How do air trackers get their data? † Interview

Follow the plane that one of your acquaintances is going on holiday with. Or get an overview of all aircraft of a particular type that are in the air right now. Or check out whether it’s a Boeing 747 or an Airbus A380 that forms four rapidly dissolving white tracks high in the clear blue sky. Internet applications like FlightRadar24, FlightAware, OpenSky and adsbexchange make it possible. Jeff Kerz Graham is one of many feeders

It was about 11pm when Jeff heard a loud plane noise over his house. He quickly checked on FlightRadar24 to see what type it came from. He just saw that it was a flight from Russia before the plane disappeared from the radar. It fascinated him. “What was the reason?” he wondered. “The transponder off or what?” Reason enough for Jeff, a programmer by profession, to take action to get more data on the flight movements in the sky over his own living environment.

Jeff Kertz Graham © Lieneke Koornstra

Not just out of the blue

His interest does not just come out of the blue. ‘My father was a mechanical engineer,’ he says. ‘First at LNER (London North Eastern Railway) in King’s Cross, London, and later at BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) at Heathrow. As a young boy living not far from Farnborough, Hampshire, I often saw Concorde and the American Blackbird at the Farnborough Air Show, which took place every two years. This is how my passion for trains and planes began. As I live in Kortenhoef and so close to Schiphol, I am even more fascinated by what is flying over me. ‘

© Jeff Kertz Graham

Icons and lines

He displays a diagram on his computer with all sorts of connecting lines. It is that they are all blue, otherwise the attachment to a natal chart would not be completely unthinkable. He points to the icon in the middle, the white house in a blue square. “It’s my home.” He points to the light green icon and says, “This flare icon represents the location of the last plane.” Then he points with his finger at the yellow square. “The inner limit of the SkyRad is about 4.7 kilometers.” He points to the white square, he says. “SkyMap is about nine kilometers.” Then he explains the blue lines with the dots: ‘They represent the flight paths that took place in my living environment. The flight tracks are displayed for the last hour. ‘ The blue line at the bottom of the form also gets his attention: ‘Here you can see how long the last flight, in this case TAP782 with an Airbus A321neo from Tap Air Portugal on the way from Lisbon to Stockholm, was within SkyMap- the border. The left table shows information about the speed, altitude and so on on the “van”.

feeders

“As one of the FlightRadar24, FlightAware, OpenSky, and adsbexchange feeders, I pass all this information on to them,” says Jeff. ‘Many others do the same with me. This is how these sites get their information. Based on the information obtained, they can accurately locate an aircraft’s position and map it, as well as provide more details about that flight. ‘ The feeders have so-called ADS-B receivers (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) at home. ‘To be honest, I’m pretty curious to see who else is here in Holland,’ laughs Jeff.

© Jeff Kertz Graham

ADS-B receiver

An ADS-B receiver consists of the following parts: A FlightAware kit, a Raspberry Pi 3B +, a 32 GB USB stick with PiAware software, a FlightAware SMA male to SMA female antenna cable 0.3M and a FlightAware Pro Stick Plus (USB SDR ADS-B receiver) and a FlightAware 1090MHz ADS-B N-Type Antenna 26 ″ – 5.5dBi. But there were a few things that preceded it with Jeff. Using a Home Assistant (HA), an application that the programmer had discovered three years earlier, he managed to configure his house as a Smart Home. “In the HA application, I found an integration called OpenSky,” he says. ‘It worked well, but I would like more information. I found that OpenSky also has an API (Application Programming Interface). It gave me the opportunity to be more inventive. ‘ As he acts as a feeder, Jeff also enjoys an added benefit: paying a subscription fee is not an option for him on all of these air tracking sites.

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