As it stands right now all aircraft are tracked via radar. Most aircraft are equipped with a special radio (called a transponder) that transmits a 4 digit code, called mode ‘A’ for civilian flight or mode ‘3’ for military flights (this is called ‘squawking’). The air traffic controller assigns the code he or she wants the flight crew to squawk. It is this code is what helps air traffic control track that particular aircraft on their radar displays. The code can change as the plane gets handed off from one air traffic authority to the next one along their route.
In most cases aircraft will also send out a different 4 digit code for their altitude (this is called mode ‘C’). These 4 digit codes (called replies) are sent out when the transponder receives a special signal (called an interrogation) from, what is called ‘secondary radar’, primary radar being the radar that actually tracks the airplane (you know that blip on the screen).
Eventually a new mode was added, called mode ‘Select’ or simply mode ‘S’. The main advantage is each aircraft had a unique address and whereas before whenever a mode A or C interrogation would go out, every aircraft in the vicinity would send out a reply. On a mode ‘S’ equipped aircraft the air control authority could send out a specific interrogation so only the intended aircraft would send out a reply. Also mode S could carry more information than previously possible. It could send out either a 56 or 112 bit reply and carry additional information including basic airframe information in addition to altitude information.
There’s a new change rapidly approaching.
That change is called ‘NextGen’ by the Federal Aviation Administration. The goal is to eventually stop using radar, and switch to a type of networking system where aircraft report their heading, altitude, velocity (speed) and position onto a global map. This map is not only visible to air traffic professionals but when properly equipped, to other aircraft as well. This technology is called ADS-B.
With ADS-B instead of being interrogated via secondary radar, each aircraft sends out their heading, altitude, velocity (speed) and position in what is called a “squitter”. A squitter is basically an unsolicited transmission of the above information every 2 to 4 seconds to any ground station or ADS-B in equipped aircraft in the vicinity (around 30 miles or so)
‘ADS-B Out’ is the function of transmitting all the aircraft’s pertinent information. ‘ADS-B In’ is the ability of receiving all the pertinent information from other aircraft. Not all ADS-B equipped aircraft are capable of ADS-B In. At least not yet.
So how does this work, and what exactly is ADS-B?
According to Air Facts Journal
At heart, ADS-B is really just a new way to manage air traffic. As such, it will eventually replace radar as Air Traffic Control’s (ATC) primary tool for separating aircraft. It’s different from radar in that it does not depend on controllers in a central location watching radar scopes. Instead, aircraft self-report their GPS position in a networked environment, so pilots can see the entire air traffic picture around them. There is also the added benefit of datalink weather available through ADS-B.
ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. It’s a dreadful name that only an engineer could love, but it happens to be fairly descriptive. Let’s look at each part of it:
Automatic–properly-equipped aircraft automatically report their position, without need for a radar interrogation
Dependent–ADS-B depends on aircraft having an approved WAAS GPS on board and an ADS-B Out transmitter
Surveillance–it is a surveillance technology that allows ATC to watch airplanes move around
Broadcast–aircraft broadcast their position information to airplanes and ATC
This is all a part of a modernization project led by the FAA called ‘The Next Generation Air Transportation System’, or ‘NextGen’.
From the FAA
The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, is the FAA-led modernization of America’s air transportation system to make flying even safer, more efficient, and more predictable.
NextGen is not one technology, product, or goal. The term NextGen encompasses dozens of innovative, new technologies that are being developed and implemented after thorough testing for safety. Through research, innovation, and collaboration, NextGen is setting standards around the world and further establishing the FAA’s global leadership in aviation.
The FAA further explains:
ADS-B is an environmentally friendly technology that enhances safety and efficiency, and directly benefits pilots, controllers, airports, airlines, and the public. It forms the foundation for NextGen by moving from ground radar and navigational aids to precise tracking using satellite signals.
With ADS-B, pilots for the first time see what controllers see: displays showing other aircraft in the sky. Cockpit displays also pinpoint hazardous weather and terrain, and give pilots important flight information, such as temporary flight restrictions.
ADS-B reduces the risk of runway incursions with cockpit and controller displays that show the location of aircraft and equipped ground vehicles on airport surfaces – even at night or during heavy rainfall. ADS-B applications being developed now will give pilots indications or alerts of potential collisions.
ADS-B also provides greater coverage since ground stations are so much easier to place than radar. Remote areas without radar coverage, like the Gulf of Mexico and parts of Alaska, now have surveillance with ADS-B.
Relying on satellites instead of ground navigational aids also means aircraft will be able to fly more directly from Point A to B, saving time and money, and reducing fuel burn and emissions.
The improved accuracy, integrity and reliability of satellite signals over radar means controllers eventually will be able to safely reduce the minimum separation distance between aircraft and increase capacity in the nation’s skies.
The 2020 Mandate:
The FAA published Federal Regulation 14 CFR § 91.225 and 14 CFR § 91.227 in May 2010. The final rule dictates that effective January 1, 2020, aircraft operating in airspace defined in 91.225 are required to have an Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) system that includes a certified position source capable of meeting requirements defined in 91.227. These regulations set a minimum performance standard for both ADS-B Transmitter and the position sources integrated with the ADS-B equipment your aircraft.
Did you get all that?
Complicated I know if you don’t understand aviation. Maybe these websites will help, flighttrader24 and AirNav RadarBox. These publically accessible maps show real time information transmitted by ADS-B Out equipped aircraft. There are probably other similar websites.
This is an example of the information ADS-B equipped aircraft can put out.
The idea is pretty cool of course, and no doubt typical of this information age we live in. Using satellites and the aircraft’s own on board information we now have the ability to see all air traffic, worldwide in real time. It wasn’t too long before airports started seeing the advantages of having not only aircraft being ADS-B equipped, but also ground support equipment and vehicles on airports.
The potential is staggering as new uses for this technology is still being realized.
Think of the problems associated with self driving cars:
Now what if all these self driving cars could communicate with each other. So basically a self driving car is a drone, one that can carry passengers. The future of aircraft is also drones. If you’re not aware, some aircraft have very sophisticated auto pilot systems and can fly to their destinations, and land by themselves. Everything from take off to landing is soon to come. Basically a self flying airplane… or drone.
This technology is perfect for self driving cars too!
This leads to another question. Is this tech safe? Can it be hacked?
The answer is yes it can and is fairly easy to hack. A man named Brad “RenderMan” Haines was able to spoof ADS-B signals and create fake planes in the sky.
According to NPR:
It turns out that ADS-B signals look a lot like little bits of computer code. But unlike traffic on the Internet, these signals are unencrypted and unauthenticated. And for computer security geeks like Haines, these are huge red flags. He soon realized he could spoof these signals and create fake “ghost planes” in the sky.
There are apparently still bugs to work out of the system but don’t worry Radar isn’t being phased out just yet, but it will be eventually.
Can you see where this is going?
A future where planes, trains, and automobiles drive or fly themselves, and communicate amongst each other.
Never a traffic jam, very little accidents (perhaps none ever). This is all perfect for A.I. oversight, and no doubt it’ll come soon afterward. Already discussed many places are the possibility of A.I. taking over all aspects of our lives, seems like the whole world is currently being wired, so to speak, for it. A.I. could do all this better than us mere humans.
Didn’t Elon Musk warn us about A.I.?
Stephen Hawking also gave warning.
Revelation Chapter 13
11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. 12And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 13And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, 14And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. 15And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. 16And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads