Are Virtual Airlines Still Relevant Today?

I became first acquainted with a virtual airline or VA for short in the 1999 or early 2000 timeframe.  During these past 24-25 years, with exception for a year to two when life was so busy that I didn’t spend much time at all with flight sim,  I’ve belonged to one or more VA’s.  Today I fly exclusively for a popular VA that mirrors the day-to-day operations of American Airlines.  More about this in a minute.

The Competition

But the question at hand is are VA’s still relevant today?  Without any hesitation I say, absolutely YES!  But in recent years the virtual airline concept has been met with some strong competition from various 3rd party add-on products which simulate your own airline career.  One of the more popular of these add-ons is called “A Pilot’s Life” by SimBitWorld.  I actually wrote a review back in 2019 which you can read here.  Since that time, Simbitworld has released an even more popular “A Pilot’s Life – Chapter 2” which I’ve also used from time to time.  There are a few others that have come onto the scene since MSFS2020 was released.  I’ve used a few and in time I’ll probably write up a review of these standalone applications for your consideration.

It’s Fun until the loneliness sets in

A Pilot’s Life and other standalone products are great until the loneliness sets in and what I mean by this is a good virtual airline will also have a vibrant community of virtual pilots to interact with within their forums or Discord channels.  They may also regularly schedule VA group flights, but generally there’s almost always someone willing to fly with you if that is what you like.

Like I stated previously, over the past 24+ years I’ve been involved with virtual airlines in the capacity of just a pilot all the way to operating my own fictional virtual airline for a number of years.  For the past three years I’ve belonged to American Virtual Airline.  At this VA I’ve served as pilot, Hub Manager, VP of Operations and Chief Operating Officer (COO).  Today, I serve as the Chief Training Development Officer.  I oversee our new hire training academy where new applicants will spend their first 15 days or so.  Our training academy is brand new and allows new hire candidates to receive training on not only our VA systems/tools including our website, ACARs system and an all important overview of our policies and procedures followed by an overview of the Boeing 737.  Additionally, all new pilot candidates will submit a Boeing 737 check-ride flight before graduating into the mainline airline operations.

In Summary

Yes, I still believe all these years later that joining a good virtual airline is a great way to enhance your virtual aviation experience.  Keep in mind that most VA’s will require a minimum level of participation.  This is generally 1-2 flights per month to remain active.  At American Virtual Airlines we require just one flight every 30 days to remain in active status.  Many of our pilots fly daily as we’re a very airline.  If you’re interested in joining American Virtual Airlines, just go here and submit an application.  Upon submitting your application, it will be reviewed and approved in a timely manner.

If you have never experienced a virtual airline, I encourage you to join one. Regardless if it’s American Virtual (which I mentioned above) or any which represent your prefer airline…try it.  I think you’ll like it.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Reader Question – What is CTAF?

Hello to all my loyal readers.  We have a question regarding the use of CTAF on the VATSIM network and I felt it was worthy to share with everyone.

Hello Jerry, I occasionally fly on the VATSIM network and have been curious about the use of the CTAF frequency versus just the standard unicom frequency of 122.800.  Why the change?  And can you share any tips on finding the correct CTAF frequency for any given airport?  Thank you, Dennis.

Well Dennis….you bring up a very good question and one I should have probably addressed long ago.  VATSIM announced back around the first of the year that beginning on 1 March 2024 they would be trialing a new procedure for uncontrolled airspace whereby VATSIM pilots would need to tune into the local CTAF frequency versus just using the old standard UNICOM frequency of 122.800.

What is CTAF?

Let’s first explain what CTAF means.  CTAF stands for Common Traffic Advisory Frequency.  It’s a real world process for carrying our airport advisory practices while operating to or from an airport without an operating control tower.  Each airport will have a unique CTAF frequency which is published on charts for pilots to use.

Why is VATSIM making this change?

As discussed in the VATSIM announcement from earlier this year, VATSIM is trialing this change for North American starting 1 March 2024.  This change is to more closely align with real world operating procedures and to better reduce radio chatter.

When to use CTAF versus 122.800?

Essentially, the use of the published CTAF frequency is only needed when an airport isn’t staffed by an online VATSIM controller.  However, if an airport controller isn’t online, pilots should use the CTAF frequency for their departing or arrival airport.  What I’ve found to work for me is to use the CTAF frequency within a 30-40 mile radius of the airport.  So when departing an uncontrolled airport, I will tune to the CTAF frequency for that airport and announce my intentions.  Once I depart and am above 10,000 feet, I’ll then switch to the old UNICOM freq of 122.800.

