We seem to be experiencing a growth spurt within our flight simulation community as I’m seeing more and more questions pop up within social media circles regarding multiplayer options for flight simulation. I wrote about this very subject many years ago, but like many things in life….things change and in our case, the change has been for the good of the hobby. Allow me take a short walk down memory lane and then I’ll explain all the online multiplayer options for flight simulation.
As some of my readers will know, I’ve been a part of the flight simulation community for a long, long time. A little over 34 years to be exact and my first experience with multiplayer dates back almost as long. Well….sort of. See, my friend and I both had Commodore 64 computers and we both enjoyed the subLogic Flight Simulator (which eventually became Microsoft Flight Simulator). Anyway, long before the internet and long before the online multiplayer networks we have today were even thought of, my friend and I would get together at either his house or my house and we would setup both of our C-64’s and we would fly together. Of course, the only way I could see his plane was to look at his TV set and the only way he could see mine was to glance over at mine. But we set them nearly side-by-side and we had hours and hours of fun.
Of course sometimes one of us would pretend to be a crude version of ATC and we would provide clearance instructions to each other. I’ll admit, neither one of us knew what we were doing and pretty much everything we based our experience on was what we had seen in the old Airport disaster movies (Airport, Airport 75, Airport 77 and Airport 79) with perhaps a mix of comedic fun from watching Airplane. No, I’ll neither confirm or deny I ever sniffed glue. LOL Anyway….neither of us could imagine that someday we could enjoy the hobby in a true networked multiplayer environment with real-live humans performing the knowledgeable and experienced role of ATC and we could fly our favorite aircraft all over the world. Enough of my old history, let’s get back on subject.
Setting the Stage
As the title suggests, the purpose of this writing is simply to share with those who care to read…the available online multiplayer options which are available for flight simulation. This includes the older FSX (boxed), FSX Steam Edition, all versions of Prepar3D and X-Plane flight simulation platforms. It has long been a desire of mine to write a definitive guide to multiplayer (specifically VATSIM) and one of these days I might just get around to it. But for now, I’ll share with you the options available and provide links where you can conduct your own research to determine how you can get started.
Finally, of the options I’m going to discuss in this writing…I feel I need to break them down into three different categories. The first being “free/no-cost full ATC simulation”, “paid full ATC simulation” and “No ATC simulation”. We’ll start with the later and work our way from there.
No ATC Multiplayer Environment
There really is only one in this category which I will discuss in this posting. If all you are really looking for is a solution where you and your friends can fly around, perform pattern work and essentially not have the need to worry about Air Traffic Control services, then FSCloud might be of interest to you. FSCloud works with FSX, P3D and XPlane 10/11. The cost is absolutely free and the process for registering an account, downloading and setting up the software and getting online is easy. The focus on realism isn’t as strong as you’ll find on VATSIM, IVAO or Pilot Edge. However, common courtesy of others should still be considered when using FSCloud. In other words, follow their rules and guidelines and you should be OK. I’ve often used FSCloud (and still do from time to time). Visit the FSCloud website for complete information on registering for an account, downloading the client software and please familiarize yourself with their rules and guidelines.
Paid Full ATC Simulation
As was the case with the previous category, currently there’s only one option available in the paid category of full ATC simulation and that is the PilotEdge Network. PilotEdge works with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, Flight Simulator X (including FSX Steam Edition), all versions of Prepar3D and X-Plane 10/11. One of the main advantages of PilotEdge (as compared to VATSIM/IVAO) is they provide Air Traffic Control on a guaranteed basis during specific hours, in a specific area. Their staffing hours are 8 AM – 11 PM Pacific, 7 days a week. At the time of this writing, PilotEdge offers ATC within the Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque ARTCC’s. This coverage is split into two different subscription options including ZLA (Los Angeles) and Western US. Subscription plans start at $19.95 per month for just the ZLA area. An additional $19.95 per month would be required for access into the Western expansion area. A two week free trial is available.
For full disclosure, I personally do not have any first hand experience with the PilotEdge network. I’ve been wanting to take advantage of their two week free trial, but for me personally…I really don’t think I would be interested in PilotEdge beyond the two week trial. My reason for this is I enjoy flying all over the world and the majority of my flying is jetliner routes of anywhere from 300 – 1000+ miles. While the vast majority of my flights originate out of Denver (within their coverage area), I don’t always fly west. Additionally, I’m a fan and supporter of the VATSIM network. I’ve been on the VATSIM network since it first began back in 2001 and I suppose it boils down to what one is used to. While the PilotEdge audio is wonderful (from what I’ve heard on YouTube and Twitch), I personally believe their pricing structure is just too expensive for the casual simmer. Don’t get me wrong…for real world pilots and students, PilotEdge is fantastic. But for a busy guy like me, I just can’t justify the expense at this time. Visit the PilotEdge website to learn more about their network, their coverage hours/area and sign up for the free two-week trial.
Free/No-Cost Full ATC Simulation
This category currently has two main contenders with a third to be launched sometime in the future. These are VATSIM, IVAO and the yet to be released network is POSCON. We’re really only just now beginning to understand all that POSCON will offer the flight sim community. However, I did write an extensive article about POSCON a few weeks ago. This article covers many of the planned features and let me just say, that I’m really excited about what I believe POSCON will bring to the flight sim community. You can read that article here.
Both VATSIM and IVAO offer a similar online experience. Both networks provide the software necessary to connect and experience the world of multiplayer flight operations.
Before I dive into the world of VATSIM, I would like to just briefly mention SATCO. Now SATCO has been history for a very long time. But all that we enjoy today with both VATSIM, IVAO and anything that may or may not come down the road, have roots back to SATCO. The first version of an online client was developed back in the late 90’s and as both the evolution of the internet and flight sims came along, this launched the ability for users to fly together in a multiplayer environment and so SATCO or the Simulated Air Traffic Controllers Organization was born. In July of 2001, it was announced that VATSIM would succeed SATCO and as a result a brand new organization was created and launched.
VATSIM or Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network is considered to be the largest online flight simulation network in the world with over 209,000 registered members and recently exceeded 80,000 active members for the first time. An active member is defined as any member of the VATSIM network who has connected to VATSIM at least once within the last six months. I’ve been a member of the VATSIM Network since it began back in July, 2001 and yes before VATSIM, I held a membership with SATCO.
The IVAO or International Virtual Aviation Organization was formed in 1998 and currently has more than 170,000 registered members. The creation of IVAO occurred when a group of people left SATCO to form a new network after management conflicts developed. Like VATSIM, the purpose of IVAO is to provide an environment for a realistic flight and air traffic control simulation via the internet. Again, like VATSIM…IVAO provides the tools needed to connect to their network and offers training to both pilots and ATC based on real-world aviation regulations and procedures.
Both IVAO and VATSIM networks came about as a result of management conflicts with the original SATCO network. Both VATSIM and IVAO are 100% free and provide all the necessary tools and training. Both VATSIM and IVAO host regularly scheduled events all around the world. As for which organization is the best? I recommend joining both experiencing what each network has to offer and making your own conclusion. As more information becomes available on the new and exciting POSCON network, I’ll certainly share it with everyone. At the time of this writing, POSCON is expected to go into an early beta stage sometime after the first of the year. Like VATSIM and IVAO, POSCON will be a 100% free service and available and open to all.
Until next time…
Enjoy the multiplayer experience! It’s As Real As It Gets!
If you’re new to the world of Prepar3D v4 or just new to flight sim in general, you might be wondering which add-ons I would recommend purchasing to enhance the flight sim. Yes, P3D is pretty awesome just by itself, out of the box. But after a while, you might want to take your flight sim experience to the next level. When that time comes, there are a few add-ons which I personally believe (my opinion) one should own to help give you that additional level of immersion we all seek from our flight simulation experience. Here’s my Top 5, Must Have Add-ons for Prepar3D v4 which I believe will enhance your flight sim experience.
