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

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….

GrizzlyBearSims

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