My first VATSIM experience

I did my first VFR flight on VATSIM and I would like to share my experience. Hopefully it helps other people joining VATSIM.

I decided to do VFR (as I have very little knowledge about IFR) using Cessna 172 (non-G1000), as I practiced lot with that aircraft in MSFS. I skip setting up VATSIM account and installing vPilot and start with preparation for flight. At first I checked, which airports are online on VATSIM. I used https://map.vatsim.net/ and clicked to display ATC.

VATSIM_map

There were lot controllers in US. It was late night there, so probably that’s how some people spend long winter nights. I didn’t want to do night VFR, so US was out of game. There were very few in Europe (early morning) and there were some in Australia/NZ. The least busy airport was NZAA (Auckland, New Zealand). So I chose that for 2 reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to slow down busy traffic, as I might be slower to react.
  2. I decided to follow race in one of Top Gear episodes from place near Auckland to the most northern tip of New Zealand. James sailed in racing sail boat and Jeremy drove Toyota Auris. So why not take the 3rd option, by air.

I checked also https://stats.vatsim.net/who.html to see if the controllers are online. It seems it is more up to date than the map.

The most northern airport in NZ is NZKT (Kaitaia). So that was my destination. Then next step was to check weather. I use https://www.meteoblue.com/en/weather/webmap/beta/ website to do that. And I checked following information:

  1. Wind at ground and at 5000 feet. It was quite strong 15 knots from south west.
  2. Low level clouds to check if VFR is possible. Just few clouds.
  3. Temperature and dew point.

Then I opened LittleNavMap. To familiarize with the area and find navigation points. Also to see taxiways at the airport. However, I looked for more precise airport chart at https://chartfox.org/NZAA#NZAA_78487.

Then I prepared my MSFS settings:

  1. Switch off AI ATC.

  1. Entered my flight plan and selected Live Players in Flight Conditions. This was the first time I used this setting.

UPDATE!: Please, don’t use this settings. I learned that for VATSIM it is important to switch off multiplayer and AI traffic, so that only VATSIM traffic is in the simulator.

  1. I selected to start at ramp 80 (definitely not on the runway).

I followed checklist to do preflight check. While checking avionics, I already setup radio frequencies.

  • COM1 active: NZAA approach
  • COM1 standby: NZAA centre
  • COM2 active: ATIS
  • COM2 standby: UNICOM 122.80

I finished the preflight check and started the engine. Then I entered my flight plan into vPilot and filed it. For VFR I just entered departure, destination, alternative airport (NZKK, in case I miscalculated my fuel, because of strong wind), cruising altitude and speed.

I tuned COM2 to take notes of ATIS. The wind was 20 knots. Quite strong, but aligned with runway. ATIS didn’t say altimeter setting, so I just set it based on known altitude of the airport. I am not sure, if this is just missing or on purpose, in case people have different weather settings. Then I switched back to COM1 to listen to approach for some time. Just to get used to it. I noticed other pilots reported, they have information L (I got only M). So back to ATIS and update my information. Well, there were just very little changes.

I had to hurry up, because it was only 1/2 hour to sunset and I wanted to enjoy some light during flight. Oh did I mention that Auckland approach and centre were online? So approach controlled ground, tower, and approach. I assume that delivery is not relevant for VFR. Someone correct me, if I am wrong.

Me: “Auckland approach, this is OMDN3T, radio check”.
Approach replied with 4. So I increased microphone level in vPilot to +2.
Me: “Auckland approach, this is Cessna OMDN3T request taxi for east departure for VFR, OMDN3T”
Approach approved northbound departure in 2000 feet and below and that I should report, when ready for taxi. Already at this point I had to ask to repeat, as I didn’t understand few words. But it was nice from the controller to repeat it slowly.
Me: “Ready for taxi, OMDN3T”
Approach reported to follow taxiway K A A3. This was point, when ChartFox chart was helpful. I didn’t need to taxi all the way to the end to runway.

Now I would like to ask more experienced pilots. I started to taxi. Then I found quiet place to turn against wind and did run-up. But was it ok to report “ready for taxi” before doing run-up?

Also during run-up approach contacted me to switch Mode C in Vatsim. It seems it has to be done explicitly in vPilot and not just switching transponder to ALT.

