The Pilot's Perspective:
(Virtual Air Traffic SIMulation) is an online flying
organisation. It trains and provides air traffic
controllers (ATCs) across the whole world, and its
servers are open to anyone who wants to fly on it. All
kinds of flights can, and do, happen on VATSIM, every
day of the year, from quick domestic hops in a turboprop
to sightseeing GA flights to sub- and super-sonic trips
across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. VATSIM caters
for all of this and more, using proper ATC terminology
and procedures to provide an environment which is truly
"as real as it gets".
All of the
complex procedures and strict regulations do have a
downside though. Many new pilots are nervous about
flying on VATSIM and unsure of where to start. Hopefully
this guide will encourage more pilots to get into the
world of online flying and take their flight simulation
experience to the next level. It will explain how to
join VATSIM, software you will need, and basic ATC
phraseology and procedures.
How to join VATSIM:
VATSIM is easy enough. On their homepage,
http:/www.vatsim.net simply click the "New Pilots
Start Here" link on the left-hand side. It will take you
the the Pilot Resource Centre and give you some advice
on how to behave on the network. Once you've read it
click the link at the bottom of the page. It is
recommended that you read the VATSIM Rules & Regulations
and the Code of Conduct. You must be 13 or older to join
will also not let you sign up with free email addresses
such as @hotmail and @yahoo addresses. Make sure that
your anti-spam controllers are set to allow @vatsim.net
addresses or you will be unable to sign up. After you
have filled out the register form and pressed the
Register button, your VATSIM user ID will be displayed
and your password should be emailed to you.
Before you fly:
set off on your first online adventure, it's a good idea
to make sure that you know how to handle your aircraft
safely and efficiently. You should be able to fly SIDs
and STARs and be able to navigate using VORs and NDBs
("Direct GPS" routes are not allowed). Before flying,
you will be required to file a flight plan detailing
your route, cruise altitude/speed, departure time,
arrival time, etc, so have some way of knowing these
(either the FS flight planner or other software
discussed later in the article). Also, the controllers
like you to have the necessary charts (especially ground
charts) for your airports. European charts can be
http://chartfinder.vatsim.net , but a good poke
around on Google should find you charts for almost
anywhere. Print them out and keep them somewhere after
you've flown, so you won't have to waste time and ink
getting them next time too. If flying VFR, the
controller will usually require you to have VFR charts
(detailing landmarks and so on) of the area in which you
What you should be able to do on VATSIM:
Traffic Controllers will be patient with you if you tell
them that you are new to online flying. However, as a
bare minimum you should be able to:
piloting skills: you should be able to taxi, take off,
maintain an assigned heading, altitude, and airspeed,
navigate between airfields in VFR flight, navigate from
VORs and NDBs in IFR flight, fly a traffic pattern and
know how to hold at a waypoint, land on an assigned
runway, and park the aircraft.
Understand the difference between VFR flight and IFR
* Understand basic ATC phraseology.
* Tune to different frequencies and communicate with a
* Use and respond to private messages.
* Follow instructions from VATSIM controllers.
* Get clarification from a controller if you do not
* Connect to the network and file a flight plan.
* Behave in a sensible and respectful manner at all
Pointers on air traffic procedures:
10,000ft (FL100), your Indicated Airspeed must be under
250kts, unless otherwise stated by the controller.
lights should not be on above 10,000ft (FL100). They
should be switched on under this altitude.
* Strobe and landing lights should not be turned on on
the ground until you are on the active runway.
* Do not pause, use slew mode, or use time acceleration
in controlled airspace (in fact it's a good idea not to
use time acceleration at all as it will mean you arrive
early and thus confuse the controller who wasn't
expecting you for another 3 hours) without ATC
speed is normally 220kts IAS.
* If a controller assigns you a speed, you MUST comply
with it as soon as possible, or you run the risk of
getting too close to other aircraft. Use the speed
brakes if necessary.
* If there
is no controller online, you should monitor and announce
your intention on UNICOM, frequency 122.800. If the
controller comes online whilst you are in his/her
airspace, you should contact them immediately.
outranks ATC; If your TCAS tells you to climb or
descend, do it and then tell the controller that you are
in a "TCAS climb" or "TCAS descent".
Simulations of emergency situations are not forbidden.
However a controller has the right to deny the
simulation of an emergency, and the pilot must either
comply or disconnect from the network. Simulations of
hijackings are strictly forbidden.
* Do not
use the active ATC frequency for private conversations;
use the private chat function for this.
* Before you connect to the network, make sure that you
are at a gate and not on a taxiway or runway. If you
have connected on top of someone else’s aircraft, then
use Slew or the Go To Airport function to move – they
were there first.
Pointers on using voice on VATSIM:
voice on VATSIM is optional. However it greatly
increases the realism and saves time spent typing out
should know what you're going to say before you say it.
Keep your voice communications quick and simple.
for airline callsigns (e.g "Speedbird"), call signs on
VATSIM (such as G-MUTH) should be given phonetically
(Golf Mike Uniform Tango Hotel). See below for my
phonetic alphabet and pronunciation.
* Set up
your microphone before logging onto the network.
