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Background of the Club

How it All Started

In The Beginning

The Compulink Information Exchange, commonly known as CIX, was formed in the 1980s in the days of 300baud dial up modems, 20 megabyte hard disks and 640 kilobytes of memory. Based on the U.S. Compuserve model, it was structured by subject by means of "Conferences" (Compuserve "Forums") as well as serving as an email client. Anyone could create a conference, and today there are hundreds.

By the mid 90's before the Internet really took off, CIX was the main source of information for its members, and a unique culture was quickly established where information was exchanged freely with no conditions attached. Substantial and very useful software programmes were written by members for free distribution, a tradition which continues.

It was inevitable therefore that there should be a conference devoted to Flight Simulator. The first message in that conference was posted on 1st April 1989. Membership of the Flight.sim conference peaked at around 250 members, making it one of the more popular and active conferences. In recent years the number of active members has been relatively few, but when one Ruth McTighe started posting occasional messages in the conference about VATSIM, one Peter Dodds sat up and began to take notice. What was this about live Air Traffic Control via the Internet?

Peter joined VATSIM in February 2003, and after much frustration, a failed attempt to make a flight from Hawarden, and a successful "listening watch" at Chicago Meigs in the early hours of one morning, his inaugural flight with VATSIM was from Stapleford to London City on 3rd March 2003 with Ruth McTighe manning Thames Radar and London City.

However, on this and subsequent flights, he realised that light aircraft flying seemed to be poorly represented on VATSIM, but was sure that it would have appeal. Accordingly he posted a message in the CIX Flight Simulator conference suggesting that members of the conference might be interested in flying light aircraft with live ATC, and that they could do so as a group.

The response was considerably more than Peter expected and 15 members joined in the first week. So was created a new CIX conference "CIX_VFR_Club" set up along the lines of a typical Flying Club at any UK aerodrome. Topics within the conference included, "Ops Room" and "Members Bar" and a lively dialogue frequently took place about anything to do with Flight simming, or indeed real world aviation.

CIX was essentially a text medium, but this was going to be too restrictive for running Club activities, and a significant distraction while flying, particularly as we "hand fly" all our sorties - no autopilots allowed. So almost before the term was invented, we opened a VOIP server using TeamSpeak to which all members have access. We used, and still use this medium to talk among ourselves as we fly, passing hints about weather, landmarks, navigation etc.

Within the conference events were planned, the outcome of events were debated, and, as one would in a real world Flying Club, chats around a pint (non-alcoholic if you're flying). After an initial meeting at Biggin Hill, members "adopted" that famous aerodrome as the Club's base, so if on Servinfo you see a gaggle of G registered aircraft around that area - it'll probably be this Club's members!

Before long, the Club was being noticed in the VATSIM Community. We began to attract people who were not members of CIX, but wanted to join our Club. These were welcomed as "Associate Members" although they were unable to join in with the Club chit-chat in the CIX conference.

Onward and Upward

The Club's policy of being a Light Aircraft only Club, flying almost exclusively under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), mainly in the UK, was proving an attractive and fresh alternative to hauling heavy jets across continents. The relatively new Visual Flight Photographic Scenery of England and Wales made visual flight much more enjoyable and practicable than formerly. Navigation by reference to ground features, such as towns, lakes, rivers and railways more closely mimicked the real world than ever before in Flight Simulator.

In 2005, one VATSIM member, Bill Casey, dreamed up the idea of a "virtual" Air Show and invited us to take part. We were so enthusiastic that we were given the opening slot. This event became an annual affair for several years with CIX VFR Club opening the show with increasingly ambitious displays. The 2-4-CIX display team was inaugurated with Chipmunks and Tiger Moths, and later included vintage World War II aircraft. Interest waned for a while after Bill Casey stopped organising his annual show, but the display team has become very active again, with weekly practice sessions leading up to at least two displays every year.

The Club started its operations from Biggin Hill Airport, in February 2004, taking advantage of frequently available VATSIM Air Traffic Control. Similarly, and for the same reasons, On 3rd December 2004 we opened a base at Gloucestershire Aerodrome, at the same time launching our own internet domain and web site. We even had a letter of encouragement from CIX, the organisation under whose banner we flew - and still fly.

A year later, we opened Club membership to any flight simmer, and Club membership grew and keeps on growing. By the end of 2007 we had nearly 220 members - almost as many as the original CIX Flightsim conference when Flight Simulator was just about the only computer game in town worth playing.

Although we expanded the number of aircraft types flown by members, opened aerobatic and, in 2008, "Warbird" and Air Racing sections, we have remained essentially a visual flight Club. Having operated out of Biggin Hill and Gloucester for 3 years, we decided that from 2008 we would operate from a different base each weekday evening to improve the flexibility for members to join in activities. That turned out to be too many, with very little support for some of them. Currently we have just three, with Shoreham being the third.

This article will be updated during 2020 to bring it to the present day.