A Rough Guide to Wingbits

I’ve been watch­ing Wing­bits for a while now. They’re a new DePIN reward­ing you for track­ing com­mer­cial and pri­vate planes, and some parts of the project remind me of the ear­ly days of Heli­um, back when I wrote the orig­i­nal Rough Guide for Heli­um. Wing­bits is a project that allows you to choose your hard­ware and that rewards you for pro­vid­ing “bet­ter” ser­vice. In the ear­ly days of Heli­um I gained a sig­nif­i­cant advan­tage by try­ing to pro­vide the absolute best ser­vice over just stick­ing a Hotspot in a win­dow. I *think* the same kind of think­ing will be use­ful for Wingbits.

First, let’s go through what Wing­bits is. Wing­bits rewards you for plac­ing hard­ware (a small com­put­er like a Rasp­ber­ry Pi con­nect­ed to a radio receiv­er and an anten­na) and receiv­ing auto­mat­ic trans­mis­sions from most com­mer­cial air­craft regard­ing where they are and how fast they’re going. If you want to fast for­ward and just buy the gear now because you’re all excit­ed, skip ahead here. Just remem­ber to come back here and keep reading.

The trans­mis­sions you’ll cap­ture are called ADS‑B, or Auto­mat­ic Depen­dent Sur­veil­lance — Broad­cast. They pro­vide the GPS loca­tion, alti­tude, ground speed, and oth­er infor­ma­tion about an air­craft. This trans­mis­sion is pub­lic, and can be received by any­one. It is more accu­rate than radar, and is required for most air­craft in the US.

Basi­cal­ly, ADS‑B is a way for an air­craft to say, “Hey, I’m here, I’m going this fast, at this alti­tude; DON’T HIT ME!

Like all DePINs, in return for you set­ting up the hard­ware and pass­ing data, in this case ADS‑B data through Wing­bits, you receive tokens. Those tokens can be trad­ed for oth­er currency.

Ok, so why has Wing­bits par­tic­u­lar­ly caught my atten­tion? Because unlike many oth­er DePIN projects, you can build your own hard­ware, you can make that hard­ware bet­ter, and bet­ter hard­ware means poten­tial­ly more tokens.

Now, NONE OF THIS IS FINANCIAL ADVICE, so don’t go spend­ing mon­ey just because you read about it on some guy’s blog on the inter­net. Do your own research before jump­ing in.

For me, Wing­bits rep­re­sents three oppor­tu­ni­ties: First, the chal­lenge of build­ing some­thing in the radio world. Sec­ond, the chance to learn about some­thing new. Third, the abil­i­ty to write about this and share it with folks. All of those are super fun for me. Take care­ful note that earn­ing tokens is NOT in my top three rea­sons for doing this. Yes, it’s fun and a way to keep score, but for me that’s about where it ends.

Before we get to how to build a rad ADS‑B set up for Wing­bits, let’s talk about why this par­tic­u­lar DePIN exists. 

ADS‑B data has tra­di­tion­al­ly been gath­ered and sup­plied by vol­un­teer hob­by­ists. These are the kinds of nerds who just like find­ing things out and shar­ing what they know. For years, these hob­by­ists have pro­vid­ed the data they col­lect to a com­pa­ny called ADS‑B Exchange for free; the com­pa­ny made it easy to see all the oth­er infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed, and most hob­by­ists were sat­is­fied with that arrangement. 

Then, in Jan­u­ary of 2023, ADS‑B Exchange sold to Jet­Net for a report­ed $20,000,000. All of a sud­den, the hob­by­ists who’d been pro­vid­ing free info real­ized that what they’d been doing had val­ue. They just did­n’t know how to cap­ture it. Enter Wing­bits, an attempt to cap­ture the val­ue pro­vid­ed by hob­by­ists and return some of it to them for their con­tri­bu­tions, using the DePIN model.

Ok, so HOW do you make the best pos­si­ble set­up? Let’s approach this from two angles: What the net­work “wants”, and how best to pro­vide that.

