Setup your private ADS-B flighttracker with Raspberry Pi or Mac (Shopping List for 2020)

For about $75 we can set up our own ADS-B receiver to receive position data from nearby airplanes. For this we need a RTL2832U capable USB DVB-T stick and a Raspberry Pi or Mac. If we like, we can then share the received data with Planefinder.com or flighttracker24.com.

Flight tracking by listening to air traffic ADS-B data

Aircraft transmit static and dynamic data about themselves via ADS-B. This data includes flight numbers, course over ground, speed over ground, altitude and other data. The signals are transmitted on 1090 MHz and received by ground stations. The transmission from an aircraft is called ADS-B out. At the same time, aircraft can also receive ADS-B data from other aircraft, either from the same aircraft or from distributing ground stations. This procedure is called ADS-B (in).

In maritime radio there is a similar system, the AIS. Whether in aviation or in maritime radio, both systems support the positioning of vehicles and assist navigation beyond the capabilities of classic radar systems.

With our project we try to receive and decode as many of these ADS-B signals as possible and to visualize the received data for example in a map view.

Receiving with USB DVB-T stick

I recommend the use of a USB DVB-T stick with the chip “RTL2832U”. This chipset is supported by most available software. I myself use the “NooElec TV28T v2” (Amazon Affiliate Link).

NESDR Mini (TV28T v2) USB RTL-SDR, DVB-T und ADS-B-Empfängerset mit Antenne und Fernbedienung. RTL2832U & R820T. Kostengünstiges...
  • Hervorragende Software Defined Radio-Kompatibilität mit RTL-SDR-Softwarepaketen
  • Realtek RTL2832U-Schnittstellen-IC und R820T-Tuner-IC auf USB-Dongle für eine Frequenz von 25 bis 1750 MHz +

For better signal reception, we recommend using a professional outdoor antenna such as the “AirNav ADS-B” (Amazon Affiliate Link). However, in order to connect this antenna to the mentioned USB stick, we also need an adapter between the MCX connector of the USB stick and the SMA connector of the antenna (Amazon Affiliate Link)

AirNav ADS-B 1090MHz Außenantenne mit SMA Anschluss
  • Enthält vertikale externe 1090 MHz Antenne für den Außenbereich mit entsprechendem Kabel zum Anschluss an Ihr Gerät.
  • Gain 7dBi, Impedanz 50Ω±5Ω, Vetische Polarisation.

Decoding and visualization of ADS-B data on Raspberry Pi

First we need a Raspberry Pi. I recommend the current model “Raspberry Pi 4 with 4GB RAM” (Amazon Affiliate Link). The reliability of the Raspberry Pi is directly related to the quality of the accessories used. Bad power supplies or overheating cause malfunctions and failures, so I recommend buying a high quality complete package including the appropriate power supply, heat sink, memory card and case (Amazon Affiliate Link).

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As software we can access different options:

  • PiAware – Ready to use image for Raspberry Pi from FlightAware
  • Dump 1090 – Decoder for ADS-B signals for the Raspberry Pi

Decoding and visualization of ADS-B data on Mac

On the Mac we can decode the data using the app “Max Planes” and visualize the planes in a map view. The app can also be downloaded directly from the Mac App Store.