I’m really not sure when this wonderful little add-on was developed and released to the flight sim community. I’ve known about it and used it since the FS9 or FS2004 days. Considering FS9 was released way back in 2003, it’s one of the oldest, longest serving add-ons that I know of. When I build or rebuild my flight sim machine, FSUIPC is one of the very first add-ons I install.
What is FSUIPC? FSUIPC stands for Flight Simulator Universal Inter-Process Communication. In a nutshell, FSUIPC essentially allows various third party applications to communicate with and in some cases even control the flight sim platform (FS9, FSX, FSX : SE and all versions of P3D). I often just refer to it as the Swiss Army Knife of the flight sim world. In my opinion, FSUIPC is the hardest working, third party add-on EVERYONE truly needs and it’s why it ranks at the top of my list.
For the most part, much of what the casual flight simmer will need out of FSUIPC can be handled in the freeware or unlicensed version. However, if you want to truly open up all that FSUIPC can do including far better third party controller (yoke, pedals, throttles) support, flight auto-save functions, networking multiple PC’s together and much, much more…then you’ll want to purchase the license to open up this additional functionality. An FSUIPC license for P3D v4 is available at simMarket for 29.99 Euro. Trust me, it’ll be the best ($36.49 US based on current exchange rate) you’ll spend on P3D.
A really huge part of my overall flight sim enjoyment comes from the enhanced immersion levels that add-on applications provide to P3D. Yes, while P3D (just like FSX) has built in weather functionality…most find it to be rather weak. I’ve been a user of ActiveSky for a very long time. While opinions may differ regarding what third party application is best for displaying cloud textures, there is rarely any argument that ActiveSky is the very best on the market for real-time depiction of weather in the simulator. I also love using it to recreate flights using historical weather. For example, let’s say it snows in Denver but I’m not home to fly in real time. I can fire up P3D and set ASP4 for a specific day and that will be the weather I see in the sim. Pretty cool. ActiveSky for P3D v4 (ASP4) is available from several online retailers for 49.99 Euro ($60.83 US based on current exchange rate).
Speaking of cloud textures etc. I’ve been very happy with ActiveSky Cloud Art. It works seamlessly with ASP4.
There will come a point in time where you’ll want to further enhance your ground textures. Orbx (again my opinion) is the very best scenery add-on you can buy for P3D v4 and they offer a lot of awesome scenery. If you’re on a budget, I recommend starting with the Orbx FTX Global Base Pack. This add-on pack includes upgraded textures and autogen for the entire world. While the Orbx FTX Global Base Pack will set you back $99.95 AUD ($74.61 USD), you’ll find a couple of dozen freeware airport add-ons available from the Orbx website which work with FTX Global.
Then as you continue to build out your Orbx collection, I would recommend FTX Global Vector as this product will begin to introduce accurate coastlines, rivers, lakes and roads. Then as you begin to round out the collection, add the various regions such as Central Rockies, Northern Rockies, Southern Alaska etc.
A2A Cessna 172/PMDG 737-800
A brand new (out of the box) install of P3D will give you access to a few different general aviation aircraft including the Carenado Beechcraft Bonanza, Mooney Acclaim and Mooney Bravo just to name a few. However, if tubeliners (passenger airliners) are your thing, then you’ll need to seek these out as either third party freeware or payware add-ons. A few weeks ago I wrote about default/freeware aircraft options available for P3D v4. Please review that for details regarding freeware aircraft.
Most new virtual pilots will either be interested in general aviation or jetliner type flying. If both of these interest you, excellent. Unfortunately, I really don’t know enough about helicopter options to provide any level of detail as it’s just not something I’m really interested in. But I absolutely love both GA and jetliners as there are times I enjoy flying high and fast, and other times low and slow.
The A2A Cessna 172 and the PMDG 737-800/900 are two payware, study-level aircraft which are both extremely fun to fly…but at the same time fairly easy to learn. Both will provide hours and hours and even more hours of entertainment regardless of your primary fixed-wing interest.
