My Raspberry Pi experience

My journey with the Raspberry Pi foundation hardware started last year in October. I needed something small, reliable, with low power consumption and silent to build a mini server for my project.
Possibly without breaking the bank.

Raspberry Pi 3B+
Raspberry Pi 3 B+

Why such an item?
I live near a crowded airport. The airport of Naples, Italy.

Napoli Airport, Italy

During the last two years, there has been a massive development.
The facility added many flights in its schedule, arriving from all over Europe.
Every day I hear planes passing above my head at about 8000-10000 feet.

Alitalia Airbus A330-202 Courtesy of @planespottesnapoli (Facebook page)

Therefore, as a flight passionate, I wanted to build a mini server to track digital data coming from the aircrafts.
This kind of data is called ADS-B:

Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast.
Callsign, position, speed, altitude and other useful information are continuously sent as long as the signal is received!

The full-fledged Raspberry Pi 3B+ was the right choice.
I discovered a whole new world.
A nice and stable Wi-Fi on board, plenty of USB ports. Powerful.
Everything I needed for this kind of task. I found a kit on Amazon.

The Raspberry kit i bougth

Needless to say, it was easy to set-up.
The micro SD card came with NOOBS pre-installed.
A couple of minutes and it was up and running.
Basically it uses a Linux Debian distribution for mobile processors. It is called Raspbian. Developers and designers modified it to create a simple looking and great working system for this machine. Having an official OS is amazing and makes it look more streamlined.
With VNC (free with Raspbian!) i put the system in headless mode.
I already had a USB dongle to receive radio data.

Nooelec Mini SDR 2+
The best entry level USB radio receiver!

I finally started the project stuffing everything inside a cardboard box, and placing it out on the balcony.
Only the power cord and the antenna cable where coming outside of the mysterious item.

However, the MK1 version was pretty basic.
I used a flip-flop shoebox to cover it 😃

It was nice to see all the data displayed.
Every device connected to the home network could see the airplanes on the map just writing the IP address of the service in the browser address bar.

My first installation of DUMP1090 on Raspbian Stretch
The actual DUMP1090 version in Raspbian Buster.
Better demodulator and airplane flags!

After a week or so of testing, I decided to use a bigger cardboard box.
I forgot to mention that when I started to receive data and feed it to Flightradar24, they gave me a call sign: T-LIRN24.
Nothing can be more proper than these two numbers. 24 hours of data received. Every day. It was my first server!
I sticked on the box a piece of paper with the name of the radar written on it.

Radar Box MKII and its call sign sticker

It all started to feel like a private space agency or kind of.
However, there were no patrons or sponsors.
My wallet provided every source of income.

So, when additional funds where available, I bought new hardware to make the setup more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

The MKIII version

***Recently i added the Flightaware dongle (October 2019) and testing it.
Range is greatly improved due to its amplification and filtering. Also i built a new antenna, a mini ground plane based on an easy project. I’m planning to add an additional filter to remove some LTE QRM (radio interferences from nearby GSM antennas).

The MKIV version with an amplified and filtered dongle by
Flightware
The increased range in DUMP1090 rev 1.15 (same as above)

I am a designer and I like the modern movement so:

Less is more.
But achieving this type of result is not easy.
It requires many trial and errors.
In other words: time. But first: passion.
Looking simple is not simple.

Antonio Borriello

And here we are, a nice and clean junction box with everything well-spaced and in its place.
I also bought a long USB cable with a repeater so I can place the USB dongle further away and obtain data from an antenna placed on the roof. However, currently, as i said above, i’m using a self built mini ground plane but I need an additional filter to exclude the strong QRM (interferences) from local LTE (GSM) antennas in order to use it on the roof.

The Mini Ground Plane antenna

Therefore, even with the antenna on the balcony and not “high in the sky”, this flight receiver is going strong; I am connected to the home Wi-Fi with the help of a range extender so I can use more bandwidth with my Pi.

I can control the system from my smartphone when I am away from home, and it sounds amazing. That gives you the feeling that this project is not only a domestic stuff, but a very fully functional server.

Controlling the Raspberry Pi from the smartphone

Later on, I designed an HTML interface reachable simply writing in the address bar of the browser “Raspberrypi.local”.


I also started to understand how PHP and JavaScript works thanks to the Pi.
Yes, because I bought another Pi ( The smallest one, a Pi Zero W) to use it as a “sketch box” and test everything before releasing a feature on the official one (The Pi 3 B+).

The Raspberry Pi Zero W


The web interface is really simple to use for the end user; I have gathered all my html and CSS skills and spent some time on
Stackoverflow to understand how to mix everything and make the final result look nice.
I added many features, like receiving live METAR reports (weather conditions of the nearest airport). A software installed on the Pi grabs data from the NOAA weather servers and everything is readable in the browser. Press a button and there you go. It makes you feel like a pilot. Also GRAPHS1090 provides a good amount of data about the radar performance.

The Web interface of my server
A generated METAR report
The useful tools of GRAPHS1090 to check the performance of your rig

As I previously said, the CPU is pretty capable. I already had installed Gpredict and WXtoIMG to view satellite predictions and decode weather signals on the Pi.

The Pi 3B+ now also works as a DNS server.
The service is called
Pi Hole and it’s open source.
It blocks unwanted Ads and suspicious queries.

The cool Pi Hole web interface

The devices connected to the home network can use it simply changing their DNS in the Wi-Fi or LAN settings.
However, I had to use a bit of additional code on the Pi, because the ADS-B server was already using the needed Lighttpd service to display its data, but I found a good help searching in the Flightaware forum.
Everything works fine.

The final step would be to add another USB dongle that can receive radio data so I can also listen to the HAM bands from my working pc without going outside and use the handheld scanner. There is a service called RTL_TCP. It streams raw data from the Pi, and can be decoded from any capable software like SDR# or GQRX.

My radio listener call sign is IZ8292SWL

In this case, I have to buy another antenna just for this purpose and, as I said, I am a “private space agency kind of” and there are no patrons or philanthropists but me for the moment.
Currently, I am testing this project on the Pi Zero using a portable antenna.

The little Pi Zero W and a letter i received from the Raspberry translation advisors
Maja and Nina

Hope you enjoyed this story and if you want to know more about my user interface let me know!
Maybe we can develop something nice.