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I am an aviation fan, relatively new to the industry. While I thoroughly enjoy plane spotting at my local KORD airport, at times I tune to LiveATC and Flightaware to get my fix.

Unfortunately, my observations are that flightaware is a bit delayed 3-5 minutes, and not all air traffic is shown.

I tried Flightradar24, it is more current, but wildly inaccurate at times and a bit "synthetic" as they try to fill in the data gaps.

Aside from getting into an actual ATC tower, which I am sure is nearly impossible for a civilian, what are my best options as far as getting my fix in? Apps, services, etc (paid and free), doesn't matter.

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If you have the opportunity of placing an antenna at your house with a good view on KORD and the surrounding airspace, FR24 might want to provide you with one of their receivers. They are looking to expand in that area. –  DeltaLima Feb 3 at 16:58
    
Flightaware is also expanding their ADS-B network and has some hardware to provide to users willing to install it. (I suspect they're already well covered for KORD, though.) –  Greg Hewgill Feb 4 at 0:11
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You can buy a DVB-TV USB stick for around €20, which will allow you to receive ADS-B data:

Up from that, you can get a high-end ADS-B receiver:

Finally, FlightRadar24 offers free hardware in selected locations:

Bear in mind that these devices will only allow you to receive signals within a relatively small area.

One thing worth noting is by contributing the data received by these devices, you get a free FlightRadar24 Premium subscription.

Lots more information is available at FlightRadar24 > Increase Coverage.

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I don't know about where you are, but in the States, the only ones with ADS-B Out that I've seen so far are FedEx aircraft up at the flight levels. They're hard to pick up visually from the ground. This will change as ADS-B(O) becomes more commonplace. –  Steve V. Feb 3 at 14:08
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@SteveV. I don't know where you have looked, but the vast majority of internationally operating airframes as well as the B737 and A320 family aircraft in the US have ADS-B Out (1090MHz). –  DeltaLima Feb 3 at 14:30
    
A good pilot is always learning, apparently! –  Steve V. Feb 3 at 22:43
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If you don't mind dropping some cash, a handheld radio scanner will let you listen to as-it-happens ATC transmissions.

Combine that with a current copy of the Chicago O'Hare approach procedures (near the bottom of the page) and you'll be able to follow traffic in real time by looking out your window.

However, if you're not tied to O'Hare or you just feel like getting out for a day, head over to Midway. There's a Giordano's right off the approach end of the airport. You can get you some pizza while looking out the window and watching Southwest Airlines squeeze 737s onto a 6,500 foot runway.

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You can get scanners pretty cheaply if you look around (they get even cheaper if you don't mind doing your own soldering) - they're not going to be as pretty as the $100 models though :) –  voretaq7 Feb 3 at 17:34
    
Think EBay for inexpensive scanners. –  Skip Miller Mar 17 at 1:31
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All data from the FAA is delayed by at least five minutes unless you can show an actual need for real-time data. Additional information is provided in their agreement for accessing the data (below).

As others have pointed out, there is various hardware that can be used to see real-time data in a small local area, but it only shows aircraft that are properly equipped.

As far as going into a control tower, take a look at What is the security policy for getting into a Control Tower?


From the FAA ASDI Memorandum of Agreement:

As a result of the aviation-related attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, the FAA reviewed security risks related to the ASDI/NASSI feed and determined that only Subscribers that are Class One Users are authorized to receive the full near real time ASDI and NASSI data set (this includes Direct Subscribers with Class One Indirect Subscribers). Subscribers that are Class Two Users are not authorized to receive near real time flight tracking and position messages. Class Two Users are only authorized to receive the full ASDI and NASSI data set that has been time-delayed at least 5 minutes.

Class 1:

A Class One User is a professional aviation organization with an established flight dispatch or planning function that requires near real time positional flight-tracking capabilities. This organization must have direct responsibility for dispatching or tracking aircraft it owns or be contracted by the owner of the aircraft to do so.
Examples are airlines, regional air carriers, air taxis, any organization providing dispatch or tracking functions for aircraft owners, flight operation centers, government users (as described in Section 5.5), and professional flight planning service providers. Fixed Base Operators (FBOs), corporate flight departments, and part 135 operators must have direct responsibility for dispatching or tracking aircraft to qualify as a Class One User. The FAA shall be the final arbiter for any disputes regarding the interpretation of this Section.

Class 2:

A Class Two User is any user not meeting the criteria of a Class One User (e.g., most general aviation; non-aviation-related entities and individuals; any other entity without a specific requirement for near real time positional flight-tracking). Class Two Users can obtain Class Two (time-delayed data) either directly from the FAA Traffic Flow Management System Hubsite Class Two ASDI/NASSI interface or from Direct Subscribers that provide time-delayed Class Two data.

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