Flying Online–My Pros and Cons

I’ve been flying online using the VATSIM network since its beginning.  For those in the know, that’s about 19 years.  My early memories of VATSIM were somewhat stressful.  I had spent years flying the Microsoft Flight Simulator style of ATC and really didn’t have much knowledge of how VATSIM ATC (or real world ATC for that matter) operated.  But I managed to build up my confidence and knowledge and completed a half dozen or so flights and then it all just clicked.  Of course, one of the best things I decided to do was to truly learn a study level aircraft from top to bottom, complete with understanding both the initial setup of the FMC but just as importantly how to make changes (if necessary) enroute.  However, in addition to the FMC setup, it helps to also understand the workings of SID’s and STAR’s.  But I digress, as this article really isn’t going to be about how to fly online.  I covered some VATSIM Basics which you can read here

Flying Online – Pros

As Real As It Gets

At times, flying online is truly an “As Real As It Gets” experience.  When you participate in a large scale online event where the entire USA has fully staffed ATC including clearance delivery, ground, tower, departure/approach and center positions (see image below) the absolute level of immersion just can’t be beat.  However, these types of events only occur a few times a year. 

VATSIM Light Up America Event (June 2018)

vatsim_CTP

VATSIM Cross The Pond (west bound) Event (October 2014)

When these large scale events aren’t taking place, flying online is still much better (in my opinion) than flying offline and using AI generated ATC (or no ATC at all).  During the COVID-19 pandemic when most everyone is self-isolating at home, the amount of traffic on the VATSIM network has on most days been very high.  ATC positions across the country have been staffed and it’s been an enjoyable experience to fly and take my mind off the events impacting the world. 

image

Snapshot of VATSIM Traffic over the USA on Wednesday 27 May 2020 (10:40 AM MT)

Flying Online – Cons

As with anything in life, there’s always going to be a few things which fall in the “cons”category.  Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves when flying online are the times when no ATC is controlling the airport I’m flying out of or into.  If I’m the only aircraft around, it’s no big deal.  But 9 times out of 10 in this situation, I won’t be the only pilot. 

Please check FlightRadar24

There are many times when a METAR alone will not determine the exact direction an airport is operating in.  For example, while I’m writing this I’m also flying into KDFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth).  The winds are dead calm.  So in reality any runway is suitable for landing or departing and DFW has seven runways to choose from. In this situation, I always check the FlightRadar24 site to see how the airport is operating in the real world.  After all, I’m using real world weather…so I might as well simulate the exact landing configuration as is currently taking place. 

FlightRadar24 is super easy to use.  At a busy airport like KDFW, it’s fast and easy to determine which runways are in use.  As in the example below, AAL172 is landing on runway 35C. 

image

By doing a little homework it helps to ensure that all other pilots around you (who have also done their homework) will not encounter an immersion blowing experience by you departing or landing in the opposite direction.

Final Thoughts

Some might argue all this really doesn’t matter.  Or some might say, “my weather depiction is different”.  In my opinion, these arguments are simply weak excuses.  The hobby of flight simulation is all about (or should be about) “As Real As It Gets”.  If you are truly serious about this hobby, then ensure either you are running real world weather or you comply with real world operations if ATC isn’t online. 

Until next time…Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

VATSIM Changes

Somewhat off the heels of my recent The Basics of VATSIM tutorial, an updated tutorial on updating Prepar3D to version 4.5 and another little ditty on To Update or Not to Update Prepar3D,  I’m going to discuss a few things related to VATSIM that has me slightly concerned.  Most likely this will end up being more or less an opinion piece.  Just remember, we’re all entitled to our own opinions.  Your opinion may differ from mine and while I welcome you to comment…just keep your response civil.  Thank you!

FCOM

I was perusing the FSElite site earlier this morning and found an article dated 11 April of this year regarding a new FCOM VATSIM/IVAO Message Forwarding System which has been in testing and is now generally available. 

In a nutshell, FCOM is designed to forward messages received through either the VATSIM or IVAO clients to a users Discord via private message.  In the FSElite article on the subject of FCOM there is a short demo video which demonstrates the system working. 

Anyone reading this posting or even the original at FSElite might be asking themselves, “What’s the Big Deal?”  “This is pretty cool” and “this is just what I’ve been needing”.  Sigh…

The VATSIM Code of Conduct clearly states, (Section A. 9) “When logging on to the VATSIM.net network, a member is not permitted to leave his or her connection unattended for a period in excess of thirty (30) minutes. If a member is unable to comply with this requirement, then he or she must log off of the VATSIM.net network. A member who is found to be unresponsive for more than thirty (30) minutes is subject to immediate removal from the network. Members who are found to repeatedly leave their connections unattended are subject to the terms of  Article VI. of the VATSIM.net Code of Regulations.”

In my 18 years of being a member of VATSIM, belonging to and holding various staff positions in many virtual airlines and also running my very own for a few years, I’ve witnessed first hand and heard many accounts of this rule being broken.  I’ve even witnessed this rule blatantly being abused by some prominent YouTube/Twitch Flight Simmers. 

Of course, the punishment can be costly for those who repeatedly abuse this policy as mentioned above and documented in the VATSIM Code of Regulations.  Specifically Article VI which discusses suspension and expulsion from the network.  As I mentioned in the recent “The Basics of VATSIM tutorial”, VATSIM is serious about ensuring their network doesn’t turn into a wasteland of abusers like other multiplayer networks we may know about.  Again, I’m looking at TruckersMP. 

Here’s my concern with this.  First, this is an already existing problem on the network.  Many users will fire up a “Cross the Pond”flight just before going to bed and gamble that ATC won’t contact them or that they’ll hear the “ping” when they are sleeping just to get some hours in the system.  You can read the sob stories of these same pilots on the VATSIM forums, Facebook groups etc. where they didn’t hear the ping and they promise never to do it again.  So now a third party FCOM solution is introduced which will direct any messages a pilot might receive to their Discord via a private message.  I can hear/see the sob stories of “I didn’t get a message”…please unsuspend me. 

Look, I’m a busy guy.  While I’ve been a VATSIM member from the beginning (18 years ago), I’ve racked up a total of 1,950 hours.  While I realize this number only averages out to just over 100 hours per year…the vast majority of these hours are what I call “Butt in Seat” hours.  Meaning, my rear end was in my chair with my headset on my head and me at the controls of my aircraft.  Plus….and this is what I’m most proud of…in 18 years being a VATSIM member and accumulating almost 2000 flight hours on the network…I’ve never been suspended and I’ve never received a warning from a supervisor. 

Yes, I do other things when I’m flying long flights.  I get up to stretch my legs, I get up to go to the bathroom, I get up to go upstairs to get food or drink (as my wife refuses to be my trolley dolly) and yes I even occasionally will do tasks such as clean my office and even do laundry.  What?  You mean your Boeing 747 doesn’t have a washer and dryer in the back?  But the time away from the virtual flight deck is generally no more than 10-15 minutes at a time. 

Bottom line…if you’re going to enjoy the hobby of flight simulation, then be there for all the fun and adventure.  Not somewhere else with your eyes/ears glued to your smartphone and Discord.

Voice Unicom

My God I can ‘bang on’ about stuff can’t I?  OK…so for those who may not know, VATSIM will soon enable voice Unicom.  For those who may not be fully aware of how Unicom works, I’ll tell you.  When you are logged onto the VATSIM network and you are flying in uncontrolled airspace, we dial up the Unicom VHF frequency of 122.80.  This allows the virtual pilot to type text messages which other pilots will see (within a short range of each other) so we can announce our intentions.  This is specifically useful when you are either going to depart or land at an uncontrolled airport.  Typically the type of messages I’ll send are as follows:

Departure

“KDFW Traffic, American 1066 push/start from gate C17, taxi to rwy 17R”.   Then once I reach the runway, I’ll text “KDFW Traffic, American 1066 departing 17R via the MRSSH2 Departure to the SE”.  Finally, “American 1066 clear rwy 17R”

Arrival

“KDEN Traffic, American 1066 is inbound on the HUDAD2 Arrival, Crossing XXX and leaving FL380, expecting rwy 35L”  Once I’m closer to the field I’ll message saying “KDEN Traffic, American 1066 is on 11nm final for rwy 35L” Finally, “KDEN Traffic, American 1066 clr 35L, taxi to A50”

While I will agree that texting on Unicom breaks the immersion, so does departing or landing at either DFW or DEN with no ATC. 

For the past 18 years, the Unicom frequency of 122.80 has been text only.  Even with this frequency being “text only” it does get abused from time to time.  The purpose of Unicom (as I described above) is merely to announce your intensions so other pilots are aware and to avoid (if possible) any issues.  This often is abused with pilots using Unicom as an instant message/chat platform.  However, even when it’s being abused…it’s not as annoying as I can imagine it will be on voice.

From what I understand, once implemented…the voice Unicom frequency will behave very similar to how it does today with text.  The range will be slightly higher when in the air and much less when on the ground.  But my main concern is when voice Unicom is abused (and it will be) it’s going to be a royal pain in the backside. 

While I do enjoy having gate to gate ATC, generally when I’m flying on VATSIM it’s either early in the morning or late at night and I can’t always be guaranteed ATC coverage.  I’m a bit strange when it comes to picking my flights as I rarely hop around.  I typically resume my flight from the airport I last landed.  After all, in the real world our teleport capabilities just aren’t ready for prime time.  So having said that, I tend to fly A LOT in uncontrolled airspace.  When I’m sitting at the flight deck I might be reading, watching TV or even typing a blog article as I happen to be doing now high above the Gulf of Mexico as I fly my American Airlines PMDG Boeing 737-800 from the Big Easy (KMSY) down to Miami (KMIA) to setup for a trip later down to Princes Juliana International Airport (TNCM) on the beautiful island of St. Maarten.  The last thing I want to experience is someone else abusing the frequency with discussions about what they are eating for dinner.  If I wanted to hear that, I would fire up my ham radios (which by the way, I do often have them on and listening to a traffic net).  Anyway….

My wife tells me I’m turning into a grumpy old man.  Well I’ve earned it!  LOL  Of course, VATSIM has stated that they’ll monitor Unicom and handle any abuse of the frequency with swift action.  If it becomes a wasteland of abuse, VATSIM has stated they will switch it off.  We’ll see and I’m hopefully optimistic all will function as they hope.  After all, yes….I will agree that announcing your intentions or hearing from other pilots is much, much easier than typing.  Just don’t wreck my tranquil environment. 

OK…I’ve gotta go now.  I’m less than 50nm from Miami and I need to pay attention to what I’m doing here.  Plus I need to announce my intentions on Unicom since there’s no ATC and many other aircraft in the vicinity. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

Online Multiplayer Options for Flight Simulation

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. 

VATSIM

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.   

IVAO

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. 

In Summary

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!

Jerry

VATSIM, POSCON & The Days of Our Lives

When I was a child (keep in mind I grew up in the 70’s, early 80’s and sneaking up on year 52) my mother and grandmother absolutely loved their soap operas.  I always found it interesting that while I didn’t watch them regularly (no, really…I promise) I could either be home sick from school, on summer or holiday break and catch 5-10 minutes in passing and then repeat in a few weeks/months time and feel as if I really hadn’t missed anything.  Yes, those WERE the Days of Our Lives!

About a week ago I wrote a detailed piece regarding POSCON (Positive Control Network).  Now let me just state for the record that I am not involved in any capacity with the POSCON team.  I know a few of the folks behind POSCON, but I’m personally not involved.  Said another way, I’m merely an individual who is interested and highly excited about the possibilities POSCON is planning to bring to the flight sim community.  Period!

Drama, Drama, Drama

Since the time I published the article last week, a whole lot of drama has bubbled up regarding POSCON’s plan to purchase one of the existing online multiplayer networks.  If you are new to the hobby, we only have three online multiplayer ATC networks and they are VATSIM, IVAO and PilotEdge.  It became clear who the target was fairly soon after news broke about the plan and the VATSIM network found itself in the crosshairs.  The dollar amount offered for the VATSIM network was $50,000 USD.

I’ll be honest and once again state for the record that I really don’t understand exactly how an organization such as VATSIM could simply be acquired.  If someone offered to purchase my blog site which is solely owned/operated by yours truly, then yes…I understand how that financial transaction would take place.  But VATSIM is simply a non-profit, unincorporated entity which is made up of a Board of Governors and the general membership.  I’ve been a member of VATSIM for 17 years, I have never been charged a dime to use the service, I pay no dues and to my knowledge there has never been any method to contribute/donate/gift funds to cover the operational costs for the network.  So in this sort of setup, exactly who would one write a check to?  Who would benefit from the $50K?

Nothing in life is free

That’s right!  Absolutely NOTHING in life is free.  Someone, somewhere is paying.  While I charge nothing for folks to read my articles, view my mods and add-on spreadsheet or review my hardware/software configurations….it costs money (my money) to have this website and no I’m not about to start charging.  But my point is this.  People (and it all started with the original VATSIM Founders) have been footing the bill to run the VATSIM network for the past 17 years.  While I would assume much of the development of the software/database etc. has been done by fellow VATSIM members, there are still hardware costs associated to keeping the network operational 24×7.  My guess is $50K wouldn’t even come close to covering all the costs which have been incurred over the past 17 years.  But the point I’m making here (or trying to make) isn’t about the $50,000.  Please keep reading!

Hate runneth over

As much as I love the Internet age we all find ourselves living in, I for one could certainly do without all the hate and negativity which goes along with it.  Seems like every rock you turn over, you’ll find a troll lurking under it….just waiting to pounce and then retreat back under the rock.  This is one of the reasons I have given myself a break from YouTube and Twitch.  But that’s another story, for another blog post…

When the news broke about the $50,000 offer from POSCON to acquire VATSIM, speculation run amuck over what POSCON’s true intentions were.  Folks began piling on their bandwagon of choice and filling the interwebz with hate and speculation over how POSCON (and certain individuals associated with POSCON) were going to destroy our hobby.  The general consensus was just because POSCON was offering money to acquire VATSIM, that at some point in time there must be an equal or greater return on that initial investment.

The Park Across the Street

True story as we take a brief break from the POSCON v. VATSIM story.  I live and work in what is called the Denver Tech Center.  It’s a wonderful and beautiful part of Denver and my commute from home to office is generally less than 5 minutes.  If you know anything about Denver traffic, then you know this is a HUGE benefit.  After all, every minute not stuck in traffic is a minute I can spend doing something else.  But I digress….

Across the street from my neighborhood is a fairly large park.  The land was donated/gifted many years ago with the intention that it would always be used as a park for people to enjoy.  The park is very well maintained.  It is mowed weekly, there are numerous trash cans which are emptied on a regular basis.  And each year around Christmas, lights are placed in the trees in beautiful fashion.  On any given day, you’ll find both young and old enjoying the benefits in which this park gives to everyone.  Yet….there is no admission fee to enter.  There is no “pay for play” entry fee to enjoy this little park across the street.

Of course, YES….our tax dollars are used to cover the costs of maintaining the park.  But this just further proves my point from earlier that nothing in life is free.  But the bigger picture here is that someone with very generous pockets gifted this land for the purpose and benefit of others.

Back on Point

Just because someone, somewhere steps up and makes the decision to financially back something or even create something new and different, doesn’t automatically mean at some point in time it will turn into a “pay for play” subscription offering. Likewise, just because someone else appears to have a lot of different projects in various stages of development doesn’t indicate dubious intentions.  Individuals do often care enough to give for the betterment of all.

My Final Thoughts

As I’ve said before, it’s never been my intentions to write about breaking news content.  I chose to write the POSCON article last week simply because I found it exciting and wanted to share that exciting news with my readership.  As I sit here writing this follow-up, that level of excitement for what I believe POSCON will bring to this hobby HAS NOT WAVERED.   I’m just as excited and I’m just as confident in the people behind POSCON and their ability to deliver the next generation flight simulation network.

My advice to the POSCON team (should they care to read it) is to just simply move forward with their plans.  Draw a line in the sand and say everything which has transpired up to this point is on that side of the line and everything we have to look forward to is on this other side.  Then continue marching forward.

As for VATSIM, there’s a reason why I’ve been a member of this online community for 17 years.  However, VATSIM hasn’t done a good enough job in keeping up with the times and the VATSIM leadership appears to have acknowledged this oversight and only time will tell just how serious they are in correcting it.

My advice for anyone still reading this.  Try VATSIM, try IVAO, try PilotEdge and perhaps sometime after the first of the year…give POSCON a try.  Then make a decision.  But understand that you absolutely do not have to limit yourself to just one online network.  As I pointed out in the article last week, POSCON may not be for everyone and that’s absolutely OK.  But please….let’s stop the hate.  Let’s not turn this into another measuring contest where we divide and single folks out simply because of how they define their enjoyment of the hobby.  Remember, there is no right or wrong answer.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and all my writings.  This will most likely be the last mention of POSCON until such time as I have the ability to experience it first hand.

Until next time….

Be Happy!!!

JT

P.S.  No, my blog site is not for sale.  LOL  Second, I hope to share some really exciting news with everyone very, very soon regarding an opportunity which I’ve been offered (which has nothing to do with the content of this article) and something I’m really looking forward to.  As a teaser, yes it does have to do with writing and it has to do with the flight simulation hobby.  But beyond that, you’ll just need to wait a few weeks to hear the rest of the story….

POSCON – Positive Control Network Will Be Awesome

POSCON – Positive Control Network Will Be Awesome!  Yep, you heard it here first….

But let me be brutally honest.  When I first learned of a planned new online flight sim multiplayer network I sort of rolled my eyes and pondered WHY?  Unless you’re new to my blog postings, then you know I’ve been flying computer based sims since the 1980’s and have been a part of the flight sim community since the dawn of the Internet age and have been blogging about this hobby for well over 10 years.  I’ve also been an active member of the VATSIM network since the day it was founded back in 2001.  Yea…I’m nearly old as dirt, I have opinions…but I absolutely love this hobby.  Much of the reason I asked “WHY” was down to the fact that I figured a third online multiplayer network would just further dilute IVAO/VATSIM, which in turn would just make all three mostly a wasteland of virtual air space.   After all, contrary to popular belief, the flight sim community is rather small in comparison to other gaming communities.

What is POSCON?

POSCON or Positive Control Network is the next generation flight simulation network.  The team behind POSCON are a mix of aviation professionals, hobbyists and enthusiasts who have experienced the need for an improved, modern flight sim network that supports  the latest and greatest technologies.

But Why Something New?

As I previously mentioned, I too asked myself why.  After all, not all change is good.  Yes, I’m fully aware that both IVAO and VATSIM have their issues.  While I’ve flown on both networks in the past, VATSIM is my primary network of choice and while much of their infrastructure is seriously outdated (especially their voice codec) my initial thoughts were let’s focus on fixing what we already have, before we head down the path of something new.  After all, both IVAO and VATSIM were born as a result of management differences with the old SATCO network which was developed in the late 1990’s.

POSCON Is Not Just Something New

That’s right!  From the outside, yea….sure….POSCON will be a new online flight sim multiplayer network.  But, once you begin to peel back the layers, you’ll soon learn that POSCON is not just something new.  Instead, POSCON is something DIFFERENT!  Very, very, very different from what we have now.

POSCON Will Be Immersive

A total immersive experience is the absolute goal behind POSCON.  The immersion factor begins well before you get into the flight deck and will end well after you’ve landed and parked at your gate/stand.

POSCON will not be just a casual flying network.  Today in the VATSIM/IVAO environment, the immersion ends immediately after the flight.  POSCON will include additional features to reward virtual pilots who want to achieve full immersion before, during and after each flight.  POSCON will include a system behind every thing that is done on the network.  The additional immersion features will ensure there’s more to your flight than just landing after diverting to another airport and logging off the network.  Pilots will be rewarded for making the extra effort to submit a logbook entry just as it’s done in the real world.

POSCON Events

POSCON events will be different from what we have experienced with VATSIM/IVAO.  Events will no longer be just a point A to point B only experience.  Air traffic during events will depart from multiple airports within a region to other multiple airports in another regions.  The overall experience during events will better simulate real world air traffic with flights arriving into large international airports, smaller regional airports and overhead cross traffic.  In other words, the experience is not just about trying to land 500 planes into one airport.

AI Traffic

Don’t always have time to fly during events or when most users are logged in?  Neither do I and sometimes it does get a bit lonely being the only aircraft landing/departing from our favorite airports.  If flying offline, most AI Traffic packages don’t always simulate real-world operations.  It bugs me to no end when I see AI aircraft landing on runways which I know are not used in the real world.

POSCON will fill the virtual skies with interactive AI.  Quoted directly from the POSCON website “Imagine for a minute a network without any traffic dead zones. For pilots, this means a flight that never gets boring. For ATC, this means you can sign on at 9 AM and still work a busy sector. Our algorithms will generate traffic based on real world airline flight schedules and inject them into the live network. Controllers have the option of tracking these targets and, when they do, the AI drones will come onto the frequency and be controllable through voice. As live traffic on the network increases, the untracked AI traffic will begin to drop offline to allow for a manageable level of traffic for controllers.”  Pretty cool, huh?  I thought so too!

Real World Scenarios

Yea…I’m guilty of seeking out the worst weather imaginable.  Whether it be a massive snow storm or hurricane force winds/rain I’m often loading up my sim, logging onto VATSIM and thinking YOLO (You Only Live Once) and flying my PMDG 737.  But in the real world, airlines and pilots would never do this.   POSCON may close airports in these types of scenarios and offer pilots one of two choices.  Option one…divert!  Option two…hold!  I think that’s cool and that my friends is total immersion!

Air Traffic Controllers will also have access to real world weather conditions right in their POSCON controller client and will be able to vector traffic around strong storm cells just like real world operations.

POSCON Data Link

POSCON data link features for enhanced commercial flying will be a feature.  Example, You’re flying an American Airlines 738 into Denver.  You’ll receive a message via the POSCON Data Link providing you the gate assignment on arrival.  The ATC controller client will also receive this same information.  In the event someone spawns in and occupies that same gate, then POSCON will attempt to provide a gate change assignment.  However, as is the case in the real world (flown into Heathrow lately?), pilots may experience a ground hold until gate assignment becomes available.  POSCON will reward pilots for their patience and/or effort in helping to keep the immersion to a high standard.  These rewards will be part of the POSCON pilot record.

In addition, communications for large events like Cross the Pond would be handled most via data link messages just as they are in the real world.  At any given point in time, hundreds of aircraft are flying across the Atlantic…but very little verbal audio communications take place.  It’s all done via data link messages.

POSCON Audio Quality & Communications

POSCON audio is custom and will be as clear as real world communications and at times may be as distorted as real world communications can be.  Modulation simulation, HF/VHF simulation will all be simulated into the system.  POSCON will also offer a voice Unicom and will be managed via the AI system and will monitor pilot behavior.  The system will have the ability to take a snapshot of the pilot behavior for review by supervisors.

POSCON will not have the ability for free form text messages, but instead will include predefined messages that can be sent to the controller.  While ATC in the real world is English only, POSCON will have the ability for non English language support.  All predefined messages will be translated into multiple languages.  A Chinese virtual pilot could send a message that he/she would view in Chinese, but other pilots/controllers would see that message in their native language or English.

What About Model Matching

One of the major bugbears with VATSIM and IVAO is model matching.    Simply put, model matching means if I’m flying online and another aircraft is nearby, I want to see that other aircraft depicted in the exact type of aircraft AND livery as it should be.  POSCON plans a very unique method of handling model matching where multiplayer traffic will be stored on the cloud and dynamically downloaded and injected as the user navigates online.  Only the models which are needed will be downloaded, displayed and deleted as necessary.  Very Cool!

What Else Can I Tell You?

POSCON is expected to be released sometime mid 2019 with early access beta possible in very early 2019.  The plan is for an open beta as the POSCON Dev Team wants 100% transparency.  So any and all who would like to participate will be able to participate.

You might be asking yourself, gosh Jerry this all sounds absolutely amazing…but how much will all this cost me?  Great question and the answer to that question is NOTHING!  POSCON will be 100% and absolutely FREE!

Final Thoughts

I doubt these will truly be my final thoughts on this subject.  But for this posting and at this time, I’ve just got to say that if POSCON becomes reality…then this will truly be a thing of beauty.  Of course, many are saying that POSCON will kill VATSIM and IVAO.  I don’t think so.  I think POSCON may prove not to be for everyone and in this case, those virtual pilots will continue to enjoy VATSIM/IVAO just as they do today.

