Fit together a raspberry pi computer board, a trick of a USB SDR dongle plus some bits and bobs of software and antenna to roll your own personal aircraft tracking device for under 50 quid.
A Daft British Mystery
Above you every day are any number of craft zipping about too and fro with all of them emanating various wireless signals. Some are the aircraft crew reporting via voice radio for arrival instructions, post departure issues, air to air communication checkups and more. Data radios receive detail on surrounding aircraft to prevent collisions while others transmit operational parameters up to orbiting satellites, ground stations or curious blokes like whomever may be reading this. From the largest to smallest aircraft, there are many different types of wireless systems focused on specific tasks.
Just this morning in east of the beautiful Hudson Valley area of New York was a private aircraft of sorts with the call sign of "2 Posh" flying through at 39,200 feet at between 521.3 and 522.5 miles per hour . The registration details came back as a Cessna Citation CJ3 with the international civil aviation organization identifier of 43EC0E.
This was not the first time this aircraft has passed through the area according to the data generated by the signals received by the ADS-B receiver and logged automatically via mySQL database. It was only realized while running a query of military aircraft that have passed through in the last day. For some reason "2 Posh" was tagged as a non-commercial or private aircraft which is interesting. Plus, it also had the aircraft type of C25B which is a version of the Cessna Citation that makes it quite the speedy high flying jet according to the detailed Wikipedia page on the subject.
Data analytics & wireless signals as a hobby
Perhaps the largest self identified group of hobbyists involving wireless signals is held by amateur radio, since they all need to be licensed by government agencies around the world if they will be transmitting within the allocated spectrum reserved for such people.
Another hobby called "Plane Spotting" involves no such licenses and maybe only some common sense. Participants often take photos of aircraft and create scrap books of interesting craft. Some take this to another level by monitoring aircraft communications. Information gathered is not necessarily secret since anyone can see airplanes flying around, but what about tracking them? This opens up a somewhat secret aspect of plane spotting that if used incorrectly, can create security issues.
For people with interests in areas like analytics, wireless technology, relational databases, embedded computers, internet of things and probably another 1,000 things - setting up your own inexpensive ADS-B receiver for real time, unfiltered air traffic data could be of interest for personal use or to create a shared network of receivers feeding into one database or user interface to cover a wider area.
Many commercial websites such as Flightradar24, Flightaware and others do not offer the same details but you can replicate something very interesting at minimal expense and learn about a ton of unknown things like how certain wireless signals propagate and how to create optimal antennas for different applications.
Further Learning: Insert Ideas Here
Amateur radio spectrum includes access to the 1240 to 1300 MHz range for all license classes in the United States. ADS-B signals used to track aircraft are found at 1090 MHz and travel much in the same way. VHF 118 to 136 MHz voice channels for aircraft which can be received with the same inexpensive receiver as ADS-B are not too different than the amateur 144 to 148 MHz frequencies.
From a satellite perspective, there are options for aircraft tracking via L-band satellite services in the 1500 to 1700 MHz spectrum with the exact same inexpensive receiver.
What else can you do with aircraft data or the same hardware? Many things. More details on setting up your own ADS-B receiver can be found here. HVDN also offers its members with access to our very own network of receivers for a small donation or no charge depending on your level of membership.
Almost forgot.... the aircraft known as 2 Posh may have something to do with a former member of the Beatles or extended family.