This is a series of tutorials and practical flying exercises prepared by the CIX VFR Club to introduce members to online ATC and to enable them to learn at their own pace how to use it. Each lesson consists of a Groundschool section on aviation law and theory, and a Practical exercise to fly using the information in the Groundschool.
There are three basic types of Air Traffic Control with which Club members flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) will need to know about.
- Air Traffic Control (ATC).
- Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS).
- Air/Ground radio (A/G).
The difference between them is all to do with the level of information or instruction given to pilots.
For a long time VATSIM had almost no ATC services other than full ATC, but from time to time A/G and AFIS services are coming on line as pilots recognise the fun to be had flying small aeroplanes around little aerodromes. Therefore all types of service are covered in this series of lessons.
Connecting to VATSIM
VATSIM stands for Virtual Air Traffic (Control) Simulator. Using one of two freeware software applications, and an internet connection, you connect to a network of servers around the world. You are then also connected to sometimes well over 100 other pilots all flying on line, and at least half as many virtual Air Traffic Controllers. To avoid complete computer overload, you only see other aircraft out of your window when within 10 nautical miles and can contact Air Traffic Controllers only within ranges defined in the Controller's software, depending on whether it is a Tower, Approach or Area position. For example, You can only contact Tower controllers within about 20 nautical miles radius.
Before you can join the VATSIM world, you have to be a member. Go to the main international VATSIM website at http://www.vatsim.net and look down the right hand side under 'Join VATSIM' to find the 'Click here to join VATSIM' link.
Once you have your User ID and password, you can install the software described below.
VATSIM Pilot Resource Centre
The main aim of VATSIM is to make the online flying experience as similar as possible to real world aviation. There are of course a number of differences, and to find out what these are, and how to conduct yourself as an online pilot, go to the VATSIM main international website (the link above) and select one of the two links for Pilots: "VATSIM Pilots" and "Pilot Resource Center" - It is well worth bookmarking this page, the URL is: http://www.vatsim.net/prc/
The UK has its own VATSIM website at http://www.vatsim-uk.co.uk On the left hand menu is an option 'Pilots' which takes you to a page with much UK-specific information. You should also bookmark the VATSIM-UK web site.
Alternatively, you can find links to the VATSIM and VATSIM-UK web sites at the bottom of these lessons and at the bottom of most of the Club's web site pages.
At the top of the VATSIM-UK opening web page is a menu which includes 'Forum'. You can read the forum without registering, but to add a comment you need to register. There are a lot of posts on this forum and it can be hard to find what you are looking for. Generally asking in the CIX VFR Club forum will get you a more immediate and possibly more relevant answer. But having a browse through the VATSIM-UK forum is worthwhile from time to time, just to keep up with what's happening outside the Club environs.
Free Connection Software
The two online connection programs are 'Squawkbox' (Version 3 or Version 4, and FSInn (Version 1.2 or Version 1.3). Some people prefer Squawkbox, others prefer FSInn. They do essentially do the same job, although FSInn has more features and is thus more complex.
FSInn Version 1.2 is the official release version for FS9, whereas FSInn Version 1.3 is a stable Beta release designed for use with FS9 and FSX. If you run FSX, you must use version 1.3 Although it is a Beta version, not a release version, it does work without problems for most people.
Similarly, Squawkbox 3 is designed to work with FS9, whereas Squawkbox 4 works with both FS9 and FSX.
The choice of which to use is mostly down to preference, although some people find that they cannot run FSInn successfully on their system, and yet others find that they cannot run Squawkbox successfully on their system. Both these applications can be run across a network, with the connection software on a "satellite" computer, e.g. a laptop, thus leaving your main computer free to run flight simulator. FSInn is the easier to set up in this respect, particularly if you are running FSX.
There are links on the Club website to the free software in the Downloads / Software section, at http://www.cixvfrclub.org.uk/downloads/1d_software.php
Documentation on how to install these packages is included with them. There is some additional information about them on the main VATSIM web site at: http://www.vatsim.net/pilots/pilotsclients/
All that reading has probably made your eyes water, but it can be digested over time in small chunks without spoiling your enjoyment. As with all rules and documents about rules, it can seem quite daunting at first. But that is why this series of online lessons has been launched: - to allay your fears and ease you into this wonderful world gently.
In the real world, you would telephone your destination airfield for a briefing on the circuit information and weather, as a minimum, and possibly a briefing on special procedures such as noise abatement (avoiding certain population centres, wildlife sanctuaries etc.). On VATSIM, the weather at your destination airfield is displayed as a banner of red text on a green background scrolling across the upper part of your computer screen.ou have already included in your planning by tuning into the frequency. The online clients, Squawkbox and FSInn will then display the current real world weather at that airfield.
Although it is no longer being developed and supported, a program called 'Servinfo' will prove extremely useful, almost essential. It shows you which controllers are on line on VATSIM (and on IVAO - the other major online flying organisation), and the frequencies of the stations they are manning. It also shows all the connected pilots (including you - a good check to ensure that you are connected). Download Servinfo from http://www.avsim.com/hangar/utils/servinfo/home.htm
Servinfo shows you all the controllers currently on line, and the domestic and international flights in progress for any country you select. Clicking on a pilot's or controller's name will display basic information about the flight he is conducting or the ATC station he is manning.
Servinfo also has a map view. Click on the Globe and Magnifying Glass icon in the upper left hand side of the screen above the row of page tabs and a map is displayed showing stations manned and aircraft connected to VATSIM You can pan this map to any part of the world, and zoom in or out as you wish.
Servinfo has many many other valuable functions, and you will discover them yourself as you need them. The controller list and the map are all you need for starters.