As rotating detonation engines (RDEs) progress in maturity, the importance of monitoring advancements toward development of active control becomes more critical. Experimental RDE data processing at time scales which satisfy real-time diagnostics will likely require the use of machine learning. This study aims to develop and deploy a novel real-time monitoring technique capable of determining detonation wave number, direction, frequency, and individual wave speeds throughout experimental RDE operational windows. To do so, the diagnostic integrates image classification by a convolutional neural network (CNN) and ionization current signal analysis. Wave mode identification through single-image CNN classification bypasses the need to evaluate sequential images and offers instantaneous identification of the wave mode present in the RDE annulus. Real-time processing speeds are achieved due to low data volumes required by the methodology, namely one short-exposure image and a short window of sensor data to generate each diagnostic output. The diagnostic acquires live data using a modified experimental setup alongside Pylon and PyDAQmx libraries within a python data acquisition environment. Lab-deployed diagnostic results are presented across varying wave modes, operating conditions, and data quality, currently executed at 3–4 Hz with a variety of iteration speed optimization options to be considered as future work. These speeds exceed that of conventional techniques and offer a proven structure for real-time RDE monitoring. The demonstrated ability to analyze detonation wave presence and behavior during RDE operation will certainly play a vital role in the development of RDE active control, necessary for RDE technology maturation toward industrial integration.