Radar Contact (JDT LLC ) – Ver. 4.3
By John Allard

To set the stage here, I should begin by saying that I routinely only use FS9 and that almost all my flying is in JF’s Cargo Pilot. I use the JF Traffic 2005 program with both of the Military PlusPaks. My normal AC is the Captain Sim C-130, which takes me up into the flight levels on all but the shortest flights. My traffic slider is nearly always at 100% so traffic is realistically dense most of the time (…sometimes in both senses of the word). The reader should bear in mind that this review is written from within those perspectives.

About Radar Contact
This version of RC is FSX compatible. I do have both FS9 and FSX on my PC so I selected the dual-install option for RC. My purchase was the CD version, which comes on a single CD. The installed size is about 1.4 GB for each version of FS. RC is also downloadable at the same price, $44. It is shipped from Georgia in the US. The site states that purchasers should allow 2 to 4 weeks for delivery – mine came in three days, but then I’m less than 400 miles from them.

For the initial run the program requires a startup key that is not part of the delivered package. The new user must send an e-mail and await a reply containing the key. This does not appear to be an automated process, but I did have mine within about three hours, along with a friendly message, e-mail addresses and a link to the Radar Contact Commercial Support forum in AVSIM.

The load time from the CD is quite lengthy, perhaps on the order of 20 minutes, though remember that I had selected a dual install for both versions of FS. I noted many, many WAV files being loaded. Audio takes some time. If you’re the type who likes to rip the CD out of the package with the intent to be flying three minutes later, you’d best take a deep breath and relax. Between the install time and getting the key, things are not going to go quite that quickly. Have patience - it will be rewarded!

The manual is prodigious, a 294 page pdf file. It is available on-line so prospective buyers can check the product out in detail before making a decision. If you purchase RC, I strongly advise spending some time with the manual while waiting for your CD to arrive. This is not the kind of program you’ll want to learn by Braille - you can probably make it work, but you’ll miss about 80% of what it can do. Read the manual and when you can, fly the eight tutorial flights detailed there.

Using Radar Contact
I’ve been chafing under FS ATC for some time and have been on the lookout for something better. At the recommendation of a very good on-line flight-simming friend I looked into RC and decided to purchase it. I have made a half dozen or so flights under RC now, a couple over 1,200 NM and at night. I can say with some confidence at this point that RC is better. It’s not just a little better – it’s in a different universe. If you are a serious IFR simmer, you will be very, very impressed with the great leap of capability over what FS offers. Is it perfect? No, but it’s very, very good.

Radar Contact loads last. The process is to start FS then Alt-Tab out to kick off RC. RC opens to a menu screen where pre-flight options are handled, including selection of your previously saved flight plan from any of a wide variety of popular flight planners. The scope of this review will not permit a lot of detail here, but suffice to say that there are many configurable options for the IFR flyer. Alternate airports (up to two) can be designated; voices for pilots, controllers and co-pilot can be chosen from a much larger selection than provided by FS or T2005; various restrictions can be selected or de-selected, and much, much more. After setting up the pre-flight options there’s another button to “Start RC”. In effect you start it twice.




The cockpit interface is quite similar to FS ATC. A transparent window appears with menu choices selected mainly by the keyboard number keys. The window is re-sizeable and re-locatable. The default text is red, perhaps not the best choice. I’ve read on the RC support forum that there is a config file with variables that can be edited, providing different text colours. I have not pursued that yet. In actual use, the red text has not caused any serious difficulty.

I had to spend some time looking for all the other things to shut off in FS and other add-ons. There were things in T2005 and it’s minion, AISmooth that had to be deselected, and some things in the FS menus too. None of these caused any errors, but were just competing voices, windows, etc. that were no longer required.

Do not be mislead by the apparent similarity of interface between the FS and RC flavours of ATC. It’s what lies behind the menu choices that makes the difference. The simplicity of the RC interface belies the power and complexity of what is beneath. RC takes you into depths of simulated reality that are beyond what you can imagine if you’ve only used FS ATC.

Co-Pilot Assistance
This is so useful it deserves a specific description. With key-presses, you can give the co-pilot the radios, the aircraft or both. I used this with caution but it works very well and I’ve come to trust it. Bathroom breaks no longer involve the “P” key.

When handling comms, the co-pilot acknowledges all ATC communications, changing frequencies and squawks as directed. When flying he follows the flight plan, tuning the NAV1 radio and adjusting the OBI as needed. He is not so perfect as to seem robotic, but is good enough to be trusted. I noticed that he does not use the pre-set register of COM1 but somehow puts the new frequency directly into the active frequency window – unrealistic, but effective. With the NAV radios, he only uses NAV1, tuning each new station as it becomes available, some how knowing when that is.

The co-pilot is only available in certain phases of the flight; he must have a strong union. He will not take off – you must have shifted to departure before bringing him into play. He will not fly an approach or land. Anything in between, however, is apparently not in violation of his contract and is fair game.

Coupled with another feature, called pause at distance, a new set of possibilities becomes viable for those flying long boring flight legs. RC allows you to set a “pause at distance” number in the pre-flight screen. At that distance from the arrival airport, RC pauses the sim. The implication here is that you can begin your flight, turn over the AC and comms to the co-pilot and come back the next morning to fly the descent and landing. I can see the VA pilots lining up already.

There are a few things about the co-pilot feature that could be improved in terms of realism, but as it stands it is effective, usable and believable.

What’s New And Good

  • Holds are available! You can have them always, never or sometimes. This takes care of my biggest beef with FS ATC.

  • There is a concept in RC called NOTAMs. It’s not what you think. It provides ATC latitude for a pilot controlled departure (or arrival) where terrain avoidance, noise abatement measures, departure procedures or other limitations that ATC can’t or don’t know about are in play. Once beyond those and on course, you let ATC know that you can accept their guidance and you’re off on your flight plan. It’s a great idea and well implemented, but it seems like a dumb name for it.

  • During departure you are sometimes cleared direct to your first navaid before you’ve made your way to the flight plan course line.

  • New squawks are sometimes issued while in flight. In hundreds of hours of FS IFR I have never seen that happen before trying RC.

  • There is an option to “Ding” when passing a flight plan checkpoint. What a great idea!

  •  RC seems to handle busy departure queues much better than FS alone. It makes more aggressive use of position-and-hold and seems to give a higher priority to you, the non-AI aircraft.

  • “Aircraft calling center, say again…”. They didn’t have to put this in but they did. It’s random. I’ve only heard it once or twice, but it’s one of many small touches that add realism and believability.

  • Not once have I heard “Report traffic in sight” or “…have the traffic”.

  • RC climb clearances are more timely. You are typically cleared to the next step up a thousand feet or more before reaching the current assigned altitude, vice the brinksmanship that is common in FS ATC.

  • I have not been batted like a tennis ball between a pair of controllers – not once.

  • There have been none of the dreaded “sawtooth” vectors to final.

  • When getting Wx or Clearance at an uncontrolled field, the audio simulates placing a telephone call – another of those small touches of reality.

  •  There is a menu option to request clearance direct to a future checkpoint. I’ve used this several times to “cut the corner” when the flight plan has a radical dogleg, saving time and distance.

  • Traffic alert responses only require acknowledging; you don’t have to say whether you see the traffic or not.

  •  …and much, much more!

 What’s New And Not So Good

  • The manual is out of date in places. Version 4.3 is new and perhaps an update is in progress. The developer is working on version 5 already. Hopefully the manual is part of that.

  • RC does not issue specific taxiway routing instructions. It’s more like, “Taxi to and hold short of runway nn.” Have an airport diagram handy.

  • There is no longer any progressive taxi assistance available.

  • The voice messages are more rough, choppy and patched than those of FS ATC. It’s obvious in both programs that the messages are created by linking audio files of the individual elements, however RC’s are not as smooth as the MS ones. On the positive side, the number of voices and the variety and content of the messages is far beyond what we’ve been used to. In no case are the messages garbled or difficult to understand.

  • At a field where there were some Air Force types in the queue ahead of me, ATC referred to some as “Air Force (number)” and to others as “Alpha India Romeo Foxtrot Oscar Romeo Charlie Echo (number)”. I’ve heard similar things enroute with certain airline names with ATC spelling out the name phonetically.

  • If communication with AI is in progress and you switch frequencies, the in-progress message plays out to the end rather than being cut off. Ditto when pausing.

  • You cannot use the 1 and 2 suffixes for pushback to turn the AC left or right. The numeric key-presses are intercepted as RC menu selections. This may apply to other things that use the number keys as well. (doors, engine selections?)
    ADDENDUM- It turns out that on the initial RC screen there's a button labelled "Keyboard". It's a utility that allows you to re-map most of the keys used by RC to something else. The suggestion I saw on the RC commercial support forum on AVSIM suggests re-mapping "1" and "2" to Ctrl-Shft 1 and Ctrl-Shft 2 respectively. RC's menu would recognize those and that would leave 1 and 2 free to be used by the MS commands that expect them. That's one problem put to bed!

  • AI chatter is sometimes very staccato without any hint of a delay between the ATC voice and the AC voice or vice versa. Separating them with a short pause and a microphone “pop” would improve them.

  • There doesn’t seem to be any allowance for “pop-up” clearances filed in the air. If so I haven’t found it.

  • Some company call signs do not seem to be in the RC vocabulary, e.g. I heard flights referred to as “Mike (number)”. When I looked up the number in the T2005 traffic editor, they were “Merican”. A capability to add and index your own WAV files for this would be good, though matching the voices and accents would be problematic.

What’s New or Different – You Decide If It’s Better Or Worse

  • At a key-press you can leave the frequency to check weather with ATC’s blessing. It’s entirely automated. You don’t have to touch the radio or even know the frequency, nor do you need to remember the centre frequency to come back to. It all just happens and is unrealistically easy. To me it felt “gamey”, unrealistic and contrived. This is a good and needed feature, but begs for improved implementation.

  • There’s much less (though not zero) AI chatter on the frequencies than under FS ATC with the same traffic settings.

  • The threshold for RC issuing traffic alerts seems considerably higher than for native FS. Relatively few traffic alerts are heard.

  • There seem to be fewer enroute frequency changes within a Centre's area of responsibility.

  • Squawk codes must be manually set in the transponder (unless co-pilot has the comms). I rate this a plus due to reality – you may not.

Specific Incidents

  • RC issued a traffic alert for another AC that was level at my altitude on a reciprocal course at 14 miles. I appreciated the alert but wonder why ATC had him there. AI traffic sometimes has a mind of its own.

  • I flew a 75 mile downwind, never receiving an instruction to turn to base. RC just forgot about me. It happened on one flight only, and I’m not sure what caused it.

  • Close call @ 35,000 ft, at night - AC crossed 0.3 NM in front of me, 90 degree tracks, same altitude. I saw him coming on the radar, and was ready to take a screen shot (see below) but no traffic alert was issued by RC. I wasn’t sure if the screen shot would be a near miss or an aluminium shower, but it was going to be a memorable picture in either case. When you can see individual windows, he’s too close. (The white dot on the nose of the radar screen aircraft icon is the target blip.)

Ending on a positive note, I already rank Radar Contact as one of the very best FS add-ons I’ve purchased. Like many of you, I have a shelf full that I found disappointing and don’t even use. This one will not let you down if you enjoy flying IFR. The realism is up by an order of magnitude and there’s also much in the way of reduced frustration and fewer delays. The on-line support forum seems lively and useful, and is regularly serviced by the developer, not just by users. I’ve only scratched the surface of the capabilities in this review. There is a great deal more in this package that I haven’t mentioned, and very likely some pearls that I haven’t found yet.

I contacted the publisher after purchasing the product and after deciding to write a review. I am not beholden to them for a free review copy. My purpose was to solicit from them those things that they believed important enough to be included in the review. Though I didn’t get a direct answer to that question, these are what I did glean from the response:

  • RC is FSX compatible

  • Version 5 is in progress

  • RC has 3 real-world air traffic controllers on the beta-test team (It shows!)

If you like IFR and the Microsoft ATC isn’t floating your boat, give this one serious consideration.

System Requirements:


Microsoft Windows XP or Vista
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, Flight Simulator X
FSUIPC: 3.74 for FS2004; 4.1 for FSX (Supplied)

Any Planner that can save/export FS2004/FSX flight plans
Such as-
FS Navigator
FlightSim Planner / FlightSim Commander
Super Flight Planner
Flight Manager
IFRPlan 2000
Jeppesen FliteStar

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