Let’s start with the size you’ll have to cov­er. In the Wing­bits Litepaper (a rough sketch of what the project is about), the rewards sys­tem is set up around hexa­gons from the Uber H3 sys­tem. The hex sizes are res 3, or about 4,600 square miles of area and about 73 miles between par­al­lel edges. In the below view you can see those hex­es. Pur­ple indi­cates the hex is pur­chased and owned by the view­er (in this case, me), yel­low means that some­one else has pur­chased the hex, and no col­or means the hex is unpurchased.

There are 41,162 res3 hex­es in the world, most of which are in the ocean and prob­a­bly can’t be cov­ered. That leaves us earth-dwellers with about 15k hex­es to pop­u­late. Each hexa­gon has a fixed amount of Wings tokens assigned to it dai­ly. This amount is deter­mined by mul­ti­ply­ing the num­ber of anten­nas in the hex x the “base rewards”. “Base rewards” will be deter­mined by the Wing­bits team. For the sake of con­ve­nience (and as of Nov 4th, 2023) we’ll use 100 as the base rewards. That base num­ber could be wrong!

Rewards in this sys­tem are direct­ly tied to the quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of uploaded teleme­try data

Wing­bits Sky­Hex Medi­um article

One point here (that Wing­bits will prob­a­bly fix by the time this is pub­lished) is that an “anten­na” in the Hex Rewards def­i­n­i­tion means “an anten­na owned by a per­son who holds an NFT for that hex”. 


Since writ­ing this, Wing­bits has updat­ed their reward incen­tives to allow folks who did­n’t get to buy a hex that they can cov­er to still par­tic­i­pate and be reward­ed. Full docs on that here. The rest of this blog post is most­ly cor­rect, but please refer to Wing­bits doc­u­men­ta­tion for the latest.

Now, back to the rest of the orig­i­nal post!

Ok, what does that mean for you? Wing­bits wants you to RELIABLY cap­ture LOTS of HIGH QUALITY data. The bet­ter you do at any of those, the more you’ll be rewarded.

So, let’s do a cou­ple of examples. 

Wings Tokens Earning Example 1

You’re out in Mon­tana, all alone in your hex and you’ve deployed 1 anten­na. There are a total of 1 anten­nas x base rewards of 100, so 100 Wings are avail­able. Let’s say you’re try­ing to be awe­some and keep this thing on all the time, for 100% uptime.

You’ll earn: 100% uptime x 100% of data (you’re the only anten­na) x 100 rewards x 1 Wing = 100 Wings.

Wings Tokens Earning Example 2

For this one let’s imag­ine you’re also in the hex I bought, here in San Diego. Up to 3 peo­ple can buy a hex, and you’ve gone ahead and also bought the San Diego hex. You’re com­mit­ted to excel­lence (like me) but you’ve got janky inter­net, so you’re up 80% of the time. Still, you’re in a great loca­tion, so you actu­al­ly cap­ture 70% of the data to my 30%.

We’ve got 2 anten­na own­ers, each with an NFT and an anten­na in our hex, so the avail­able Wings are 200.

You’ll earn: 80% uptime x 70% of data x 200 rewards avail­able x 1 Wing = 112 Wings.

Wings Tokens Earning Example 3

Worst case sce­nario here: You’re in San Fran­cis­co. Aside from the excel­lent food and being in the heart of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, you’ve got some seri­ous down­sides; name­ly the num­ber of peo­ple com­pet­ing with you.

The hex you’ve bought also has 2 oth­er own­ers, and they’ve put in a total of 5 anten­nas, plus yours makes 6 anten­nas in the hex. Now, the max mul­ti­ple for a base is the num­ber of NFT own­ers, which in this case is 3. It’s NOT 6, which is the total amount of anten­nas in there. We’ll imag­ine you’re stuck with good inter­net, 95% uptime, but you’re only cap­tur­ing 15% of the unique data; the oth­er anten­nas are just out­com­pet­ing you.