How to locate CTAF Frequencies?

There are many different ways to locate the CTAF frequency for a given airport.  Charts are certainly one way.  However, there’s an even better way and that is to type .ctaf xxxx (dot ctaf and airport ICAO) into the VATSIM client message box and hit enter.  A few moments later, you’ll receive a response with the correct CTAF frequency.  Alternatively, you can also use the VATSIM AIP site to search for the correct CTAF frequency.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, not everyone is catching onto the new CTAF process.  The trial is well into its 3rd month and many pilots are still using the old UNICOM frequency of 122.800 when they should be using CTAF.  So…my advice, when flying on the VATSIM network do your best to stay informed to all the current processes and use CTAF.

I hope this helps explain the new CTAF frequency process for VATSIM.  If you are flying on the VATSIM network and doing so in North American, I would encourage you to follow the correct procedures not only for your full enjoyment, but also that of others.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

I was wrong, but we move on…

Well, the 2024 VATSIM Westbound Cross the Pond event is history.  By now all those VATSIM servers will have cooled down from the vast amount of traffic they were handling on Saturday during the event and of course PMDG didn’t release their Boeing 777-300ER just before hand.  While this is disappointing, I know from being a PMDG Customer for over 20 years that PMDG only releases when the aircraft is ready to be released.

Looking Forward

There are plenty of things to look forward to in the coming weeks and months.  Immediately on the horizon is the SU15 update from Microsoft.  While SU15 will bring us the new iniBuilds A320neo, what I’m most looking forward to are the expected performance enhancements we’ve been hearing about in SU15.  While SU15 has been delayed from the original target date of 26 March 2024, the new release date is expected to be on 30 April.

Fenix A319/A321

If you already own the awesome Fenix A320, then you also most likely know that the Fenix team have been hard at work to develop both the A319 and the A321 for MSFS.  As mentioned in this press release dated 14 April 2024, Fenix states that their A319 and A321 coming along swimmingly and should be entering beta testing very soon.  While I don’t want to speculate any possible release date…hopefully we could have these two new Airbus aircraft sometime later this summer.

BlueBird Simulations 757

This is a project I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog.  I’m really looking forward to having a quality 757 in MSFS.  While we don’t really have any new news on this aircraft or the release date, BlueBird Simulations have recently confirmed they will be at the FSExpo taking place on the weekend of 21 – 23 June and will be showcasing a preview of their new Boeing 757.  I’m hopeful we’ll see this release before the end of the year.

iniBuilds A350 and A380

The team at iniBuilds are hard at work creating not only awesome airport scenery, they are also working on two very much needed aircraft for MSFS.  While I believe they have every intention on these releasing this calendar year, I believe these would appear somewhat in the later part of 2024 if it happens, or sometime early 2025.  Time will tell….

PMDG 777-300ER

Once again…I was wrong with my anticipated release time for this aircraft.  Honestly, based on where we thought (or at least I had thought) this aircraft was back in early March…the timing just shouted it would be available in time for the VATSIM CTP.  Now I’m honestly scared to speculate.  Especially considering we haven’t heard from Robert Randazzo since the 6th of April.  OK…I’m game.  I’m going to predict we’ll have the PMDG 777-300ER before 1 June.  That’s over a month away.  But I could still be wrong.

Final Thoughts

As we all know, Microsoft and Asobo are hard at work with the development of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024.  While it should be safe to think we’ll have the PMDG 777-300ER and even perhaps other variants of the 777 and possibly even the PMDG 737Max before MSFS 2024 is released, I have a feeling the BlueBird Simulations 757 and the iniBuilds A350 and A380 won’t come out before MSFS 2024.

While MSFS 20204 will be a day one purchase for me, my expectations on when purchased add-ons for MSFS 2020 will be compatible with 2024 may not be a day one thing.  What I mean by this is while I’m very much looking forward to MSFS 2024, I am comfortable in knowing that it may take several weeks or perhaps even months before some of our favorite add-on aircraft and scenery will be made available for the new sim.  But then again, we really don’t know exactly when MSFS 2024 is expected to be available.  Hopefully we’ll all learn more about this after the FSExpo taking place 21-23 June.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Reader Question – PMDG 777 Delay?

We have another reader question which I feel is fitting to turn into a blog post.  Let’s go!

Hi Jerry, I read your recent blog post “Where Are Thou PMDG 777” and had the same opinion that we would surely see the release of the PMDG 777 before CTP on April 20.  With the announced delay of the MSFS SU15 package, do you think this will cause the release of the 777 to be pushed back?  Looking forward to your opinions on the matter.  Thanks for keeping us all in the loop.  Jon

Hello Jon, and Hello to all my wonderful readers.  Jon brings up a very valid question and a concern we all need to be aware of.  When I wrote that blog piece almost a month ago, the release of the SU15 update did play a major part in my overall prediction that we could see the PMDG 777 release before the annual VATSIM Cross The Pond event which takes place on 20 April.  However, I have read in the past few days where PMDG has stated that the release of the Boeing 777 will not be reliant on the SU15 update.

Again, when I wrote that above mentioned article PMDG had not stated which 777 variant would be the first out of the hangar.  We now know that the first PMDG 777 variant we’ll have access to purchase is the Boeing 777-300ER or 77W.  While I actually prefer the 777-200 as it’s the only version of the 777 that I’ve flown on in real life, the 77W will be a day one purchase for me and I’ll happily fly it until and even after I purchase the 772.

Finally, also way back in early March….we also didn’t know what PMDG’s release strategy was regarding the also highly anticipated Boeing 737MAX.  PMDG have stated that the 737MAX will release in between the other 777 variants.  So it’s highly probable that not only will we have a brand new 777-300ER for MSFS in the very near future, sometime soon after that we’ll also see the first 737MAX.  But let’s not jump too far ahead of things.  After all, the question at hand is whether or not we’ll have the PMDG Boeing 777-300ER before CTP on 20 April.

PMDG did provide an update yesterday on 1 April which you can read here.  This update from Robert says “The end of the wait is nearly upon us- I promise.”  So yes, I still believe it’s possible we’ll see the PMDG 777-300ER before 20 April.

In a perfect world, PMDG would release the 77W a few days or even more before the CTP event.  This would give everyone time to get familiar with the 777 in MSFS before this major event.  This is especially important considering the large number of new VATSIM members since the release of MSFS 2020 and many of these would not have flown this aircraft in P3D or FSX.

In closing, again….I believe we’ll have the PMDG 777-300ER very soon and certainly before the VATSIM CTP event.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Reader Question–MultiPlayer Networks

Here’s another reader question/comment that was submitted a few days ago.  I think this will be helpful to those who are thinking about taking their simulation experience to the next level.  While my comments to the general question will reference American Truck Simulator/Euro Truck Simulator 2, most of my key points will be directed towards Flight Simulator.  So let’s get started with the question and then my general comments.

Hello.  I found your blog site after a few Google searches regarding a recent issue I experienced after connecting to the VATSIM network for the first time.  In all honesty, I’m fairly new to Microsoft Flight Simulator.  But many years ago I did use FSX but never tried VATSIM.  I’ve been watching YouTube videos and Twitch streams and VATSIM seems really cool. But my first experience wasn’t an easy one and I’m really confused.  Basically I connected to VATSIM and wanted to experience seeing other aircraft in real world liveries and just fly.  The first issue I discovered was that I didn’t see other aircraft in their respective real world liveries and I also angered the controllers and other pilots when I attempted to take off without permission.  I was hoping my VATSIM experience would be similar to ATS where I could just do whatever I wanted to do until such time as I could get my head around all the procedures.  Needless to say, I don’t think VATSIM is for me but wanted to see if you had any pointers for me. 

First things first.  The VATSIM online network is NOT like the online networks for ATS or ETS2.  Yes, you’re right….for the most part with ATS/ETS2 you can connect and just do your thing pending it doesn’t violate the terms of service of TruckersMP.  In other words, as long as you don’t crash into other players or block roads/intersections then most likely you’ll be fine.  Of course, you’ll see plenty of idiots doing the very things I encouraged you to avoid, but when they are caught they are generally served with a ban.

But like I said, other than TruckersMP and VATSIM both being online multiplayer networks…that’s really where the similarities end.  The online networks for flight simulation including VATSIM, IVAO, PilotEdge and POSCON are all serious, by the book online multiplayer networks.  Before connecting to any of these networks you really need to have an understanding of a few important things.

First, you really need to have a solid understanding of the aircraft you are flying.  In other words, you should be able to taxi, take-off, fly and navigate based on a pre-determined filed route including SIDS/STARS and finally land, taxi and shut down the aircraft.  While I’ve been flying on the VATSIM network for more than two decades, I rarely fly using a new aircraft until such time that I’ve put in the time required to learn it properly. 

Second, you really need at the very least a basic understanding of the procedures required for filing a flight plan, requesting ATC clearance and just a general understanding of all the radio communications needed during a flight.  While there may be times you’ll find no controllers logged in, this doesn’t mean you can just do what you want to do.  Regardless of ATC availability…one should always operate his/her aircraft in such a manner that doesn’t impact other online pilots. 

It may all sound like a lot of stuff to learn, but if I can do it…then anyone can learn the ins and outs of VATSIM or any of the other online networks for flight simulator.  My advice is to search YouTube for VATSIM tutorials.  You’ll find hundreds of hours of content to get you started.  Second, I would encourage you to connect to the VATSIM network, make sure your plane is parked at a gate or some other remote parking area and tune into the various frequencies and just LISTEN!  You’ll hear how other pilots are requesting clearance and communicating with ATC.  Don’t give up….keep learning and keep trying.  But bottom line, please understand that the online networks are for serious users who want to simulate the real world operations. 

Now, you mentioned when you did login all the other aircraft did not appear in the real world liveries as you had hoped they would.  There is an easy solution for this and allow me to direct you to the FSLTL (Flight Sim Live Traffic Liveries) website.  You’ll also find YouTube videos on how to setup FSLTL so that when you connect to VATSIM you’ll see other aircraft as you would expect. 

Finally, I also have several “how to” articles I’ve written over the years which can be found here.  Alternatively you can navigate there by clicking the Flight Menu and clicking Flight Sim Tutorials.  A few that might help you initially will be The Basics of VATSIM, IFR versus VFR and Your First Flight

Also, understand this final important thing.  Everyone….including myself and everyone else you’ll find on the VATSIM network have been exactly where you are today.  We’ve all been brand new and we’ve all made mistakes.  From time to time we may even still make a mistake.  But bottom line is we’ve all been brand new at this.  The vast majority of individuals you’ll encounter will go out of their way to help someone new.  Especially when that new person has a desire to learn and improve. 

I hope this helps you and I hope it helps anyone else that may read this article at some time in the future.  The flight simulation community for the most part is comprised of likeminded individuals who all have a passion for aviation and we’re all extremely helpful to those who are new. 

I hope to see you flying the friendly VATSIM skies very soon. 

Until next time….

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

The American Virtual Experience

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Long time readers of my blog will certainly know that I’ve discussed the subject of virtual airlines (VA’s) many times.  I’ve shared with my readers the pros and cons of VA membership and I’ve also shared my experiences with some of the best and worst the internet has to offer.  This writing is going to focus on a new (to me) virtual airline and why you should join today.

During the internet age of my flight simulation experience, I’ve always enjoyed being a member of a virtual airline community.  For me personally, I’ve found VA membership brings a sense of purpose to my flight simulation hobby.  Especially when flying jetliners around the world.  I’ve held memberships in many different VA’s over the past two decades and served in many capacities including pilot, hub manager, executive management and even owned my own fictional cargo based VA for about 5 years where I served as CEO.  For the most part, my experiences have always been extremely positive.  I’m a believer in the saying “You Get What You Give”.  More about this in a minute.

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the spare time I had was rather limited and it had been several years since I had been a member in a virtual airline.  However, being stuck at home and especially after being laid off in July, I found I had more time and I began seeking out a new VA to call home.  For most, the choice of VA will most likely be an airline in their home country and one they prefer over another.  Growing up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and beginning my IT career there as well, I always preferred to fly American whenever possible.  So I’ve always gravitated towards an American Airlines based VA whenever possible.    But unfortunately, not all VA’s (even those simulating AAL) are created equal. 

A few weeks ago I found myself somewhat bored with the American VA I belonged to.  While I was keeping myself busy flying (almost daily) and I was serving in a management capacity, I just wasn’t happy with the direction things were going.  While I’m not going to mention the name of this VA, I’ll just say that I’ve had a long history with them and in all honesty not much has changed or progressed with their systems in more than 10 years.  Don’t get me wrong, they are a fine VA with wonderful and dedicated individuals.  But I just wasn’t happy and felt I needed to make a change. 

In the VATSIM Facebook group I saw a posting from another American Airlines VA which caught my attention.  I clicked the link and had a look over their website.  After reading as much as I could from their About, FAQ and News pages and reading even more comments others have posted on Facebook, I decided American Virtual was going to become my new home.  I completed the application process and was absolutely stunned when I received my acceptance and welcome email within 10 minutes of applying.  In the past I’ve waited 24 – 48 hours or sometimes longer to be accepted into a VA.  Being hired/accepted in the short period of time I experienced after signing up with American Virtual showed me these guys are a serious VA.  Of course it needs to be said, VA’s are operated by real-life humans and the expectation of being hired within 10 minutes will not always be possible.  However, any properly managed virtual airline should be able to review, process and hire certainly within 24-48 hours.  But I digress….

I downloaded the ACARs program and setup my first flight from DFW to DEN in the PMDG Boeing 737-800.  During the flight I joined the American Virtual Discord and found it to be an active and lively group.  By the time I completed the return flight to DFW I had decided I made the right decision.  The very next day I contacted the CEO and inquired about an open hub manager position at DFW.  While I was new to the VA, I wanted to offer my experience and willingness to serve in a management capacity and was promoted to the role of hub manager over the DFW hub. 

While I realize this has quickly become a lengthy post, I will wrap things up very shortly.  I promise!  While most VA’s operate in a similar fashion by allowing pilots to accrue hours, offer group flights and an online community via forum, Discord etc.  American Virtual takes all this many, many steps forward. 

In a recent video message from the American Virtual CEO, Sean Jackson, he describes the VA as being “more than just a virtual airline, but literally a technology company that provides virtual airline services.” During his six minute address, he highlights many of the features which makes American Virtual stand out as a leader in the flight simulation community.  A few features he discusses are as follows:

Flightaware Schedules

At American Virtual we strive to mirror the real world American Airlines flight operations in as realistic manner as possible.  American Virtual uses flight data from Flightaware to inject real world flight data in the scheduling system for both American Airlines and also its direct subsidiaries.   

Enhanced Flight Air Map

American Virtual uses a feature rich graphical tracking mod which provides a street level view of your aircraft in flight.  This is very similar functionality to what you might see with real world traffic on FlightRadar24.

Premium Miles

Earn miles towards purchase of real items or unlock special privileges on the site.

Perks Program

Earn discounts towards amusement parks, movies, sporting events, restaurants and more.

Odyssey Magazine

A quarterly full-color virtual magazine similar to American Way (AA’s inflight magazine). 

Discord Community

An active community on Discord where virtual friendships are forming on a daily basis. 

Plus Much, Much More…

American Virtual is hiring and if all this sounds interesting to you, you should join today!  But before I let you go, near the top of this lengthy article, I mentioned a saying or motto which has always been important to me.  “You Get What You Give”.  I’ve applied this in all aspects of my life, everything from my faith, my family, my education, my career and to my hobbies.  In the very short time I’ve been with American Virtual, I can tell you this is also an important motto from the CEO all the way throughout the management team.  There’s more to running a successful VA than just opening the doors.  The effort Sean and his management team, as well as each individual member is putting into this fine VA will only strengthen its core.  I’ve found my new home and I certainly hope you’ll join me

I hope to see you in the friendly skies at American Virtual.

Until next time….

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

The Future of VATSIM’s CTP

If you’ve been perusing some of the social networks and perhaps listening to some of the more popular Twitch and YouTube streamers, you may have heard that the ever popular VATSIM Cross The Pond events might be in jeopardy.  If you are new to the hobby of flight simulation and especially VATSIM, the Cross The Pond (CTP) events are held twice a year with the west bound event taking place in the spring (Europe to North America) and the east bound event (North America to Europe) in the fall.  This past Saturday, the eastbound event took place. 

I’m honestly not sure just how many years the CTP event has been taking place.  I’ve participated in a few over the years and made the early decision to sit this previous one out for a few different reasons.  First, I just don’t have the time to dedicate to a full international flight of 8+ hours at this time of my life.  Second, I also felt I was a bit rusty on my oceanic procedures and didn’t have the time to do anything about it. Third, with the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 our hobby has exploded with a ton of new simmers and I figured things might be a bit chaotic as a result. 

