Aeronautical SDR: Ivan’s in-flight FM spectrum captures


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ivan Cholakov (NO2CW), who writes:

Thomas, not sure if this is something relevant but airlines now state it is OK to use an am/fm radio on board aircraft.

Not much possibilities for AM unfortunately but on a recent flight from Ft Lauderdale to Dallas and Albuquerque I hooked up an SDRPlay receiver to a 3 inch stick antenna and recorded a few stations I was able to pick up along the way.

The first video is posted here:

I did take a few more videos flying between JFK and MIA as well.

I used the following equipment:


1. 13 inch laptop that I also use for work
2. SDRPlay receiver
3. Old scanner antenna that I happened to have
4. SDRUno software to drive the radio
5. Screen recorder that comes with the Win 10 Xbox app
6. Windows movie maker to stitch the individual clips together and annotate

If needed, the size of the setup above can shrink further if a smaller laptop/tablet is used and an RTL dongle instead of SDRPlay.

You will also need to equip yourself with a window seat. Otherwise, signals are significantly weaker.

I did not place the antenna in a special position, just next to me on the seat where it could not be noticed by other passengers. I uploaded a few more videos from my weekly shuttle flights between MIA an JFK.

Ivan NO2CW

Wow!  Thanks so much, for sharing this, Ivan.

I’ve always packed a simple FM-capable radio in my one, compact carry on bag and typically try a little FM DX travel while in flight. I was never aware there was a restriction on using an FM receiver in flight, but I’ve always kept my radio listening very discrete so it’s never been a problem.

I love the idea of doing in-flight FM spectrum captures! It would be fun to watch signals on the spectrum shift and change as the flight progresses. Very cool, Ivan!

Post readers: Have you ever made in-flight FM spectrum captures like Ivan?  Please comment!

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8 thoughts on “Aeronautical SDR: Ivan’s in-flight FM spectrum captures

  1. Dan...VR2HF

    IMPORTANT NOTE: Not all airlines allow radio receivers and GPS to be used in on their flights. United completely restricts them, for example, while Delta allows “AM/FM and satellite receivers (I assume they are thinking of Sirius XM).” No mention of SW receivers, scanners, or others. I doubt an SDR or other receiver with such a broad frequency coverage would be considered an “AM/FM receiver.” Best to check with the airline first before you pull out all that gear.otherwise you might easily be considered a bad actor and end up finding yourself on the nightly news or worse, actually contribute to a communication or navigation problem that puts your flight in danger (yes, certain receivers can put out all kinds of spurious signals that might be problematic).

    Here are United and Delta’s PED (portable electronic device) policies:

    If you want some radio fun inflight with no hassle, fly on United and listen to the pilots, ATC and other aircraft on frequency via the “From the Flight Deck” audio on many UA flights (Ch 9 or select from the entertainment menu). No worries there. I did exactly that all the way from Singapore to Hong Kong and was totally entertained for more than 3 hours. If the crew don’t turn on the flight deck audio you can ask a flight attendant to request it.



  2. Tom Servo

    I did this on a flight from San Jose to Birmingham once back in the early 2000’s and it was really fun. The night flight was only about 25% full and the cabin crew let me go anywhere I wanted, so I went in the back to be alone.

    I used a Radio Shack DX-398, and like the video I had something on nearly every channel for the duration of my listening time. Many stations even had RDS decoding, although it was more difficult than normal. I know the SDRuno software in the video does RDS, which can be helpful in identifying stations on the ground. I recall that there were a *few* AM stations that punched through the noise of the airplane, but not many. I don’t recall any specific stations, sadly, but I’m sure they were higher powered to overcome the distance and the shielding of the airplane itself.

    I think on that same trip I also used a GPS navigator (back then, it was a GPS Bluetooth dongle paired to a Windows PDA, how ancient!) to see how fast we were going and what land we were above. It could barely keep up!

    1. Thomas Post author

      Mark: I meant to post a challenge to you at the end of this article. Capturing spectrum in-flight has Fahey written all over it! 🙂


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