FlightAware Discussions

Great results with the FlightAware Pro stick

I’ve used rtl-sdrs for many years now for reverse engineering protocols for more specialized implementations as well as general reception of signals around the house that I’m too lazy to build hardware implementations for. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to track planes around my neighborhood and installed the dump1090-fa onto an existing Pi3 that was already handling other radio functions. Installation and integration to flightaware was easy, apart from already having apache on the system and the lighttpd install did its best to interfere with that (Fix: just don’t use lighttpd and symlink the /usr/share/dump1090-fa/html directory into the apache vhost).

I bought one of the $5 “1090Mhz” antennas off eBay but the range and reported data was even lower than it was using a telescoping monopole that came with one of my rtl-sdrs. Maybe up to 40 miles in a good direction. Raised the antenna up as high as it would go indoors and got it up over 50nm. Then I built a quick spider antenna using RG6 (I think) left over from an old cable TV install, and the range improved dramatically where I’d sometimes pick up signals from 90nm!

Finally, I purchased a FlightAware Pro Stick (orange, non-plus) and slapped it in today so my regular sdr can get back to recording the data it is supposed to. With a gain of 40.2, I’m frequently getting updates out beyond 110nm and seeing intermittent data from as far away as 140nm. It really does a great job and I just wanted to give props to the FlightAware folks for making such a quality device at a great price. Really a symbiotic relationship between the FA service and putting devices in people’s hands to collect data.

I’ve also ordered a theoretical 109MHz SAW filter (25MHz passband -3dB, ‘FBP-1090s’) to stick on it as well which I think will let me jack the gain up even higher without the nasty loud 800MHz stuff around bleeding into my signal. The 800-900MHz here is so powerful, ADS-B traffic barely even registers in rtl_power sweeps so I think it will extend the range quite a bit more. I was planning on replacing the 5m RG6 / F-type connector run to the antenna with LMR-240 or RG-8U 50ohm but I think that will be a lot of money for not much more data.

Just wanted to say thanks for the easy installation instructions, great product, and great service.
2013 generic rtl-sdr with “1090MHz” $5 eBay antenna: 40nm
2013 generic rtl-sdr same antenna, raised 15ft: 50nm+
2013 generic rtl-sdr 8 legged spider antenna made from RG6: 90nm
FlightAware Pro Stick with spider antanna: 110-140nm

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If you are flexible with the placement of the RPi and the cable run isn’t outside you can just place the RPi closer to the antenna.

I’m really a fan of the rtl-sdr LNA, those 30$ really improve reception and you don’t need any extra filters. (If you place it close to the antenna the higher loss cable won’t matter)

Is the antenna outdoors or indoors?
That normally makes a really big difference.

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The antenna is indoors but up in the attic just below the roof, with the RG6 running in the wall. It would be impractical and a lot of work to get it outside. The antenna would need to be weatherproofed, the feed line would have to go into the house somewhere, lightning and static electricity would need to be considered, and I’d need to bolt the antenna into the exterior of my house. None of these are things I’d want to do. I’d move the Pi/SDR closer to the antenna, but it frequently gets up over 140F in my Florida attic so I’d be concerned with everything overheating. I’d also need to pull a USB cable through the walls for power (or I’d probably just pull 12V up there and put a 5V step down at the Pi) so that doesn’t excite me very much either.

I should also say that switching from the 2013 rtl-sdr to the Pro Stick somehow managed to allow me to see down to ~800ft at Tampa International, where the old sdr would lose planes around 1,100ft. I thought the LOS was blocked. I’m just really impressed with the FightAware Pro Stick hardware and easy software setup. I had been hesitant to set up my own dump1090 system, dumping the data into a database and rolling my own system for favorite planes and notifications. That’s all built into FlightAware and they give it to you for free just for feeding in your data. I feel like the deal is lopsided in my favor and it is great.

Curious; does the ProStick get hot?

My one experience of a ProStick was that it felt a lot hotter than my generic tuner.

I know electronics are designed to get hot but I’m always wary of heat.

Geffers

Maybe slightly warmer than my old device, but it is hard to tell because that one is in a metal case (the old style metal case that doesn’t thermally interface to the board inside. Here’s some FLIR images of my FightAware Pro Stick though, 40C max on the front, 46C on the back (I think that’s the amp).
FLIR0184 FLIR0183

That temperature is not too bad, the R-Pi usually runs at low to mid 40s when not working too hard.

Geffers.

First the filter… then the 6 dbi antenna… then 200nm+… then the LNA… then 250nm? :smiley: