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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Monitoring BNE airspace with ADS-B

One of the most advanced plane spotting tools is the ability to receive ADS-B (Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) signals from aircraft, decode them and display them in real time on a radar screen on your personal computer. My Kinetic Avionics SBS-1er does just that. Originally purchased back in 2009, the SBS-1er has been running 24/7 365 days a year with the exception of holidays and has taken my hobby of plane spotting to a new level.

So how does it work?

Aircraft which are fitted with ADS-B broadcast their identification, position, speed, altitude, velocity, and other data automatically about every half a second. The data is picked up with an ADS-B tuned antenna and sent to the SBS-1er decoder box. The decoded data is then displayed on a virtual radar screen called Basestation.


1090Mhz tuned ADS-B antenna from DPD Productions USA


The SBS-1er decoder box

Not all aircraft currently transmit ADS-B data however Australia's CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) has mandates in place for all non equipped IFR aircraft to be fitted. The mandates are as follows:

  • 12 December 2013 - All aircraft operating at/above FL290 (29000ft) requires ADS-B.
  • 06 February 2014 - New aircraft flying IFR (Instrumental Flight Rules) placed on the Australian register on or after 06 February 2014 must be ADS-B equipped.
  • 02 February 2017 - All existing aircraft flying IFR (Instrumental Flight Rules) placed on the Australian register before 06 February 2014 must be ADS-B equipped.

As you can see eventually all IFR aircraft operating in Australia will be ADS-B equipped by 02 February 2017.

Basestation Software

Once the ADS-B data has been decoded it is then displayed using computer software called Basestation. The program displays all aircraft in your coverage area including aircraft not fully transmitting ADS-B data.


Overview of the Basestation software screen


Close-up of the radar screen showing the greater Brisbane area

The radar screen above shows aircraft on approach (blue) and departing BNE (greeny orange) using full ADS-B. I have set the program to show the aircraft's rego, type, callsign, speed and altitude. These options are fully customizable with the software. The maximum range I have tracked an aircraft was 335km from Brisbane. Aircraft not transmitting ADS-B will not be displayed.


The aircraft list which displays all aircaft in the coverage area

In the list above you will notice the column labelled "Code" which is a unique aircraft address which consists of a 24-bit code allocated by CASA. This code is usually entered into each aircraft by an engineer at installation and can be expressed in a binary or hexadecimal format.

When a new aircraft enters the airspace which you haven't picked-up before, the 24-bit code is received. You can then populate the 24 bit code using many programs such as Gatwick Aviation Society's SBS Populate. After the code is populated you then have the aircraft registration, type, operator, serial number and more assigned to the 24 bit code. You can also add an operator logo next to each registration for easy identification as can be seen above.

So what happens with all the data?

All though it is addictive, you don't need to watch the radar screen 24/7 to know what aircraft have passed through your airspace, as all the data is collected and stored in a program called Basestation Reporter. Basestation Reporter lists every aircraft you have picked up and enables you to edit any of the aircraft data fields to suit your needs.


Basestation Reporter software

The Basestation Reporter software also enables you to produce a report of all the aircraft received during a specific time frame you specify which is handy when reviewing the daily movements.


Flight report screen

As you can see the SBS-1er and software is an invaluable resource for a plane spotter and many more functions have been added to newer model Kinetic Avionics receiver's such as the SBS-3.

For more information about ADS-B in Australia please visit CASA's ADS-B publication

To purchase the latest Kinetic Avionics products please visit Aircraft Tracking Avionics