While taxiing approach contacted me to contact tower on new frequency. It seems in the meantime tower came online. So I switched the frequency and got to hold point before runway. I was doing pre-takeoff check and tower pinged me to contact them. So I did.
Me: “Auckland tower, this is OMDN3T ready for departure.”
Then there was some miscommunication, as I didn’t get that I should mind the upper bound (I assume those max alt. 2000 feet mentioned before). But in the end I got cleared for departure. It was smooth takeoff against strong wind and sunset. After sometime I turned north at 1500 feet. Strong wind caused some turbulences. After some time I got cleared to 4500 feet and change frequency to approach. So I started to climb hoping it would be less bumpy higher. It was a bit better. Then I turned north east. I planned to follow east coast where James sailed. When I reached north of Auckland city it was already no sun light. And approach contacted me to change to UNICOM frequency 122.8 and check my airspace. And wished me good flight.

The rest of flight was nice. There was full moon, so visibility was very good. I had to change altitude few times to avoid clouds. Navigation was a bit easier than expected, because country roads had street lights, which wouldn’t be true in real life. In about an hour I arrived to NZKT. I assumed that wind would be similar so I entered left pattern for runway 18. “Kaitaia airport, this is OMDN3T on downwind runway 18.” I flew 1 full circle to compare ground speed and downwind and upwind to confirm the wind direction. It was good that the aircraft had GPS to display ground speed. I couldn’t see wind indicator at night. The landing was rough, because of the direct crosswind, but I made it.
Me: “DN3T clear of runway, DN3T”

Conclusions and lessons learned:

  • I think I forgot to say my call sign at the end of calls most of the time. Should improve that.
  • Switch on Mode C in vPilot as soon as possible.
  • Be aware, when tower shortens your call sign and start using it. I noticed they shortened it, but out of habit I used longer version.
  • Prepare your radio frequencies to easy switch.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask tower to repeat.
  • I could easily understand, when I expected what tower would say. But I had hard time to understand something unexpected.
  • Don’t forget that controllers are people too. I forgot to wish them good day after they wished me good flight.
  • It may be harder to find controlled airport during day time for good VFR. VATSIM controllers probably work regular job during day.
  • The flight was maybe as bumpy (because of turbulences) as Jamese’s sail. But I made it with single aircraft, not like Jeremy switched Toyota for new one on half way.

In the end I would like to thank Auckland controllers for having patience with me. It was very nice experience.

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Great write up. One point to correct is make sure you you turn off all live players in the menu. If you don’t, you could see msfs players in the sim that are not on Vatsim. This will cause problems at busy airports.

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VATSIM is a game changer but I think we all remember summoning up the courage to press that PPT button for your first call. I still rehearse the call before i make it even today.

Well done and welcome to real-ish (or at lest as real as you can make it) ATC. You won’t look back.

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The thing with VATSIM et al is to use Vattastic or similar to find somewhere fairly quiet when you first start, so the controller(s) can give you support and advice . The ones I’ve come across are very helpful, but if they are doing Heathrow on a busy evening, they just don’t have the time.

The other piece of advice would be to have a printed plan of the airport taxiways so you know where you’re going and you can scribble notes on it like QNH and so on for readbacks.

It does require immense nerve to press the trigger for the first time. Radio checks are good ways to start :slight_smile:

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Congratulations for your first Vatsim’s ride my friend !
I joined them few weeks ago, but I’m still too scared to give it a try :sweat_smile:

I’ll keep studying my flight manual for a while I guess… :stuck_out_tongue:

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Congrats! I’m an IVAO guy, because I mostly fly in Europe. Have 4500’ish online hours by now in 11 years. But the experience is the same. Once I got sucked in, I never returned to the built-in ATC.

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I have big problems understanding them in Vatsim, although the quality is totally fine. But having the whole sound come through the headphones instead of radio only in reality somehow completely confuses my brain. But yep, Vatsim is awsome.

Btw… you don‘t have to fly in real time (night), you can set whatever time of day you want. Just make sure that you use real weather or at LEAST use the same baro pressure as the controlled airport. ^^

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Thank you very much for your feedback.