The 2020 Effect

Much like everything else which has occurred in 2020, the earlier westbound event this last spring caused VATSIM to take a few additional measures to ensure the eastbound event ran much smoother.  From what I’ve heard, the earlier westbound event was so chaotic with pilots and ATC screaming at each other and ATC just logging off that it became extremely difficult for VATSIM to find enough willing controllers to staff the fall event.  This is sad because these events are supposed to be fun for all who participate.  For pilots to truly get the “As Real As It Gets” experience, we need controllers who are willing to invest their time in controlling and staffing a full top-down ATC experience. 

One of the changes VATSIM made for the fall event was in how pilots requested and were awarded a slot.  It was done on the lottery system.  VATSIM capped the number of pilot slots and for the very first time requested pilots who did not receive a slot to NOT fly oceanic during the event. 

Entitlement, Entitlement, Entitlement

Just like the run on toilet paper the world experienced in the early days of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, entitlement reared its ugly head in the VATSIM world.  Pilots who didn’t receive a CTP slot still made the decision to fly across the pond (some even flying the opposite direction) just because they could.  Some of these pilots endured lengthy holds both on the ground and immediately after departure and restricted to flying below FL290.  I’m hopeful these restrictions helped to minimize the impact to those who had valid slots.

The Future

I’m optimistically hopeful these CTP events can continue in 2021 and beyond.  Many in our community are throwing out their own ideas on how things could get better.  A suggestion of holding CTP more frequently seems to be one popular opinion.  With the amount of events VATSIM is currently holding on an annual basis, I don’t see how they have the bandwidth to add more CTP events to the schedule.  The only way this might work would be to restrict VATSIM members from being awarded slots in more than one pair of crossings per year.  This still would not prevent those who don’t have slots from flying oceanic anyway. 

All this really hinges on each individual VATSIM member doing their part to ensure they follow the guidelines.  If VATSIM says don’t fly oceanic without a valid slot, then stay the hell away.  But in the world we live in today, this is most likely just a pipe dream. 

One More Thing

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again.  VATSIM is a wonderful multi-player environment which brings together the functions of both Air Traffic Control and Pilots.  There is no AI Traffic (default or payware) that even comes close to giving a pilot the same level of experience.  In my 20 year experience with VATSIM and SATCO before that, both networks have always been friendly and welcoming to new members.  However, there is (and always has been) a slightly steep learning curve to mastering the basics.

I often throw out the comparison with TruckersMP which is a multiplayer server environment for both Euro Truck Simulator 2 (ETS2) and American Truck Simulator (ATS).  While TruckersMP has a fairly loose set of rules which must be followed, someone relatively new to ETS2 or ATS could login to TruckersMP and be driving on the network in a very short period of time.  This just isn’t the case with VATSIM, IVAO or PilotsEdge. 

If you are reading this and you are either brand new or unfamiliar with VATSIM, have a read through a post I wrote back in April of 2019 titled, “The Basics of VATSIM”. 

Thanks for reading and I hope everyone in the US has a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

VATSIM Ready for MSFS2020 Day One

111114951_3652564898091592_684078394498485044_n Oh Boy!  Are you ready for the onslaught of brand new pilots to flood onto the VATSIM network?  You better be.  The old saying of “If you build it, they will come” will prove to ring true in just a few weeks.  If you are new to flight sim and the world of VATSIM, please take a look through some of my tutorials I’ve written.  They might help you.   I even have a Basics of VATSIM tutorial which will give you an overview of what you need to do and know before your first online flight. 

A Prediction

With the upcoming release of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (MSFS2020) scheduled for 18 August 2020, the growth of our flight simulation hobby (and that of VATSIM) will be nothing like we’ve seen since the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) way back in 2006.  No other flight simulator (including P3D or X-Plane) has experienced the hype like MSFS2020 has had over the past 13 months since the news broke from the E3 Conference in June 2019. 

The Long and Winding Road

It’s true!  It’s been a long and winding road awaiting the release of what will become the next generation flight simulator.  While Lockheed Martin has truly made great advancements on the old ESP/FSX platform and P3Dv5 is truly the best we’ve seen thus far, MSFS2020 will eventually blow away everything we’ve come to know and love about FSX/P3D.  I also believe many X-Plane users will also gravitate to MSFS2020 in time.  While the year 2020 has been a difficult year with COVID-19, 18 August 2020 will be a truly remarkable day for all flight sim enthusiasts.  But 18 August is only day one in this journey. 