But as I’ve said many times before, the changes I’ve seen in the flight sim hobby over the past 35+ years have truly been amazing.  Whether it be the features of ground handling services of GSX (when working properly), the injection of real world weather from ActiveSky, the icing effects and bug splatter on the FSLabs A319 and hopefully all the goodness I’ve just been blabbering about from POSCON.  When I think back to what things were like in the early 1980’s on my Commodore 64 to what they are now…God it’s truly a great time to be alive.

Want to learn more?  Yes, I’ve covered a lot and I think I’ve just about covered everything publically available today with regards to POSCON, but should you want to know more or just want to check out the POSCON website, then please do so.  I’ll certainly provide more details as it becomes available and I truly look forward to the open beta and the general release of what is shaping up to be a very cool addition to our already amazing hobby.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

IFR versus VFR

Just for clarification, my blog articles are geared towards the new flight sim enthusiast.  2017 is “The Year of Flight Simulation”.  With new and updated flight sim platforms from Lockheed Martin (Prepar3d v4), Laminar Research (X-Plane 11) and the new kid on the block Dovetail Games (Flight Sim World)…a lot of hype (very good hype) has been focused on our wonderful hobby.  If you build it, they will come…is just as fitting on the flight sim scene today as it was years ago in that Iowa cornfield. 

Today’s “How To” article is designed to help the new virtual pilot understand the differences of VFR and IFR flight rules as they relate to the flight simulation hobby.  But before we get started and to satisfy the attorneys….allow me to post the fine print.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way…let’s get started!

The Flight Rules

There are two sets of rules for flying and operating aircraft.  VFR and IFR.  The choice between these two sets of rules is generally determined based on weather conditions.  However, other factors may come into play such as flight operations, type of aircraft and terrain/border considerations.  But before we dive into these specific sets of circumstances, let’s clear the air on exactly what VFR and IFR means.  Let’s start with IFR first.

IFR

IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules and is a set of rules that govern aircraft which fly in what is considered Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).  IMC, in general terms, just means flying in the clouds.  More to the point, IMC weather conditions are defined as weather that is below the prescribed minimums for VFR flights. 

Essentially, under IFR flight or IFR flight conditions, the pilot or pilots will operate and fly the aircraft by instruments without any outside visual guidance.  In the real world, pilots who wish to fly IFR are required to possess an instrument rating and required to undergo additional training. 

VFR

VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules.  Just as the name implies, VFR flight rules require the aircraft must, at all times be clear of any weather situations which would prevent the pilot from maintaining visual separation with other aircraft, terrain, obstacles etc.  While some VFR flights may be under radar coverage by ATC, under VFR the responsibility for traffic separation lies solely with the pilot in command. 

Other Considerations

While weather certainly plays a crucial part in determining whether one flies VFR or IFR, also the type of aircraft, the type of flight operations being conducted and also general terrain and border considerations must be factored in.  Of course, the other really important factor is pilot rating/certifications.  However, pilot rating/certifications are not applicable in the virtual flying environment. 

Simply put, unless the pilot holds an instrument rating…if weather conditions are not VFR (meaning they are classified as IMC as discussed above) then the aircraft and the pilot will remain firmly in place on the ground. 

The type of aircraft also carries an important factor in the decision.  Something like a J-3 Cub with no lights and no radios will remain grounded under non-VFR conditions.  At a minimum, (along with pilot certification) any aircraft filing for IFR flight must have two-way radio communication capabilities, a transponder and navigation equipment. 

Any sort of scheduled passenger flight operations will require an IFR flight plan to be filed and the pilot/aircraft must fly under IFR flight rules at all times.  The exception to this rule might include certain charter operators, but for insurance purposes even these may be required to always operate IFR.  Obviously all large jet aircraft will generally file and operate IFR. 

Finally, depending on terrain and altitude restrictions, these type of flights might be IFR type.  Also, crossing of international borders will also most likely require an IFR flight plan.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Again,  while much of what I’ve discussed above comes directly from real-world aviation rules/guidelines, I just want to remind readers this information is not geared towards real world aviation. 

Virtual Flying  – IFR or VFR?  What is most common?

In the virtual world, and specifically speaking about the virtual multi-player networks of VATSIM and IVAO, the most common type of flight operations are IFR.  While both networks welcome and encourage VFR flying, the most common will be IFR. 

