Some years ago, I bumped into an article on Mashable about Jeremy Merrill using a Raspberry Pi ADS-B tracker to detect aircraft flying over his house and display the origin or destination of that plane (see article here and github there). As my place is just on a busy plane corridor, that gave me an idea. I decided to work on a similar project based on Piaware.
Looking at how he did it and at the long literature you can find on the web on ADS-B, I created this site, my own software in Python to run on my Pi and other fun stuffs. I also ran into this site by SonicGoose and that gave me many new ideas (including the basic structure of this site – I never had any experience of html or php before).
One key part is getting access to aircraft databases to get more info from the ModeS hex code you get from the Piaware tracker. I am sharing my own database of planes, airports and routes I detected with one of my trackers (I have a fixed one at home, another one in Briancon in France (solar powered and connected by SigFox!) and a mobile one I take with me during my trips over the world).
When I started few years ago, I didn’t know that it will become such a fun project!
Running an ADS-B tracker on a solar panel is quite challenging. After some research, I believed a 20W solar panel would be enough, but the stick consumption is very high, and solar energy production is far from stable… after few month using it, I would need about 80W to be able to power the system for 24h (Raspberry Pi 4 + Flightaware Pro Stick Plus + SNOC SigFox). SigFox is a great solution to replace a 4G modem which would also take too much energy. The limitation to 6 messages per hour is manageable, as I am only reporting new or special planes to this website, while the detailed data are stored and shared when the device has access to wifi.
The biggest issue I didn’t plan for was that the Pi doesn’t have a RTC, so time was wrong (it only progress when the Pi is on, about 8 to 12h per day… after few days, it was completely off). Hopefully, I could also use the downlink SigFox messages to get the network time and update the Pi time at each boot.
Here the limitation is at 4 messages per day. It is controlled by the callback feature so it is quite easy to be sure you will not exceed the budget, even with a Pi with no idea what is current date or time. Next step is to work on shuting down properly the Pi when battery is low in order to avoid memory issue. So far it works with multiple wild shutdowns per day, but I don’t know for how long.
[2020/02] Updated the stats page to show more details [2020/03] Added tweets on Sigfox interface with Briancon tracker [2020/07] Working on adding MoPi-2 on the solar powered tracker to allow clean power down. Changed all the time in UTC. With trackers everywhere, it doesn’t make sens anymore to be on Hong Kong time. [2020/09] Added a new blog. Let’s hope I will post regularly from now on![2020/10] API optimisation – reduced the errors from 2% to 0.05%
[2020/11] New landing page with a RSS feed reader to get up to date links to my blog posts. Let’s see the impact on Search ranking! [2020/12] Upgraded all my Raspberry Pi code to Python3. I have been delaying that for a long time, but it was much easier than expected. Further optimisation of the API to reduce the error rate further. Some trackers are now at 0 errors, some still at 0.05%, still struggling to understand why.
100+ ways to track commercial, private and military aircraft around the world. Commercial trackers, community aggregators, Virtual Radar Servers and other websites.
Plane tracking websites with global coverage
ADSBexchange – “World’s largest source of unfiltered flight data”
ADSBexchange is an aggregator of ADS-B feeders, relying on a community of volunteers. It is showing unfiltered data, meaning all aircraft are visible (including private jets and military aircraft). This is a great tool for OSINT, plane tracking enthusiasts and journalists. Feeders have access to all aircraft visible on the network through API, after requesting an API key. Others have access through a map. They have a MLAT solution, which means that airplane which are not broadcasting their position may still be positioned by triangulation if they are in range of enough feeders.
ADSBhub is an aggregator of ADSB data. It relies on a community of feeders. All their data is accessible to feeders in the same SBS format you can get from the receivers. This is more for enthusiasts with a technical background as there is no interface to track a specific aircraft or flight number, but this is a great tool if you want to increase the coverage of your own receiver. Their coverage is sort of global, but with less receivers than ADSBexchange.
Airnav Radarbox – “Disrupting an Industry. Revolutionizing Air Traffic Surveillance.”
