H2 is strip down H3 from bigger brothers, so MLAT is no sweat.
            The other thing is that Zero or One are running hotter than PC – 2-4 degrees, based on the data I gather: http://imgur.com/a/2XxIp
            It’s mostly due to different voltage regulators and their capabilities, PC has: SY8106A while One has SY8113B or AX3833.
            The bottom line – you just need a bigger, better heatsink for One/Zero. And a fan in summer!

          • tasmedic

            Have you tried MLAT with the zero? If so, how did you set about that?
            Best wishes
            Chris

          • Łukasz C. Jokiel

            Sure, no sweat!

  • Roman Kubat

    Widzę Łukasz, że też nadajesz, ja łapię trochę więcej, bo zrobiłem antenę.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4b80dd1db8b5141dacb606b5b23d69f8bc2d0c948dbccc3ecb4b8d4fd5e34844.jpg

    • Łukasz C. Jokiel

      Haha! Będę musiał dorobić kolejne segmenty! Ciekawe czy można z naszych odbiorników MLAT dostać…

  • FlyingRich

    CRAP!!! Wish I read this yesterday!!! Can not tell you how many hours I was busy trying to re-invent the wheel!!!! I’ll report back my results!

    • Łukasz C. Jokiel

      Well, it’s just my notes. Let me know if you run into problems!