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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tracking Aircraft with ADS-B & Mode S

Last week, I received a package from Bulgaria containing a USB thumb drive type device, which is actually a tiny receiver for a system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast, or ADS-B. In short, ADS-B is the next generation of aircraft tracking.
The receiver I ordered is called a microADSB, and cost $108 including shipping. Inside the box was the USB device, a driver disc, and a small antenna with a magnetic mount. Alternative receivers would be the Kinetic Avionics SBS-1er or the Airnav Radarbox, both of which cost significantly more.
Setting up the microADSB was a simple matter of installing the drivers and plugging in the receiver. I installed the PlanePlotter software from COAA and was almost instantly viewing a real time display of a number of aircraft operating in the Boston area. Check out the PlanePlotter web site to see more of what can be done.
ADS-B is widely used in the rest of the world, but in the US it isn't used on every plane. The FAA has mandated that it be used by the year 2020. Right now, some domestic carriers are already using it, and almost all international flights use it. For commercial flights, you can view the flight number, location, and altitude in real time. Other flights, including military/government flights, transmit only positionless, you can tell that they are operating in the area, but they won't give you their location. Several advanced PlanePlotter features can help give a very close approximation of the aircraft's position, though.

Here's a few examples of the military & government flights I've received so far today:

4:36 AM: Saudi Arabian Air Force Boeing 737, registration # HZ-102. 20 minutes earlier, the same plane had been picked up by another user in Grey, Maine.

9:00 AM: Massachusetts State Police helicopter Air-2, tail number N822PP, at an altitude of 425 feet.

Photo from

11:14 AM: Maine Air National Guard KC-135R, call sign MAINE 94, out of the 132nd Air Refueling Squadron.

1:18 PM: A J-STARS E-8C , call sign HEINZ 57, from the 116th Air Control Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard. 


  1. Awesome! You're never going to sleep again! lol

  2. I know, right? I have more toys than hours in the day.