Squawkbox users can do this before logging on, through
the Options menu. Use the Calibrate Microphone feature
to make sure that the microphone is working and is not
distorted. With regards to microphone position (on a
headset), I find that it is best to have the microphone
just out of your sight, that way it does not get
distorted by being too close to your mouth and it does
not get hit by your lips or chin.
* If you
do not understand what a controller has said, let them
know! Don't do anything until you are sure of what ATC
wants you to do - don't try to bluff your way out of it
because it might well come back to bite you later.
* Do not
respond with “Roger” to a question requiring a yes
“Affirm” or no “Negative” response.
* Do not
respond to “Stand By”
* Do not read back wind direction and speed in takeoff
and landing clearances.
* If you are unsure of any ATC phraseology, check out
article 111 in VATSIM's Pilot Resource Centre:
The Phonetic Alphabet and
ho TELL or
no VEM ber
see AIR rah
see AIR ah
nee form or
OO nee form
* The best
experience can be gained by using a complex add-on such
as one by PMDG or Level-D, allowing you to accurately
fly SIDs and STARs, hold, give position updates and much
more that is done in the real world but is nearly
impossible on a default aircraft.
try to store everything the controller says to you in
your head – write it down! This is especially important
with IFR and approach clearances, and greatly reduces
* Use your
common sense. If you see an aircraft too close to you
when you are on approach, make your life easier by going
around before you are 10ft above the runway and the
controller has had to tell you to.
Controllers are normally right, but they’re only human
and can make mistakes. Don’t automatically agree with
everything they tell you – check it first. For example,
if your departure route involves your airplane getting
friendly with a mountain, let ATC know.
fun! VATSIM may be as realistic as it gets but remember
it’s still not the real world and the number one
priority is that it’s enjoyable.
There are several ways to find a
route of flight for use on VATSIM. One way is to use the
FS flight planner, and to print out the navigation log
and enter your airways and waypoints in the File a
Flight plan screen. However, most pilots will prefer to
use outside software or websites to find their route, as
they are quicker and easier, can be copied and pasted,
and generally give better routes than the FS planner. A
program called Vroute can be used for flight planning:
it has a large database of flight plans built into it,
can tell you which real-world airlines operate that
flight, and can provide a printable flight card with
your route on it. It also has a feature allowing the
plan to be filed directly to VATSIM. Vroute will be
discussed in more detail later in the article. Another
utility for flight planning is
, a free website allowing you to find a flight plan
between two airports, between two flight levels, and
from a specific AIRAC. It can then be copied and pasted
for use on VATSIM.
If you are
unable to copy and paste your route into the File a
Flight plan form, you will have to type it out manually.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds – but to save time you
should understand airways and direct to waypoints. A
specific airway might have 10 waypoints in it, for
example, but if you just enter the airway and then the
last waypoint in the airway that you want to fly to, it
will be understood that you will overfly all of the
previous waypoints. Routes should be filed like this:
waypoint (airway) waypoint, e.g.: NOMBO Y161 RIDAR
wish to fly directly to a waypoint that is not on an
airway, or you wish to fly directly to a waypoint on an
airway without having to follow the airway, put “DCT”
instead of the airway name: waypoint DCT waypoint, e.g.:
PELIG DCT SHA. It is important to understand the
difference between flying via an airway and routing
direct to a waypoint.
plans can be filed through the VATSIM website, Squawkbox,
or addon software such as Vroute (discussed later in the
article). When filing a flight plan, you will need to
* The type of flight; VFR or IFR
* Your call sign (make it realistic, strange call signs
(e.g DAVE1123) may not be allowed).
* The aircraft type (give the ICAO code, eg B735, B744,
A320, DH8C etc)
* Your cruising speed in TAS
* Your departure airport
* Your Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) in UTC.
* Your cruising altitude
* Your route of flight (see
* Your destination airport
* Your estimated time enroute
* Voice capabilities
* Pilot’s Remarks (it is a good idea to say that you are
new to VATSIM here)
* The amount of fuel on board, in flying time
* Your alternate airport
* Your name and home base
* Your VATSIM ID and password
After you have filed your flight plan, you can look it
up or cancel it by entering the flight number, your ID
and your password.
Software for Flying Online:
* Squawkbox 3: Squawkbox is the piece of software that
allows you to connect your FS to the VATSIM network. It
is launched from the Modules menu in FS, or can be
launched from the Start Menu if you are using another
screen or are connecting to the network via another
computer. Instructions on how to use Squawkbox are
is all that you really need, but also recommended are:
Vroute tells you who is online at the present time,
shows bookings for ATC positions, gives inbound and
outbound flight details, and provides maps of regions
and countries showing who is connected to the network
(whether ATC or pilot). Vroute also allows you to find
and file flight plans, as well as showing you which
real-world airlines operate that route. It’s a fantastic
piece of software, download from
EURoute was replaced by Vroute; it’s basically Vroute
except it doesn’t look as good and does not tell you who
is online – it just lets you find and file flight plans.
Servinfo was also replaced by Vroute. It is basically
the same except it does nt allow you to find and file
flight plans – it just tells you who is connected to the
network. Available from Avsim.