Choosing and placing your antenna for optimal coverage
What antenna you use and where you place it makes a huge difference in how many planes your receiver can see.
You may use a small antenna that came with a USB DVB stick. This will work for very close planes but your range is typically very limited. With an antenna designed specifically to receive ADS-B signals your range tends to increase dramatically. There are many options for purchasing antennas, just make sure you pick one designed specifically for reception of the 1090 MHz signal used by ADS-B. If you're handy, you can even make your own (check out our discussion forums for information on this option).
FlightAware also sells an antenna for 1090 MHz; you are certainly not obligated to use it but we do make them available at-cost when purchased directly from FlightAware via Amazon (USA/Canada/Europe). The FlightAware antenna is also available on eBay via WifiExpert.
Regardless of which antenna you choose, placement of the antenna is key. ADS-B radio signals are "line of sight" which means that the antenna ideally needs a clear path through the sky to "see" the transmitting aircraft. The best placement, whenever possible, is outside on a roof or mast with no surrounding obstructions. Obstructions can be anything from a tree to another building or a mountain. We realize that outdoor installations are not always feasible for everyone so if this not an option for you then the next best installation is on the inside of a window.
With a 1090 MHz antenna and good placement, you will generally be able to receive high-flying planes at 200 miles away or more! Because of the "line of sight" rule, the range for receiving low-flying planes will be lower. You can check your current reception range by clicking on the "My ADS-B" link at the top of any page on flightaware.com and scrolling down to the "Coverage Distribution" section.
For those interested in joining the ADS-B community, FlightAware offers step-by-step instructions to build a PiAware Receiver for under $100.
ADS-B hosts located in areas needing additional coverage might be eligible for a FlightFeeder, a free, prebuilt ADS-B receiver.
FlightAware invites you to join the ADS-B network. You'll become part of a community of aviation hobbyists across the globe and start seeing the skies in a totally different way.