Virtual Radar for a tenner – RTLSDR and ADSB: It works!

I had some time this morning to experiment with the RTLSDR USB dongle which I’ve previously mentioned. Designed as a DVB TV/DAB receiver, with different drivers, they can be used as a wide band scanning receiver. As I mentioned yesterday, I’d seen Pete 2E0SQL report success in decoding the ADSB transmissions from aircraft with his stick.

I used my latest USB dongle with the E820T tuner – having made sure that the drivers were up to date. The first ADSB decoder that I tried was the ADSBSharp program which you can download from here Having installed that – I started the program with the dongle plugged into a USB port and a small antenna which came with DVB stick plugged in. Immediately I could see that the dongle was decoding frames – and quite a few of them.

I wanted to try and plot them, so I started up ADSBScope which you can download here

From the menus, I selected Other/Network/Network setting and set the Raw Data CLIENT (not the server) to port 47806 which ADSBSharp was ‘broadcasting’ on. The URL should be set to

I then pressed the RAW Data Client icon – it’s the right hand of the group of three ‘network’ icons on the icon bar. Lots of messages started appearing in the right hand pane, but very few position decodes. I filtered around with the filter but didn’t see much improvement.

Honour was sort of satisfied as I knew the data was being decoded, but I wondered if if I could do better. I’d seen some discussion on Twitter about the RTL1090 software which would work with the RTLSDR dongle and should decode the data. I downloaded the program and installed it from the RTL1090 website

Running the program up, I could immediately it seeing aircraft and displaying ‘Active Flight’ data. However, even after reconfiguring ADSBScope’s Raw Data Client to point at RTL1090 which was running on port 31001 ADSBScope was not displaying flight information.

I then remembered seeing in the ADSBSharp instructions that you had to configure the client to use AVR format. I had no idea what that was, but wondered if I should get RTL1090 to send the data to ADSBScope in AVR format. This was what cracked it! Simply start RTL1090 from a command prompt with the /AVR flag and the data will then be sent to ADSBScope and mapped.

I am surprised how sensitive the receiver is. Not as good as the LZ2RR  ADSB dongle, but as you can see from the map, the system is quite capable of receiving aircraft over distances of 20 to 50 miles away – even with a basic indoor antenna.

Definitely a great use for the DVB dongle, especially if you have been interested in Virtual Radar, but were put off by the prices!

Tim Kirby, G4VXE, is a regular contributor to and writes from Oxfordshire, England. Contact him at [email protected].

10 Responses to “Virtual Radar for a tenner – RTLSDR and ADSB: It works!”

  • Kevin Porter G6UCY:

    Hello Tim

    Having seen your last posting on this subject I decided to have a go myself. I decided to use the ADSB Sharp program and the Virtual Radar Server mentioned in your post and after a sorting out a database issue by downloading the appropriate database program from the VRS website (always a good idea to read all the information on the download pages)it started decoding and displaying the required information.

    You mentioned the good sensitivity and I can report that my results reflect this. To try it out I am using an old telescopic whip around 17cm long on my first floor window sill with a very restricted view of the sky caused by my neighbours houses but I can still see twenty aircraft up to sixty miles away this morning, which I believe is not too bad for such a basic set up.

    What I will do though is try a better antenna based on a design by G7RGQ noted on the ADSB Sharp website and see what results I get. All in all though its great fun and thank you for highlighting this use for the USB dongles


    Kevin G6UCY

  • Don & AE7QL:

    Living in Twin Falls, ID US…the president of the local club and I were talking about this yesterday before the testing session. While you can’t run out to your local store and buy these in the US…Ebay does sell them from $18-25 US with free shipping on most of them. Just do a search for: (RTL2832U + E4000) DVB-T receiver.

    Wrong standard for US TV…most or all of them include an FM radio which will work in the US.

  • Robert Gulley AK3Q:

    Really looking forward to trying this – awaiting my dongle which should be here this week. Thanks for the great topic and sharing your experiences with us!
    Robert AK3Q

  • Charlie G4EST:

    your article came to my notice at a very opportune time. I have been playing with the funcube dongle for playing with SDR using various flavours of decoding software, and thought I would foray into ADS-B so bought a cheap RTL2832 based dongle to play with. Got it up and running on ‘normal’ modes after some fun with drivers so decided to go for the ADSB with ADSB#. Fired up first time and adsbSCOPE used to decode as per your experience. I was unable to see how to connect with other plotting apps for various reasons.
    Could not get the RTL1090 app to run though so still need to work on this, possibly via the Yahoogroups.
    Now attempting to build the antenna from the G7RGQ instructions to see what difference that will make.
    Again thanks for a detailed run through of your experiences, a great help… now where is that 20 foot mast?

  • Erik F. (VE1FE):

    Recently got my RTL2832U R820T and have ADSB# with ADSBScope running and it has been working great with the antenna that came with the Dongle.

    I’ve been tracking occasionally 10+ targets with it just sitting by the window or on my couch. Had no luck using it as a wideband receiver though.

  • OK1UNL:

    Hi all.
    Strongly recommend TV dongle RTL232U + R820T tuner. This one is has a more sensitivity than obsolete E4K.
    So, tried me RTLduo (freeware app) and VRS + ADSBscope + FR24feed, partially server you can see here:
    one little proble still have. I do not see operators flags and silhouets of planes.Yes,it is problem with installation database.
    73! Lada OK1UNL

  • Max VE3TMT:

    I’ve been using RTL1090 and Planeplotter over the last few days with good success, using the R820T tuner dongle. Antenna is the Radio cheapie VHF/UHF about 15′ up on the chimney. Can track aircraft out to about 150 miles.

    Dongle also works great as an SDR receiver for my Yaesu FT990. I have the 47.21 MHz IF signal from the radio running into the tuner running HDSDR and can see almost 2 MHz of bandwidth.

    I run SDR# for my general monitoring of AM aircraft, local ham repeaters and FM broadcast radio.

    I use an old DB25 switchbox to switch the input to the tuner from eith the scanner antenna for general listening or as the SDR on the HF radio.

    Amazing what these little tuners will do. Next software I want to try is ADSBScope, as I understand Planeplotter is only free for a 21-day trial period.

  • Ray M0RAY:

    Would some one please be kind enough to send me the details in order to get one of these dongles for £10 ukp, or better known to brits as 10 quid please. My email address will ensure that I get the info. Many thanks in advance.
    Ray, M0RAY

  • Kenneth, KF6HCD:

    Using ADSBScope and ASDB# with a 4 foot length of extra lamp cord attached to a “NooELEC RTL 232U + R820T” SDR dongle’s antenna base and tacked to a wall.

    Receiving 15 tracks at this time up to 200 miles away. Outstanding! I expect that number to go up after I build and mount a discone outside my patio door.

    This is my first attempt at ADS-B. This is really enhancing my ham radio hobby.

    Thanks for the tutorial. 73.

  • Lada OK1UNL:

    Hi to all!
    i am satisfied by overal resuls achieved with RTL SDR dongle.
    I am now using cheap LNA amplifier for TV SAT.
    See here some tips. (Schwaiger co. is a traditional producer from Germany)
    and here

    so for ADS-b is a slightly better model SLV 5060 with higher gain (cca 25dB)
    Between your antenna and RTL SDR dongle is this LNA really helpfull unit.

    please give here your observations…..
    73! Lada OK1UNL

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