random picture

Flying with VATSIM

Lesson 9 - Flying To a Major Airport

Index | Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5 | Lesson 6 | Lesson 7 | Lesson 8 | Lesson 9 | Lesson 10


This is a series of tutorials and practical flying exercises prepared by 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.From lesson 6 onwards, a discussion on flight planning is included and the practical exercise is a flight using the information in the lesson.

Flying To a Major Airport

In this lesson you will fly into an airport where the procedures are a little stricter and the level of traffic (and the size of aircraft) is a little more awesome. It would probably frighten members away if we were to suggest flying into London's Heathrow, or Manchester Airport, so perhaps Liverpool makes a good choice. The flight you will make will be from Sleap (pronounced 'Slape' by the locals) near the small Shropshire town of Wem, to Liverpool. It is only a short trip - just over 30 minutes, but long enough to practice the techniques needed to fly successfully in controlled airspace.


You have now made three flights with VATSIM. You are not exactly experts, perhaps, but you are becoming reasonably confident that you can hold your own with an air traffic controller, so long as he doesn't ask you to do unexpected things in a busy environment. Remember though, how important preparation is. Try and anticipate what might come up.

You have seen how important it is to prepare for a flight while still on the ground. We need to do yet more reading before putting pen to paper or chart. Don't worry about understanding it all at once. Where a topic is mentioned which is covered in another lessons, a link to that lesson is provided in the text. Remember, when it all seems too much - better understanding comes with practice.

The essential ATC dialogue for this flight is included later in this lesson, but you should also read Chapters 1, 2 and 3 of the Club's Radio Telephony Manual which may be found on the web site.

Also read carefully Exercises 16 and 18 of the Club's Flight Training Manual to be sure that you know about Flight Levels, Standard Atmosphere, the classification of controlled airspace, and, from Exercise 18, the standard overhead departure procedure. The Manual is available on the Club website at

In particular, you should revise Lesson 4 of this series of tutorials. This will prepare you for the Air Traffic Control dialogue you are going to use in this lesson.


The Route - Sleap to Liverpool      


On this flight, you are going to be entering Controlled Airspace, so you need to thoroughly study the boundaries of controlled airspace around Liverpool Airport. If you have aviation charts, all the better, otherwise you need to study the fragment in this lesson.

This chart segment shows the route.

Once again, study the chart very carefully. There are a few new features you won't have seen before. Going northwards from Sleap there is an AAIA 'Area of Intense Aerial Activity'. Its boundary is the 'diamond-dotted' line to the north and west of Sleap. This one is controlled by RAF Shawbury and it's where the RAF teaches its airmen to fly helicopters. It extends, you will see, from the surface to flight level (FL) 70 i.e. 7000 feet with QNH 1013 set. Note too the blue shaded area bounded by a blue dotted line in the bottom right of the chart fragment. That is Shawbury's Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ). (More about MATZs below).


Then there is the large 11 near the apex of the AAIA. These appear all over the half-million chart if there is space. What it means is that the highest ground obstacle within that 'square' bounded by the 30 minute latitude and longitude lines in which it sits, is 1,100 feet above sea level. In this case it is a hill, but it might be a mast, or even a building etc.

Just to the left of the 11 is "N864 [A] 3000'+". That is airway N864 - Class A airspace as you can see, its 'floor' is at 3000 feet and it's ceiling undefined (it's FL245 actually - a long way up). You can't go there. See also that airway L10 (also Class A airspace), is above you in the Whitchurch area and northwards, starting at FL85.

On the extreme right of the chart fragment, half way up is the disused aerodrome (blue circle with diagonal cross inside) of Calveley. Notice the thick blue line? Just above that line you see the words "M'CHESTER TMA [A] 3500'+". More controlled airspace! This is the Manchester Terminal Manouevring Area (TMA). Remember the London TMA from the previous lesson? The 'floor' of the Manchester TMA is 3500 feet here. The same rules apply. Don't go there. Just above Calveley, you will see Oulton Park VRP. Note it well, for that is your entry point into the Liverpool CTR. If you look very carefully, you can just see the small crescent shaped lake to the right of the green track line where it changes course. That lake, and the adjacent motor racing circuit will be what you look for if you have the photographic scenery.

Immediately north and west of Oulton Park is the Liverpool CTR (Control Zone) coloured pink and just north of its dotted boundary line are the words Liverpool CTR [D] SFC-2500'. By now, there should be no need to tell you what that means, except that you are permitted to enter Class D airspace with ATC permission (N.B. But not without!)

