Assuming you have a fully operational set-up (GS/MU or just MU), you can now manually “Mlat” non ADS-B aircraft. For the most part these will be military assets, though it will become apparent that there are a fair few civil types that don’t transmit positional data too.
Unless you have read the Help Topics within PlanePlotter or the PDF file above it may not be that obvious what to do now and how Mlat works. Simply put – if a precise distance from an unknown location (position-less aircraft) can be received by 3 known locations (Ground Stations) it is just a matter of using geometry to determine the position of the unknown aircraft. Of course it is way more complicated than this simplified explanation and I recommend reading the PDF file above for a more thorough briefing.
To use the PP Mlat feature go to View… Aircraft list as position-less aircraft obviously do not appear in the chart view until successfully plotted. It is useful to mark additional sub search parameters from the Aircraft list display options notably: Aircraft without positions (shortcut key U) or Aircraft with Mlat possible (shortcut key M) as this will eliminate aircraft that have positions and make it easier to see what is or not plotted.
Now that everything is working (hopefully!), we can proceed to customising the display.
The majority of the aircraft symbols seen will be yellow, but various colours can be assigned and labels expanded or reduced to individual preference. Additional colours are also used – for example expiring aircraft are orange and Mlat white. You may also catch an aircraft with blue concentric circles radiating from time to time – these aircraft are squawking ident usually as a result of a squawk change.
To change these parameters we need to open up Chart Options (menu or easier via the spanner symbol). Initially the options seem bewildering, however its all quite straightforward, nevertheless I’d recommend changing a few things at a time and re-checking the display to see if its appropriate to your needs.
PlanePlotter Version Reviewed: 184.108.40.206-220.127.116.11 (GS/MU rN)
As an aviation enthusiast of many a decade I can tell you that this sort of hobby evolves over the years. Back in the 1980’s the only tools I had were a pair of binoculars, a copy of Ian Allan’s abc Military Aircraft Markings, a note book and pencil. As time went on I added a 35mm SLR (remember those?) and a collection of high powered lenses. The 90’s saw the addition of my first scanner plus a spotting scope for good measure. I was pretty much sorted – not much got past me at my local airfield.
So you are in receipt of a shiny new Realtek RTL2832U+R820T SDR dongle and I understand the first thing you want to do is start decoding ADS-B, ACARS or some other exotic data format. Maybe you just want to listen in to some local comms? Well we really need to get some software loaded up.
There are two popular SDR tuning programs and both are freeware: SDR# (SDRSharp) and HDSDR. I’ve tried both, but highly recommend SDR# as its more user friendly – especially for newcomers so we’ll stick with that.
There are numerous SDR# versions available (stable/nightly builds) and a degree of experimentation is required to get the program up and running. Installation worked flawlessly on one PC but was a total nightmare on another. Eventually I got it working on both (funnily identical Windows XP platforms!). SDR# requires .NET Framework to be installed prior to running and the problems I had installing SDR# on my laptop was because I had 4.5 installed and not 3.5. To be on the safe side I ended up installing .NET Framework versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.5 and 4.5 (overkill or what?!).
I had my first real taste of radio decoding back in the 90’s. Things were a little different then though. For starters you needed a scanner or HF radio (or both), a demodulator (from Pervisell), leads to connect the radio audio output to a computer soundcard and of course software (or just plain old DOS) and a PC to process everything. At the time I had a subscription to Shortwave Magazine (sadly no longer in print) and the decode section was a godsend.
Each decoding practice had different protocols and often things didn’t work out as planned. Many hours (or days) were spent tinkering with leads, interface settings (bloody COM ports!) and antenna locations. If you were unlucky the Windows blue screen of death would make an appearance every now and again!
Now this is a very interesting bit of kit and will appeal to anyone with an interest in radio. I’ll go into more detail when I complete the review on this one, suffice to say it is an extraordinary Software Defined Radio (or SDR for short) with the capabilities of a receiver many times its actual cost (which is about a tenner!).
It’s original purpose and one that it performs effortlessly is as a DAB/DVB-T tuner (digital radio/TV), but some clever chap discovered its tuning chip could be manipulated via software to perform the role of a high end monitoring device.
The model featured here (Realtek RTL2832U+R820T) has a frequency range of 20.100 MHz to 1.7660 GHz (all mode via software) and is the number one choice for new comers to the wonderful world of ADS-B aircraft monitoring/tracking on 1090.000.
The receiving qualities don’t stop there though. Coupled to the right software (I’ll compile a list of the best freeware examples in the review) all sorts of things can be decoded such as AIS, ACARS, trunking systems, weather satellites, APRS, and POCSAG/FLEX pagers. Of course if you just want to listen in like a conventional scanner you can do that too!
I heard about these a while back, but only recently picked one up. I read the hype, but are they really that good?