The A2A Cessna 172 for P3D v4 (depending on P3D license level) will cost you $49.99 – $79.99 and is a professional level simulation of the real C172R. The feature list is quite extensive including an immersive pre-flight inspection system, maintenance hangar, visual real-time load manager and my favorite is it’s designed to be flown “By The Book” simulation.
The PMDG 737-800/900 for P3D v4 will cost you $89.99. The Boeing 737-800/900 base package will allow you to experience an airliner simulation unlike any in the history of simulation with this feature rich and magnificently detailed simulation of the Boeing 737NG.
While there are hundreds of different scenery, aircraft and utility add-ons to consider adding to P3D v4 to enhance your simulation experience, the last add-on I’m going to recommend is a Navigraph subscription. Navigraph provides the international flight simulation community with tools and software like those available to the real world aviation industry. I personally recommend the Navigraph Ultimate subscription which runs 75 Euro paid annually. While this may seem like a lot of money for an annual subscription, it provides unlimited access to BOTH their FMS data service and to their charts applications.
The Navigraph FMS data is available for all addons (including the above mentioned PMDG 737) during all AIRAC cycles in one year. An AIRAC cycle is 28 days, so you’ll receive 13 updates in the calendar year ensuring all your add-ons stay current based on real-world data.
Access to Navigraph Charts provides professional, worldwide and updated Jeppesen charts for the flight simulation community. These charts are accessible in their suite of Charts Apps including iPad, Android and their Charts Desktop client which works for both Windows and MacOS. All the charts, in one easy place.
Like many other hobbies, the flight sim hobby can become a very expensive hobby very quickly. I often compare it to photography. It’s been proven many times that a beautiful photographic image can be made with just a pin hole camera, yet once the photography bug bites you, you soon find your camera bag stuffed full of accessories you just can’t live without. Flight Sim is pretty much the same way. Just pace yourself and enjoy. I hope this list helps you “take off”.
Until next time…
A question I’ve been pondering recently, Is the virtual airline concept dead in modern times? Back in the very late 1990’s and early 2000’s, VA’s or virtual airlines were all the rage. They continued to be a very popular addition to the virtual aviation hobby. Over the years, I’ve been a part of many different VA’s, served in various capacities from just a regular pilot, hub manager, executive management and even started my own fictional virtual airline a few years ago.
The Early Days
In the very early days of the virtual airline concept, the websites/communities were often (by today’s standards) crude, low-tech representations attempting to replicate their real world airline counterpart. The online presence generally consisted of a basic website (often built using free hosting, complete with pop-up ads) with a few pages to include a main/welcome page, pilot rosters, management structure, rules/SOP and often a forum. With time, more advanced websites were created complete with automated PIREP logging and tracking features. These automated features soon became the norm for most sites.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Unfortunately, VA’s which mirror the operations of a real world airline (American, Southwest, Fedex, British Airways etc.) struggled long ago and still do to avoid getting into legal troubles with their real world counterparts. I’ve seen VA’s pop-up with a complete website, begin hiring pilots and management then close their doors after receiving a cease and desist letter from an attorney representing the real world airline. Even with disclaimers posted about this website is not affiliated with the real world airline, the letters kept coming and the VA’s kept closing. The primary issue here is the misuse of copyright and intellectual property which belong to the real world airline. I certainly can understand why this was done. Some of these sites were extremely crude in nature, but some, while having a professional appearance could actually become confusing to some who were seeking out the real world airline website. Bottom line, while the “freedom of speech” protects us in many ways…it doesn’t give us any rights to use property (including logos etc.) which belong to others any way we please.
Please and Thank You
Some VA’s actually managed to ask for and gain permission from their real world counterpart. One example is British Airways Virtual (BAVirtual). They were perhaps one of the first to actually accomplish this and to this day are one of the premier virtual airlines on the interwebz. For BAv, it all started back in the year 2000. While virtual airlines were popping up everywhere, many were based on fictional airlines and only a few actually existed in the UK. The folks behind BAv wanted to change this, so they set out to create not only a professional looking and fully functional website…but also gain the permission and cooperation of their real world counterpart, the real British Airways. As I’ve often stated, I’ve been a part of this hobby for a very long time. I was around it before the internet and I was around when BAv came onto the scene. I actually was serving as the VP of Operations for American virtual Airlines (the oldest VA on the VATSIM network) and remember speaking to the management of BAv as we established codeshare agreements between AvA and BAv to replicate the OneWorld Alliance. It was great times back then and there are plenty of times that I miss flying for and being a part of AvA.