Note also that the Whitegate NDB (WHI 368.5) is almost coincident with Oulton Park. You can perfectly legally make use of this fact when flying inbound to Liverpool, by tuning your ADF radio to 368.50 and following where the needle points. That is good news for those who do not have the photographic scenery.

If Liverpool Approach is on line, they will give you a clearance to

Enter the zone at Oulton Park standard VFR, not above one tousand fife hundred feet QNH 1001 report at Helsby

But don't worry about that yet, apart, perhaps from being told that Helsby is the hill on the south bank of the Mersey, just south of the M56, where you turn due north onto a base leg for runway 27.


Carry out the thorough preparations for flight outlined in earlier lessons, and check the Liverpool ATIS before take off. This many be text only obtained from Servinfo, or may be available as a voice broadcast by tuning your radio to the Liverpool ATIS frequency 124.325. Again check Servinfo or VATSpy to find out if Liverpool ATIS is available on voice. What runway is in use? What is the surface wind? Is it out of limits for my aircraft? Is Approach or Tower, (or both) on line? What identification letter is being used?


Make a standard overhead departure from Sleap's runway 23; take off and turn left into the circuit. Continue the climb into the overhead as shown on the chart fragment, then point the aircraft at Whitegate NDB, or Oulton Park Racing Circuit as described above. In the real world, as soon as you were level at 2000 feet (don't go any higher - remember all those controlled airspace 'floors' you are going to have to stay beneath) you would call Shawbury LARS (120.77) give the CEPHACER call and obtain a Flight Information Service, but Shawbury almost certainly won't be on VATSIM. So tune Unicom (122.80) and type in the text box

Departing Sleap rwy 23 en route Liverpool 2000ft VFR. Passing Wem.

That is a much abbreviated CEPHACER which is good enough on Unicom to tell any other pilots in the area where you are and what your intentions are. If you delay your message, you might need to change it slightly to 'approaching Whitchurch'.


It was stated above that on VATSIM you can nearly always ignore a MATZ. Almost all RAF stations have a MATZ associated with them, comprising a 10nm diameter circle from surface to 3000ft and one or two 'stubs', 4nm wide and 5nm long extending from a 1000ft floor to 3000ft top, the same as the circles. Legally you do not need permission to fly through a MATZ, but in the real world, you always 'request a MATZ penetration' (narsty!) simply out of coutesy and good airmanship. Because military aerodromes are so rarely manned on VATSIM, you can pretend 'MATZ penetration approved' from the controlling aerodrome.

Entering the Liverpool Zone

About 10 minutes after takeoff, look for a small range of hills (at the 'point' of the AAIA on the chart) roughly in your 10 o'clock. This is a sanity check that you are in the right place, and a prompt that it is time to give Liverpool a call, as you will be then about 10 Nautical miles south of Oulton Park.

Liverpool Approach G-BNOZ

G-BNOZ, Liverpool Approach, pass your message.

Liverpool Approach G-BNOZ is a Cessna 152 inbound to Liverpool. 10 miles south of Oulton Park, 2000 feet, VFR, request entry into the zone at Oulton Park.

G-BNOZ, enter the zone at Oulton Park standard VFR, not above one tousand fife hundred feet QNH 1001 report passing Oulton Park.

N.B. You must read back this clearance.

Enter the zone at Oulton Park standard VFR, not above one tousand fife hundred feet QNH 1001 report passing Oulton Park, G-BNOZ

As you approach Oulton Park, you should see the crescent shaped lake. You also need to make sure that you descend to 1500 feet or below on Liverpool QNH before reaching Oulton Park. As you pass it, change course towards Helsby. You should see the Mersey by now except in the worst weather conditions, and the two small hills on the south side. Aim, for the left one, which is Helsby Hill. You may also already see Liverpool Airport. In Flight Simulator, airfields 'cheat' because they twinkle due to pixilation on the monitor screen, and thus are normally more visible than they are in real life.

Field in Sight

Sometimes, before you reach Helsby, Approach (he can see you on radar) will pass you your next instruction:

G-BNOZ, Report field in sight.

Again you read it back.

Report field in sight, G-BNOZ

Or, if you can already see it:

I have the field in sight, G-BNOZ

Note that if you simply say Field in sight, ATC might think that he missed hearing the first word of your message (Report), so for clarity, it is helpful to add the I have the part.

An old pilots' joke is that the biggest lie in aviation is 'I have the field in sight', because very often in the real world, you can be very close to an airfield, know that you should be able to see it, but can't, so you bluff in the hope that you will see it before it's too late! On VATSIM, you can see runway approach lights from a long way away and also the red ID tag of other aircraft (unless you have this turned off in FS) if they are within 10 miles of your position, so there should be no need to lie!

