A New Project: Plane/Sailing Portable

As I lamented a few years back while first putting the Plane/Sailing system together, my location down in a “dip” prevents me having line of sight to any AIS-equipped vessels or APRS transponders. While AIS coverage is surprisingly workable, APRS tends to only get a few packets in if someone is working mobile locally, or when the E-layer occasionally works its magic.

I don’t have the space (or the family or neighbours’ good will) to be building antenna towers, certainly not to the 20 metres height I would need for line of sight to the sea.

But what if my home wasn’t the only Plane/Sailing receiver?

I often work by the sea, what if I could pick up AIS signals there? When I travel, could I be a mobile APRS iGate? And a discussion on the OARC Discord server about extending our flight tracker coverage made me think too—I have family abroad, what about installing a receiver there?

All of these thoughts got me wondering, what’s the smallest receiver I could make with off-the-shelf parts?

SDR dongles and Raspberry Pi Zeroes are about the same footprint, could I make a small neat stack of parts in that size that could function as an extra, portable input to the Plane/Sailing System?

A Raspberry Pi Zero W, USB pHAT and RTL-SDR dongle

A Raspberry Pi Zero W, USB pHAT and RTL-SDR dongle, nearly ready to be assembled.

I’m in the process of doing some initial design and buying some parts, ready to see what can be achieved. Of course, the whole thing will be documented here as a build guide when I am done, in case you would like to recreate the project for yourself!

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