Avail­able Wings: 3 own­ers x base rate of 100 = 300 

You’ll earn: 95% uptime x 15% of data x 300 rewards x 1 Wing = 42.75 Wings

Important to Note: You Don’t Need To Be Deployed In Your Hex

You just need to pro­vide cov­er­age for the hex you bought. You could live out­side of it, or on the edge of it way up on a moun­tain, not actu­al­ly have you anten­na deployed inside the phys­i­cal hex, and still be pro­vid­ing excel­lent coverage. 

Now, HOW you cap­ture that data is where I think the fun part comes in. Remem­ber, you want to RELIABLY cap­ture LOTS of HIGH QUALITY data.

RELIABLE means you’ve got a strong and fast inter­net con­nec­tion so your hard­ware does­n’t go down. I know some of you are going to use the WiFi side of the Rasp­ber­ry Pi, and to be hon­est, that’ll prob­a­bly work fine. I’ll be using an eth­er­net cable. I’m aim­ing to win, yo.

LOTS of data will depend on where you are as far as your “sight­lines” to air­craft and where you place your anten­na. I know, I know, it’s easy to put it inside near your win­dow and call it good. Just remem­ber, if there’s one per­son like me any­where near you, they’ll be putting that anten­na up high where it has clear lines of sight every­where, and they’ll crush you. This is a con­test, after all.

The oth­er thing to remem­ber with LOTS of data is where YOU are vs where your anten­na will cov­er. In many cas­es you”ll have a range of over 100 miles, so even if you’re in the mid­dle of a hex (and you buy the one you live in) you could rea­son­ably buy sur­round­ing hex­es and pick up traf­fic there.

HIGH QUALITY data is where we start to ven­ture into the black mag­ic of radio. You’ll want to be cap­ture exact­ly the right sig­nal, and you’ll want that sig­nal to be clean and strong. Get­ting that com­bi­na­tion will require an anten­na tuned to the ADS‑B fre­quen­cies. There are 2, the main one is 1090 MHz and the oth­er one, much less used, is 978 MHz. I’ll roll with one of each just to see what hap­pens, although my focus is on 1090.

Just for clar­i­ty on that, the 1090 is the world­wide stan­dard. 978 is US only, and real­ly for small­er craft. I’ll go after 978 because it’s fun and I’m in the US. Most folks should focus on 1090.

The next part of high qual­i­ty data, once you get a sig­nal on a tuned anten­na, is fil­ter­ing out the “trash” around it. For that, you can use any num­ber of fil­ters. I’ve linked one that is fine below. If you want to go bat­shit crazy and get the cus­tom-made pure glo­ry, DM me. It prob­a­bly does­n’t make a dif­fer­ence, but I like nice stuff, so I bought one. 

Third is an LNA, or Low Noise Ampli­fi­er. This is built into the gear linked below, so as long as you get that you don’t need to wor­ry much about it.

Now, I’m POSITIVE some radio-nerd will read this and point out how I could read the ADS‑B off the UFOs on the back­side of the moon if I just did [insert your favorite radio hack here]. That’s what makes this fun; there’s all kinds of stuff you can do to lev­el up your game. Remem­ber, this is just the Rough Guide. It’ll get ya 80% there, and prob­a­bly 95% if you buy every­thing below. 

Gear List

You’ll need at a min­i­mum a small com­put­er (Rasp­ber­ry Pi), an SDR (radio receiv­er) and an anten­na. Sep­a­rate the Rasp­ber­ry Pi from the SDR with a USB extension.

You may want to invest in nicer gear, although I’d cau­tion against that unless you know what you’re doing. I’ll cov­er opti­miza­tion in a lat­er post; the first big step here is to use gear spe­cif­ic to 1090. I know, I know, you have some old Heli­um anten­nas lay­ing around. It’s true that they work, but it’s like bring­ing a knife to a gun fight. You want to win, right?

If you want to sup­port the Gris­tle King enter­prise and say thanks for writ­ing this blog, use the fol­low­ing Ama­zon refer­ral links to get a sol­id set up. 