Even yours truly, got started on VATSIM flying IFR and of the almost 2000 hours I’ve logged flying on the VATSIM network, I’d guess that 95% of those hours will be under IFR.  As someone with over 17 years of VATSIM experience, if there is any regret I have today, it’s that I didn’t do more VFR General Aviation type of flying on the network to gain a better understanding of the key functional differences between the two. 

What’s Next?

This really is only scratching the surface and this article is really only providing the explanation and differences between IFR and VFR flight.  In a future set of articles I’ll provide more clarification specific to IFR and VFR flying as it relates to virtual flying on the various online, multiplayer networks.

Until next time…happy flying!

Jerry

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Flight Simulator meets Second Life – A Review of Andras Field by Aerosoft

The virtual world aspect is nothing new to us sim pilots.  We nailed the virtual concept down many years ago and each year we’ve worked hard to make it better.  While the early days were limited to a single player game, over time this has blossomed into what we enjoy today with multi-player groups like FlightSim Nation, Flight Simulator Network and even larger true-to-life experiences with VATSIM and IVAO.  With Microsoft Flight Simulator X and add-on scenery such as Orbx Pacific Northwest and Stark’s Twin Oaks Airpark, one can be fully immersed in what Microsoft has been calling “As Real As It Gets” for many years.  It’s hard to imagine it getting any better than this.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the online virtual community called Second Life.  Second Life has been around since 2003 and as of 2010 has an estimated 18 million registered accounts.  Yours truly has one of those 18 million accounts, but I’ve not visited the community in over 2 years.  At a very high level glance, you register for a Second Life account and install their free client software.  Second Life is absolutely free to join and use, but free accounts have many limitations.  When you join you create an avatar and move around within the Second Life virtual world.  Second Life has become popular in the corporate world as well as the arts, science and religious spaces as well.   One can even buy property in Second Life.

I would estimate my account dates back to around 2006 or so, so I by no means can be considered as an early adopter of Second Life.  I played around with it on a free account and then upgraded to a paid account and then completely lost interest even before my one-year subscription expired.  While it was cool moving around the different virtual areas and meeting people, (I even explored the Titanic) I felt it was missing something to keep me fully engaged.  Plus I got the impression I was mainly interacting with kids and very young adults.  It got old really fast.

The one element to Second Life that I always thought about was how it might be neat to be able to combine some aspects of Second Life into the Flight Simulator hobby or vice versa.  For example, as I stated earlier in Second Life one can buy land.  The land purchase can be either already developed or can be undeveloped space.  While I never purchased land in Second Life, the idea of being able to do something like this in relation to the Flight Simulator hobby interested me.  Of course, I’m not a software designer and never really took the idea outside of my head and shared it with others.  Thankfully someone else had the same idea and did act on it.

I recently learned of a project called Andras Field which has been in development for several months and available for download/purchase since 30 June 2010.  Andras Field is a fictive airport located in Southern Bavaria, close to the Swiss and Austrian border.  The add-on software is available through Aerosoft and as of this blog posting, the current version is 1.10 (full build) with update 1.12 applied on top.  Updates are made available as property is sold.  More about this later.

Again, as of this blog posting Andras Field is sold through Aerosoft for $27.36 USD.  This price is very competitive for all that you get with this add-on product.  Andras Field is more than just an airport, it is an entire airpark including a 7,006 foot asphalt runway, 2,000 foot grass glider base and a 6,000 foot water runway.  Need space to land your favorite heli?  No worries…you’ll find plenty of space at Andras Field to do just that.  Still want more?

Andras Field includes all the amenities one would expect in a self-contained airport city.  You’ll find servicing facilities, restaurants, hotels and residential properties designed by pilots for pilots.  When ready to fly, your airplane can be rolled out of your private attached garage and in minutes you’ll be on the active runway.

But how does all this tie in with Second Life?  Well…like Second Life, you can buy commercial or residential property for real money at Andras Park.  You can have the developers place a standard house/hangar or you can model your own to have placed on your plot for all to see including your name on the street sign.  Updates are made available every ten days or so.

I haven’t decided if I’ll buy some virtual property.  But I have had fun with this software add-on. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

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