Build your own Raspberry Pi flight tracker with our tutorial

Trainspotters enjoy the comfortably achievable task of standing on a platform waiting for various makes and models to chug past to pursue their hobby. But if plane spotting is your bag, it gets a bit more technical. They’re very big, and very far away, and airports aren’t keen on random people wandering onto runways, so much of a plane spotter’s enjoyment comes from digitally tracking aircraft all over the world. You need some specialist equipment and software to do that, so we’ve made you a tutorial to show you how to build your own flight tracker.

Babbage Bear holding a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ attached to flight tracking hardware

Join the the flight tracking community

As part of the full tutorial, you’ll learn how to use Flightradar24 — the largest network of ADS-B/Mode S receivers in the world thanks to data contributed by aviation enthusiasts. Flightradar24 offers a pre-prepared Raspberry Pi operating system image called Pi24, making it super easy for Raspberry Pi users to work with the software. This is plane spotting — on steroids.

Pi24 software download home screen

What are we tracking exactly?

Transponders installed on aeroplanes transmit information to identify themselves and share their altitude. This is used by Air Traffic Control on the ground and Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems on other aircraft. This project picks up the transmitted information using Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) so you can get an insider’s view of the fascinating world of aviation safety.

Hardware

  • Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ (any Raspberry Pi Model 3 or newer would work, but the tutorial uses a 3A+)
  • Micro USB power supply
  • microSD card
  • USB ADS-B receiver (you can buy any RTL2832/R820T2-based USB dongle — you should expect to pay around $20)

How do I build my own flight tracker?

Gather the items listed above, stick something appropriate on in the background (I recommend Airplane! for the funnies or Planes, Trains and Automobiles if you can handle a heartstring tug), then settle into the warm embrace of our comprehensive tutorial.

flight tracker homepage
It gets ever so busy up there

We’ll walk you through connecting to your Raspberry Pi via SSH and installing Pi24. Then you’ll go on to learn how filter out sky traffic to focus on specific flight paths and place your antennae for optimum performance.

Not into plane spotting?

Whether you’re doing some smart home improvements or just want to make something fun, we’ve got lots of tutorials to help you build something easily and affordably. From adding ambient lighting behind your TV to blocking adverts on every device in your home or controlling your 3D printer, you’ll find something you want to build.

If there’s a project you’re dying to make but we haven’t got a tutorial for it yet on this page, leave us a comment — we might add your suggestion to our list.

8 comments
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Might be fun as I live under the landing path into Stansted (STN) airport

Simon

Reply to Simon Blackwell

Ashley Whittaker

NIGHTMARE scenario if set notifications to make sound though…

Reply to Ashley Whittaker

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I have been using a Pi 2 to feed both Flightradar24 and ADSB Exchange for a couple of years now. It is a little more effort to feed both, and a little more bandwidth is used, but it allows me to track some plains that FR24 filters out. It also allowed me to create a personal map showing only the aircraft that I am receiving.

Reply to Alistair MacDonald

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Don’t love that this tutorial forces you to upload the data to the internet, when the goal is just to track local airplanes. Also it relies on closed source software.
Personally I use readsb and tar1090, both great open source pieces of software that don’t force me to upload anything to the cloud.
Even if we are uploading data to the cloud, giving options to upload to other sources, such as adsbexchange or flightaware, would have been nice. Flightradar24 is not the only option!

Reply to Joseph R

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I have 2 Rapsberry Pi 1 collecting ADS-B data since 2017. With different “data” receiver on the net added in the time.
Beside a couple of gone bad SD cards, or fake USB dongles, they still do the job properly and reliably.
I just lately added a routine to have them regularly reboot.
Is/was a fun project to put in place, as one is running 100% on solar power too.

Reply to Alessio

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I feed ADSBexchange. For me better than FR24.

Reply to Peter

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I’ve been doing this for several years now and have experimented with most of the software offerings. I’d recommend starting with the RasPi image from ADSBexchange instead of fr24. It’s easier to install, and supports adding feeds to fr24 and FlightAware if you want to feed to them as well. While it’s possible to feed other sites from the fr24 software you are on your own to figure that out. The ADSBexchange image has commands to easily add those other destinations.

Reply to John Anderson

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If you have a RPi 3 or higher, there is an excellent docker container solution which feeds to just about anything.

Check it out at https://sdr-enthusiasts.gitbook.io/ads-b/

Reply to Kim Frederiksen

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