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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.