ItemSourceApprox Price
Sig­nalPlus AntennaAma­zon$89
Rasp­ber­ry Pi 4 Mod­el B 4GBAma­zon$65
Saw­bird+ Fil­ter (Option­al)Ama­zon$85
Air­Nav Radar­Box Flight Stick (SDR)Ama­zon$40
USB Cable ExtenderAma­zon$6
SD cardAma­zon$16

Build It

Build instruc­tions are straight­for­ward. I used Sime­onon­se­cu­ri­ty’s DeFli dual guide set­up the first time. Then I cut out the DeFLI set­up part and focused on Wing­bits for mine. If you don’t mind me assum­ing you know a bit about the Pi, here’s what to do: 

Start by “Reg­is­ter­ing an anten­na” on your Wing­bits account.

The ID will be the sta­tion name, some­thing like “super-secret-scor­pi­on”.

Next, we’ll turn to your Rasp­ber­ry Pi.

  • Set up your Rasp­ber­ry Pi, con­nect­ing your SDR Navflight stick to the Pi using the USB exten­sion cable, then the SDR to your anten­na. If you bought the fil­ter, put that between the SDR stick and the Pi. It’ll look like this, from the top: Anten­na, fil­ter, SDR stick, USB exten­sion, Rasp­ber­ry Pi.
  • Flash an SD card with Ras­pOS Lite. Use the Gear set­tings to enable SSH, set the host­name, and time­zone. Fancy.
  • Insert the SD card in the Pi and pow­er it up.
  • SSH in and run the com­mand found in your Wing­bits dash­board, some­thing like this:
curl -sL https://gitlab.com/wingbits/config/-/raw/master/download.sh | sudo bash

You’ll prob­a­bly find that the first time you run this code you’ll get an error at the end, some­thing like

vector is active. ?
readsb is inactive. Waiting 5 seconds...
readsb is still inactive.

Just reboot and install again. Yeah, I know, a lit­tle janky. Hope­ful­ly you won’t have to do this, but as of Novem­ber 5th 2023, that’s what I had to do. By the way, I was able to get mine work­ing on PoE with a split­ter that was 5V and 2.5A.

You’ll be asked for your “anten­na ID” once that fin­ish­es. You got the anten­na ID in the first step, remem­ber? It was some­thing like super-secret-scor­pi­on. Make sure you include the dashes!

  • Set up your loca­tion using YOUR coor­di­nates, not the 33/-115 ones below. You can use Google Earth or latlong.net to find yours.
sudo readsb-set-location 33.67854 -115.12356

You CAN set auto­gain if you’d like, but I’d rec­om­mend against it.

Trou­bleshoot­ing isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly easy or clear, and I’ve found that most times if you just check your con­nec­tions (Pi-Don­gle-anten­na) and then reboot a few times, it all works. 

Wei­de­hopfs Tar1090 and Graphs1090 are includ­ed, so you can see what’s work­ing by going to http://192.168.x.yy/tar1090 and http://192.168.x.yy/graphs1090 mak­ing sure to replace the .x.yy with what­ev­er your appro­pri­ate details are.

The Tar1090 is a cool local (host­ed on your Pi or what­ev­er com­put­er you use) inter­face to see what flights are being tracked. It’s fun to watch. It looks like this:

I’ve writ­ten up a tuto­r­i­al on how to get a lit­tle more out of Tar1090 than just the basic install, if you want to do that, go here.

Graphs1090 gives you some more stats to geek out on. If you want to go deep­er into it, check out this article.

I expect with­in the next few months we’ll sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in both of these regard­ing test­ing anten­nas and setups and how it effects token earn­ings. Here you can see where I went offline for a few hours as I moved from a test rig inside on my desk up to the roof, with an accom­pa­ny­ing bump in stats.

Ok, that should do it! As a teas­er, I’ve heard that these things use 40–60 GB a month, so an off-grid set­up might be some­thing fun to explore, although as a long-last­ing solu­tion it’s prob­a­bly not the best move with cur­rent toke­nomics if your goal is to max­i­mize earnings. 

In the mean­time I’d strong­ly rec­om­mend join­ing the Wing­bits Dis­cord to learn more and stay up to date, please say “Hi” when you come in (I’m @gristleking in there). Huge thanks to @!simeononsecurity, @acci, and @gwosty on the Wing­bits Dis­cord for all their help with this. Now let’s track some aircraft!

