Virtual Radar Server is a free and easy way to plot aircraft tracking data onto Google Maps. Yes, I know all this is available online. But it is fun to set it up yourself.
Yesterday, I demonstrated using my $20 software defined radio receiver RTL-SDR to track aircraft around Calgary. This is done by receiving the ADS-B data broadcast by airplanes on 1090 MHz. The software used was RTL1090. It worked fine. I could see all of the aircraft taking off and landing here, as well as passing overhead. It appeared that even with a meager antenna, I could capture all the aircraft in the vicinity.
But the display provided by RTL1090 software was pretty bare bones. I wondered if I could display the flight paths on a real map. It turned out that this was quite easy to do.
Virtual Radar Server and Google Maps
Virtual Radar Server is software designed for plotting ADS-B data on a real map. Shown above is a screen capture of me tracking six aircraft over my home city. Calgary’s airport is in the northeast of the city. A Westjet flight is arriving from the northwest. It has flown to the south side of Calgary, and is turning north to land on the main runway in a few minutes. Flying at 5900 feet, it is slowing down and will descent a further 2000 feet to land. Another Westjet flight is arriving form the southeast and is circling as it gets ready to approach YYC.
Meanwhile, Virgin Airlines flight VIR23J from Heathrow flies south at 36,000 feet over Calgary on its way to Los Angeles. All of this data is plotted in a browser onto Google Maps.
Virtual Radar Server can be used with data from many sources. You can also share your tracking data with others. But for me, I am happy using it in local mode. The RTL1090 software sends the data to the VRS software using a TCP port on my computer. Your setup may differ, but will be something like “127.0.0.1:31010”. Not to worry, VRS has a Wizard to guide you through the setup.
It’s easy to waste hours watching this stuff. I must stop!