In the real world, Tower will see you out of the window, but on VATSIM, although there is now a Tower facility, many controllers still watch their radar screen to see when you join base leg. By the way, you will never be asked to make an overhead join at a busy airport, and I can hear your sigh of relief from here!

Hand Off to Tower

Once you have the field in sight, that is Approach's cue to hand you over to Liverpool Tower.

G-BNOZ, Contact (Liverpool) Tower 126.35.

Contact (Liverpool) Tower 126.35, G-BNOZ.

The 'Liverpool' may be omitted. Change frequency, and then:

Liverpool Tower, G-BNOZ.

Note that your first contact with an ATC station is always very brief. ATC may be busy and don't want you jamming the airwaves with a glorious speech until he is ready to hear it. Not that he will want to! Succinctness is everything in ATC dialogue. As part of this succinctness, Liverpool Tower will probably come straight back with an instruction, rather than the 'Pass your message' which Approach uses on replying to your first contact.

G-BNOZ, join left base for runway 27, report final.

Join left base for runway 27, report final G-BNOZ.

At Helsby turn heading 360o to put you on base leg. Unlike smaller airfields, the big ones almost always ask you to join on base leg rather than downwind, in order to save time, so you need to be ready for that.

You may be asked to report left base if there is inbound IFR traffic, and you may also be told to hold 'at the south bank' (of the Mersey). Be prepared for these possibilities.

Once on final, your next call is very brief: -

Golf Oscar Zulu final (27)

Remember, you MUST NOT land unless given the following explicit instruction.

Golf Oscar Zulu Runway 27, cleared to land. Surface wind 260 degrees 8 knots.

Note that the ATCO gives you also the runway to land on, by way of confirmation - pilots frequently make approaches to the wrong runway - and the surface wind.

You MUST repeat back

Cleared to land (runway 27) Golf Oscar Zulu

Note that you do not read back the wind, and reading back the runway is optional. If you do not receive a 'Cleared to land' instruction then you MUST initiate a missed approach and rejoin the circuit for another attempt. This is as true on VATSIM as it is in the real world which we are trying to emulate. Specific landing and takeoff clearances are only required at aerodromes with full ATC.

After landing, you will be given taxi instructions, and you won't be dismissed from ATC instructions until you are parked. In the Club, this will normally be on the G.A. Apron at any large airfield, so before departure on any flight, you need to look at the destination aerodrome diagram to see where that is.

G-BNOZ, vacate at Foxtrot, and taxi via taxiways foxtrot, alpha and kilo to the G.A. Apron. Report passing Kilo.

On VATSIM, it's a slight bone of contention, but they insist that the full formal instruction is given and read back.

G-BNOZ, vacate at Foxtrot, and taxi via taxiways foxtrot, alpha and kilo to the G.A. Apron. Report passing Kilo.

In the real world, if the controller knows you are based at Liverpool they would cut all that out and simply say

G-BNOZ, taxi to kilo.

It is important to note that it doesn't remove your requirement to read it back though.

Taxi to kilo, G-BNOZ.

And then, as you enter the G.A. Apron

G-BNOZ Passing Kilo

Of course you may need to find out where foxtrot, alpha and kilo are, so you need the airport diagram from the NATS web site,


or a copy of one of the popular flight guides, e.g. Pooleys, as mentioned in an earlier lesson.

Shut down and go and have a drink. Although you have now made several flights, you will still, almost certainly be quite tired at the end of it. It does get less like work and more like fun fairly soon now, though.

Of course on VATSIM, you may not have both approach and tower, so the instructions will differ slightly. If only tower is on duty, he cannot give you approach instructions, so you when you make your initial call inbound he will ask you to report the field in sight, as that is the boundary of his jurisdiction. You should still enter the zone at one of the reporting points - that's good airmanship.

If only approach is on duty, then he will give you zone entry instructions and will control you right down to landing and parking.

There are many more possible instructions, all listed in CAP413. Learn as many as you can which are applicable to CIX VFR Club flights, and practice them almost anyway you like. The Club offers one to one ATC voice practice, which can be a good starting point.

The CIX Flight Planner

CIX VFR Club Flight Planner Outbound Sheet - Sleap to Liverpool      

Flight Plan

The program is a thinly disguised Excel spreadsheet. You can find it at: -


The white cells are for user entry, the cream coloured cells are values calculated by the program.