Among the computer hobbies that I’ve picked up, Flight Simulation has been one of my passions. Although I have very little time to devote to this hobby, it has nonetheless been the source of many hours of challenging fun. In fact, my interest in flying began with Microsoft Flight Simulator for the IBM PCjr.

Microsoft Flight Simulator for the IBM PCjr

You can reach a high degree of realism in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator line of products, but one area that has consistently been lacking in all flight simulation programs is accurate air traffic control (ATC). This, as you obviously may know, is a vital part of the global air transit community. Talking to an actual person on the other end of your COM radio rather than punching buttons provides another level of complexity and realism to the simulation experience.

Fortunately, you can achieve this by using online multiplayer networks such as VATSIM. Using this system you can use voice, obviously the preferred and more realistic method, or text to communicate with air traffic controllers watching the traffic in their virtual scopes. VATSIM aims to be as realistic as possible, so you must file flight plans, use DP (Departure) and STAR (Standard Terminal ARrival) plates, and get required clearances to guide you from point to point in your flight path. Through VATSIM you are afforded a rich and vibrant community of avid flight simmers devoted to achieving the highest realism while also being extremely helpful and patient.

For all the fun this provides me, it still is a time consuming process; flights on VATSIM must be flown in “real time” (rather than using the time acceleration capabilities of the simulator); a 5 hour flight from KSFO to KJFK really must take 5 hours in the simulator as well while you’re on VATSIM. Of course, when you’re offline you can use whatever time shifting you like, but I feel it highly diminishes the entire simulation experience.

Ultimately, there are two roles you can play on VATSIM: Pilot or ATC. If you’re into flight simulation, then you can fly on your own, or find a Virtual Airline that fits your requirements. (I am currently AFA4431 at American Flight Airways.) If you’d like to try the scopes, you can get in touch with a specific virtual air traffic control center and use their documentation and guidelines to train you.

If you’re interested, here are some links for more information:

On one of the forums that I visit, a user has the signature: “If you think Flight Simulation is a game, then get out of my airspace.”