Setting Expectations

While I’ve not been involved in any of the alpha/beta tests of MSFS2020, history has taught us the road to the future is first often filled with bumps and holes.  With every new release, there will be a period of growing pains which we must all endure for the greater good.  Take for example the recent release of P3Dv5.  Released on 14 April 2020, it’s only now just become stable enough to fully replace the previous P3Dv4.5 version.  Yet, we’re still awaiting some aircraft and scenery to be made compatible with v5. 

Most likely the initial release of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will have some opportunities and challenges.  While VATSIM has announced compatibility on day one, there is uncertainty as to when third-party developers like PMDG, FSLabs, etc. will make available their study level aircraft models for the new sim.  Another unknown at this time (specifically with VATSIM functionality) is will FLAi model matching be available day one.  What is model matching?  Well in simple terms, if you are flying commercial jets and you want to see the exact airplanes, exact liveries of the other pilots…this is where model matching comes in.  Model matching has evolved over the years and is quite possibly the best it’s been with FLAi.  For seasoned VATSIM flyers, this functionality will be important.  I want to see other American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest etc. while connected to VATSIM just as I do today.

New to VATSIM

If you are brand new to the world of VATSIM (and perhaps even to flight simulation) then Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (out of the box) will be a great opportunity to earn your wings.  Unlike P3D which does not offer any default jetliners, MSFS2020 will offer both the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 747-8.  While these default aircraft are not appealing to most who are seasoned veterans of the hobby, they are a great for beginner pilots.  But then again, if you truly are new to flight sim at the release of MSFS2020, I highly suggest you begin with default Cessna 152 or 172 and delay your entry to the world of VATSIM until such time as you at the very least understand some of the basics of flight.  Even taking time to understand how the default Airbus A320 or Boeing 747-8 functions offline will make your transition to VATSIM a much, much better experience.  Not only for yourself, but also for others around you.

Not A Game

VATSIM and Flight Simulation IS NOT A GAME!  At any given time you’ll find hundreds (if not a thousand or more) taking to the virtual skies to simulate the amazing world of aviation.  Regardless if you are flying a Cessna 172 in VFR conditions or the Queen of the Skies, Boeing 747 in IFR conditions or controlling in any of the levels that make up Air Traffic Control (ATC), we’re all doing our very best to simulate real world operations.  As I mentioned earlier in this writing, please also take time to read the Basics of VATSIM and other tutorials.

Brace, Brace, Brace

For us seasoned VATSIM veterans, regardless of which ever simulator we use on the network on and after 18 August, we must accept and understand we will have many new pilots who are just finding their way via MSFS2020.  We must prepare ourselves for this eventuality.  We will encounter scenarios as a result of new members who are new to the network spawning on the runways and not understanding simple ATC commands.  Heck, we encounter these things now, but I anticipate much, much more of this behavior.  I would simply ask all my fellow seasoned VATSIM pilots to be patient, be courteous and be helpful when you can.  We all began our VATSIM journey in more or less the same way.  We all have made mistakes and some of us (myself included) still sometimes make simple mistakes. 

Final Thoughts

While I still plan to delay the use of Microsoft Flight Simulator until such time as PMDG and others have released study-level aircraft,  I will be actively flying on the VATSIM network most likely as AAL301. If you have a question or need a little help, please let me know and I would be more than happy to assist.  Likewise, if you’re a fan of American Airlines and would like to join a great group of flight simulator enthusiasts, I personally invite you to join American virtual Airlines (AvA).  AvA is the oldest virtual airline in the VATSIM community.  At AvA, we value community, camaraderie and especially fun.  AvA is an awesome virtual airline which I’ve been a member of (off and on) for the past 19 years. 

And until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

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

Audio for VATSIM is LIVE!!!

Yes, it’s true!  The brand spankin new Audio for VATSIM is live.  Since I participated in the beta test last June, I bet I hadn’t logged more than 10 hours on VATSIM.  While life has been busy the past few months, to be honest I had very little desire to fly on VATSIM until the new audio was available. 

As I’ve stated before, I’ve been a VATSIM member since 2001 and over the past 18 years very little has been done to improve the audio.  As I’ve aged, my hearing is starting to pay me back for all those rock concerts I attended in my younger days and I just don’t hear as well as I did in my younger days. 

The new Audio for VATSIM is truly magnificent.  Now we wait for Microsoft to release Flight Simulator 2020 and the virtual aviation world might just be perfect. 

If you haven’t flown on VATSIM for a long time and if part of that reason was due to the poor audio, then you really should give this new audio a listen.  I’m absolutely loving it. 

Thank you VATSIM!

Until next time….

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

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