Here at Hack we like to contribute rather than consume resources, so in the spirit of this I began working on a flight tracker project to communicate with the FlightRadar24 app and ecosystem. For those who don’t know FlightRadar is a free app that is able to download for IOS and android to view the current location of any aircraft equipped with a mode S transponder or higher.
Every airliner is equipped with a transponder, and most light aircraft are able to be tracked too, so I began researching how this was possible and whether I was able to do it for a budget to fit my student income! I managed to complete the whole setup for around £30 plus a raspberry pi, this will work on something as simple as a Pi zero but since I had a Pi 3 lying around I used that rather than purchasing a new one. In the future I may modify it to run on a pi zero to consume less power and take a smaller footprint.
I purchased an ADS-B aerial to receive the signal from a transponder and used the Pi to send the data over to internet to the FlightRadar database. The system that Flightradar runs relies on several of sensors such as the one I am building to prop up data from registered sources such as NATS and radar feeds from several airfields.
I began by burning the image onto the Raspberry Pi, this can be downloaded from the FlightRadar24 website. As I am using a Pi 3 I chose to connect my sensor through the WiFi connection built in, however I would recommend an ethernet connection if it is possible for added reliability when sending the data over the internet. Once this was configured I connected to the Pi using SSH and configured the software by entering my information such as location and nearest aerodrome. This data is used to pinpoint where aircraft are when the data is received by the server. Once that was ready, I went in search of a location to put the receiver that was able to receive the signal from planes and the WiFi at Hack. After a grand tour of the building I finally settled with a spot just by the window at the front of the building. Here it is able to receive both of the signals and is not around too many pillars or thick walls that could block the radio frequencies.
To make my setup nice and neat, and to protect it from static electricity I purchased a project box for a fairly low price on amazon. It is very important to protect the Raspberry Pi from shocks especially at the £35 price tag. Overall I think this project was very interesting and offered an insight in flight tracking technologies. I also really enjoy contributing to public data sources to improve the experience for other users of the data. I even got to track myself on the app using my own beacon during my first Private Pilot Licence lesson. Having lots of beacons such as this one increases coverage for pilots of small general aviation aircraft such as myself.