The sys admin's daily grind – Air traffic control

Plane Spotting

Article from Issue 169/2014
Author(s):

When he sees vapor trails in the skies above the Lower Rhine area, sys admin Charly Kühnast doesn't just dream of faraway places. With a Linux system and a DVB-T stick, he grabs the signals from jets flying overhead and tracks their courses on a map.

Most commercial aircraft have an Automatic Dependent Surveillance--Broadcast system on board; this is known as ADS-B for short. It constantly transmits the heading, altitude, speed, GPS position, and flight number on a frequency of 1,090MHz.

If you want to track the position of the jets yourself, you do not necessarily require an airport tower full of technology. All I needed was a Linux computer and a receiver for digital terrestrial television (a.k.a. a DVB-T stick for less than EUR  20, or about US$  25); the stick uses the Realtek RTL 2832U chipset in conjunction with an E4000 or R820T tuner. In addition to this, I had two software components waiting on the runway: RTL-SDR and Dump1090.

RTL-SDR [1] supports communication with the DVB-T receiver, and Dump1090  [2] decodes the data obtained in this way using a mini-web server to display a map of the machines in the vicinity. Even if you do find the two components on your Linux system, the version is likely to be outdated. It thus makes sense to build the current versions yourself. The tools required for this are shown in the command in the first line of Listing 1. The following lines then fetch RTL-SDR and compile the RTL-2832U driver.

Listing 1

Installing Components

sudo apt-get -fym install git cmake libusb-1.0-0-dev build-essential
cd ~
git clone git://git.osmocom.org/rtl-sdr.git
cd rtl-sdr/
mkdir build
cd build/
cmake ../ -DINSTALL_UDEV_RULES=ON
sudo make install
sudo ldconfig
cd ~
sudo cp ./rtl-sdr/rtl-sdr.rules /etc/udev/rules.d/

Drivers on a Collision Course

The next step is to create the /etc/modprobe.d/rtlsdr.conf file and write the following line:

blacklist dvb_usb_rtl28xxu

This prevents Linux loading the DVB-T driver that I would need to watch TV programs rather than planes. Now a reboot is necessary. The installation of Dump1090 is similarly simple. The following commands

cd ~
git clone git://github.com/MalcolmRobb/dump1090.git
cd dump1090/
make

copy and compile the software. When I point my browser at the URL http://127.0.0.1:8080, it now shows me a map in which I can zoom in on the location of my DVB-T receiver. To whet your appetite, I have posted a live demo of the airspace on the web [3]. Figure 1 shows a Ryanair jet landing at the provincial airport in Weeze, Germany. Life's exciting when you're part of the cabin crew.

Figure 1: Not exactly an international air traffic hub, but at least it proves that there are some aircraft movements over Charly's head.

The Author

Charly Kühnast is a Unix operating system administrator at the Data Center in Moers, Germany. His tasks include firewall and DMZ security and availability. He divides his leisure time into hot, wet, and eastern sectors, where he enjoys cooking, freshwater aquariums, and learning Japanese, respectively.

Buy this article as PDF

Express-Checkout as PDF
Price $2.95
(incl. VAT)

Buy Linux Magazine

SINGLE ISSUES
 
SUBSCRIPTIONS
 
TABLET & SMARTPHONE APPS
Get it on Google Play

US / Canada

Get it on Google Play

UK / Australia

Related content

  • Charly's Column: PomodoPi

    Charly starts the tomato and dill season aboveground with a traffic light and underground with a soaker hose, along with assistance from two gardeners and the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi board.

  • Charly's Column: tcpflow and HugeURL

    First the fun, then the pleasure: This month, we look at a TCP that administrators have to take seriously, followed by some URL fun.

  • Software-Defined Radio

    Armed with a US$ 20 hunk of hardware and a free software-defined radio tool, Konstantin starts the hunt for radio-transmitted data from a weather station.

  • Charly's Column: lsof

    The shorter a command, the longer the list of support parameters. This rule applies to lsof, one of Charly’s favorite commands.

  • Charly's Column: Trickle

    If your data traffic suffers from congestion at times, don't worry. Now you can shoot down programs that are heavy on traffic to free up the inflow and outflow.

comments powered by Disqus

Direct Download

Read full article as PDF:

Price $2.95

News

njobs Europe
What:
Where:
Country:
Njobs Netherlands Njobs Deutschland Njobs United Kingdom Njobs Italia Njobs France Njobs Espana Njobs Poland
Njobs Austria Njobs Denmark Njobs Belgium Njobs Czech Republic Njobs Mexico Njobs India Njobs Colombia