A New Way
A number of years ago, I was perusing YouTube seeking out flight sim content and stumbled onto a YouTube content creator by the name of Matt Davies. Matt was running a very successful YouTube channel (also has a very successful Twitch channel) and I found his presentation style very enjoyable. Not to mention, he actually knows what he’s talking about. Matt has created content and selflessly shared his knowledge over the years and while there’s no way of knowing exactly how many new people he’s attracted into this hobby, his commitment to this hobby is truly second to none. As time passed, I watched more and more of his recorded content on YouTube and his livestreams on Twitch, I learned he (and a few others) were developing a new virtual aviation environment called ProjectFly.
What exactly is ProjectFly? Well…I’m going to just quote some info directly from their website. “In simple terms it is a versatile platform allowing you to give or take as much from your hobby as you would like. Whether you simply wish to fly from point A to point B in your Cessna without any realistic procedures, follow the path of a real pilot through their training and type rating ready to simulate that daily routine of a low cost captain or even if you simply want a community of like-minded individuals”
I love ProjectFly
For all the reasons in the above quoted and italicized comment above and a lot more. If asked what my number one favorite real world airline is, my answer without hesitation is American Airlines. But I also enjoy flying and replicating the flights of many other airlines such as Southwest, Frontier, Fedex, British Airways and the list goes on and on and on. But most VA’s really want their pilots only flying real world routes which they have setup in their systems and rightfully so. Also, I just simply don’t have the time to ensure I can keep up with the minimum number of flights when belonging to multiple virtual airlines.
ProjectFly allows me to fly for any airline I desire and there are no minimum commitments. I can fly every day for a month and I can skip a few months without any flights and no one is going to harass me to get my flights in. I can also fly any aircraft type I choose, regardless of the number of hours I have logged. The talented developers behind ProjectFly have developed an exceptional software client that is easy to install, configure and seamlessly just does what it’s suppose to. From that client I can setup new flights, add new aircraft, view my flight log and it tracks and logs my flights effortlessly. ProjectFly has also developed a “Passport” feature which tracks/stamps the countries you’ve landed in. The passport displays the nations flag once you successfully land and calculates the percentage of countries you’ve visited. In addition to the passport feature, all your flights are tracked on a map which is visible on the client documenting all the routes you’ve flown. As you can see from the image below, I’ve logged just under 100 flights in the ProjectFly system and have visited just 9% of the countries in the world. I better get busy huh?
A snapshot of my passport showing the nations of Australia, Austria and Belgium as visited.
ProjectFly also offers various achievements (similar to Steam achievements) to work towards. As you can see I’ve earned several including my first flight, long-haul, Challenging Approach Gibraltar and a few others.
I’ve only listed a few of the features available with ProjectFly and there’s a ton more in development. You can learn all about ProjectFly by visiting the ProjectFly website.
Answering The Question
Is the virtual airline concept dead in modern times? Absolutely NOT! Virtual Airlines are thriving in this day and age. However, they all suffer from the issues I’ve previously pointed out and if you’re a busy person like I am, you might just not have the time to commit to their rules and policy’s. Again, ProjectFly is a very relaxed and laid back environment where you can pretty much do whatever you wish. Some may argue that ProjectFly lacks the social aspects of a traditional airline. However, the ProjectFly team have setup both a forum and a discord channel, so my advice is jump right in, introduce yourself and get busy flying.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read my content. If you have a question regarding flight sim or needs some help, I’m always willing to lend a hand. The best method of contacting me is to join my Discord channel. You can post a message in the chat channel or private message me and I’ll do my best to help you any way possible.
Until next time….