Airnav Radarbox is also a commercial website, based in Tampa, Florida, USA, relying on a network of feeders that they deployed, a community of feeders, but also some different sources of data (FAA radars, Satcom ACARS, HFDL…). Airnav was a pioneer in that industry as they started as early as 2001. As usual you can share your data. They are filtering some aircraft for privacy reasons. They are also selling a ADS-B dongle and one to listen to ATC. They have one of the best coverage of the market thanks to the aggregation of data from different technologies.
AvDelphi – “One place for all your aviation data requirements”
AvDelphi is an aviation data provider based in Switzerland. They propose more than tracking, with a lot aviation related data available on their site (ACARS data, NOTAM, aviation news, airframes data…). They also propose some spotting tools so that you can log your observations and store your pictures. A little less well design than the other websites, they still are a great source of information.
FlightAware is one of the pioneer in the industry, based in the USA. As a commercial website, they started in 2005, focusing first on North America, and step by step increasing their coverage to the world. They now have one of the best global coverage, thanks to their access to satellite ADS-B technology, that allow them to track cross ocean flights that are not visible to normal ADS-B trackers (to be able to track a plane, the receiver has to be “in view”; as the earth is round, even with receivers on high points and aircraft at cruising levels, it is difficult to track planes beyond 250nm).
FlightAware deployed its own network of feeders and they also made it possible for enthusiasts to share the data of their own receivers. FA is also making some Raspberry Pi software available, to make it pretty affordable and easy to build your own receiver and start with plane tracking. One of the great feature is they give you access to MLAT positions, which means you can track some aircraft that do not broadcast their position, as is often the case with military one. At least you can see them on your tracker, even if they may not be visible to the general public.
They also provide some hardware, with some great USB dongles, filters and antennas. If you are a feeder, you have a free access to their business account. They also make a lot of data available for free for the general public. They are filtering some aircraft for privacy reasons. Don’t expect to find many military aircraft. Some private jets are also filtered. They also provide a lot of services to the aviation industry.
Commercial, map, commercial flight tracker, mobile app
FlightRadar24 is one of the best commercial websites, based in Sweden, relying on a network of feeders that they deployed and also a community of feeders. They started in 2006, just one year after FA. They gain a lot of exposure in 2010 during the explosion of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that disrupted the flights over Northern Europe.
If you share your feeder’s data, you have a free access to their business account. Many great features are also available for free. They have one of the best global coverage, you should find what you are looking for with FlightRadar24. As other commercial websites, they are filtering some aircraft for privacy reasons. Don’t expect to find many military aircraft; private jets are more covered, but also filtered.
I also love their mobile app with an AR feature that let you know which flight is the plane above your head.
Commercial, map, commercial flight tracker, mobile app
Opensky-network – “Improving the security, reliability and efficiency of the air space usage”
The OpenSky Network is a non-profit association based in Switzerland. It relies on a community of feeders. Researchers and academics have access to their historical data. They claim they keep all the data ever recorded in their database. If you feed your data, you have access to a great dashboard with a lot of statistics about your receiver.
Planefinder is another commercial website, relying on a network of feeders that they deployed and also a community of feeders. They are filtering some aircraft for privacy reasons. Their main focus is on their mobile app.
Many airports and airlines have their own plane tracking page on their website. They generally use services from a major tracking website such as FlightRadar24, FlightAware RadarBox or WebTrack. The list would be too long to add here, but you can check your local airport or favorite airline website if you are interested. Airline websites generally focus on their own fleet.
Despite all my efforts to make this list of plane tracking websites and Twitter bots as complete as possible, I may have missed some. Don’t hesitate to comment if you know others, I will be happy to add them. Some links may stop to work, specially VRS servers. Mobile apps will be covered in part 2.
COVID-19 impact on aviation industry – Data and analysis by Airsavvi. Interesting case study on how China internal flights are almost back to normal, while the rest of the world suffer a strong decrease in number of flights and passengers.