Extra Credit for the Nerds

Air­space is bro­ken up into sev­er­al class­es; you can think of them as areas where there is more or less con­trol by “the tow­er”. Class A is the most restrict­ed, gen­er­al­ly begin­ning at 18,000′ above mean sea lev­el and up to 60,000′. This is where com­mer­cial air­lines, car­go oper­a­tors like FedEx, and high per­for­mance air­craft fly. 

ADS‑B is also required in Class B air­space (all around your busy air­ports) and Class C air­space (less busy airports). 


14 responses to “A Rough Guide to Wingbits”

  1. […] writ­ten about the basics of Wing­bits in a recent post; if you haven’t read that yet or you’re new to the project, take about 7 min­utes and read […]

  2. Scott Mitchell Avatar
    Scott Mitchell

    So how am I paid for this? Is there a wal­let that gets attached to the sta­tion name? Is there or will there be app like Heli­um that you will onboard the sta­tion in, and tie into a wal­let that way? I cur­rent­ly feed ADS‑B exchange, Flight Aware and Flight Radar 24 with 3 dif­fer­ent units. 2 are home built Rasp­ber­ry PI and 1 is bought from Flight Aware, so I don’t think I can mod­i­ly it.

  3. No tokens yet, so no pay. Even­tu­al­ly they’ll sort that out, you’re still what we might call “uncom­fort­ably ear­ly.” 🙂 You should be able to add in Wing­bits to one of the Pi units, but I’m not sure.

  4. Warren Bowman Avatar
    Warren Bowman

    I have spare heli­um min­er sit­ting around. I under­stand it can be repur­posed for Wing­bits, would rasp­ber­ry pi per­form bet­ter, or is it more a ques­tion of anten­na size/placement?

  5. Hi War­ren, the per­for­mance will be much more about anten­na place­ment than what kind of Pi you’re run­ning. Does that help?

  6. […] so ya caught the Wing­bits bug and are will­ing to play the game just to see how good you can get? It’s fun to mess around […]

  7. Great post, thanks for the detailed intro!

    Are there any con­sid­er­a­tions for the anten­na cable? I’m look­ing at a 25–30ft cable run from anten­na to filter/stick to get the anten­na high up on the roof.

    Heavy on Heli­um and this was a key fac­tor for set­ting up the gear, e.g. LMR400+ for long cable runs to min­imise sig­nal loss. Can’t see much of an impact for wing­bits though as just receiv­ing sig­nal, no POC etc.

  8. Yeah, cable loss will effect how much your rig can “hear”. I’m using LMR400 for any­thing over a foot of run.

  9. Baron Hall Avatar
    Baron Hall

    Is there any work being done to shim Wing­bits into an exist­ing PiAware setups?

  10. I think so; def. check in on the Dis­cord, lots of folks are run­ning mul­ti­ple projects on a Pi there. Cheers!

  11. Baron Hall Avatar
    Baron Hall

    I found bale­na-ads‑b which sup­ports all the ADS‑B feed sites, includ­ing Wing­bits. It took me just a few hours to port my exist­ing PiAware set­up (since 2014) over to it and I am now feed­ing both from one install.

    I’d also rec­om­mend the FlightAware Pro Stick Plus as it includes the 1090 band pass fil­ter for the same cost as your rec­om­mend­ed SDR.

    Last­ly, if you both­er to also send the data to FlightAware, they upgrade your account to Enter­prise lev­el for free (a $99/month val­ue), which is non trivial.

  12. Thank you for the clear instruc­tions. One ques­tion, do the ser­vices restart auto­mat­i­cal­ly in case of pow­er loss?

  13. Mine usu­al­ly do, but occa­sion­al­ly don’t. I almost always check.

  14. Hi Nik,
    Thanks for this! Will uti­lize your affil­i­ate links. What do you think of this:


    Re: Last­ly, if you both­er to also send the data to FlightAware, they upgrade your account to Enter­prise lev­el for free (a $99/month val­ue), which is non trivial.

    Would you be able to do that ONLY with their SDR or is that some­thing you would set­up in the Wing­bits software?

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