@PIC4506 yes, I just read today, that it is good to set multiplayer to Group only and switch to no traffic (no AI, no live traffic). So that there is only VATSIM traffic. I will do that next time.

@Ofnir21 Wish you good luck, when you try. Sometime just stay at the ramp and simply listen to radio. It gives impression of how it goes.

@Ephedrin87 Thank you for the tip. Although I find changing time would remove some aspect of reality. Daytime influences temperature (although I am not sure, if MSFS takes that into account) and thus also baro pressure.

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Thanks for your report. I too started flying on VATSIM just a month ago or so. Joining the network materially enhances the Flight Sim experience, although I continue to have all sorts of nerves and make tons of mistakes! Still, I have found the ATC flight controllers to be most understanding of us newbies.

Perhaps my only frustration is finding live ATC on the routes I want to fly – mostly because I live on the U.S. West Coast and enjoy flying in Europe. Thus, when I fly, Europe often is beginning to shut donw. For example, I rather often fly out of a European airport with active ATC but the controllers shut down before I arrive at my destination. Given that I am mostly flying IFR, I tend to miss the arrival portion of my flights, which deprives me of the challenge of responding to ATC’s approach and arrival instructions (meaning that one has to enter SIDS, etc. “on the fly”).

The repeated changes and glitches in FS2020 can also be frustrating to those of us trying to learn VATSIM. For example, I have had at least three avionics failures in the middle of VATSIM controlled flights, forcing me to sign off the network.

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I live in Auburn, WA and I’ve set an alarm to get up to fly in Europe. I did a short route from Geneva to Paris in the CJ4 a few weeks back and I suffered an avionics failure. I was tempted to disconnect, but I advised Paris approach of my situation. It was exciting! They handled my situation very well, diverting me to Orly since they could accept visual approaches. The weather cooperated and I made it down, commenting that I was going to the maintenance hangar. The Orly controller gave a chuckle.

Vatsim is so amazing. I could only dream of such technology when I started with FS in the 80’s. Now, you can fly with beautiful aircraft, realistic scenery and weather and actually talk with real people worldwide. So cool. I was flying in Japan the other day and the controller was very helpful. I couldn’t help but think, “I’m speaking to a guy who is in Japan right now, instantly. I wonder if he is thinking, ‘I’m talking to an American right now flying around my Country.’”

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Look at all that traffic!

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Great story! I have been messing around with various versions of the Microsoft Flight Simulator since perhaps the 80s as well, but I only discovered the existence of VATSIM/IVAO after the August release of FS2020. It makes a huge difference, notwithstanding my nerves! Even when I am not communicating, I enjoy listening to the chatter between all the pilots and controllers, especially in Europe, and occasionally I even ramp up my limited French and Italian. It also reminds me of the years when I could listen to ATC on United Airlines flights (particularly on their 757s), which were a routine part of my pre-retirement life. Especially on my many cross country flights, having the ATC really helped pass the time.

Many years ago, when I was first out of graduate school, I nearly earned my private pilot’s license. The fact that I did not led me to the early flight simulator games. Now that the software is so much more sophisticated, I can really appreciate what I missed.

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P.S. I live in Gig Harbor!

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Port Orchard here!

It sure is fun. Keep an eye out for me on the scope- I’m usually up flying N702PY around the area.

Roger that!

That’s some great post, congratulations for entering VATSIM and be courageous enough to use voice on your first flight. I’m 45 hours into VATSIM and I’m still in text only mode (which makes things 10x easier, at least for me if not for the controllers) but I expect to transition to voice soon.

For VATSIM traffic (and to monitor live ATCs and their frequencies) I’m using SimToolkitPro but I think that LittleNavmap updates more regularly. I’ve checked VATSpy and Vattastic but I don’t use them often. My main issue is that I rarely see VATSIM traffic outside the window and never in glass cockpit maps. Not sure if there’s a solution to that.

As for:

Pretty sure the recommendation is to switch this off? As in, turn AI Traffic off, Multiplayer to Group Only and weather to Live Weather.

ps: I tend to activate XPDR Mode C at my holding point, just when I switch the plane’s transponder to “ALT”. But I guess this depends on the controller’s preferences?

pps: for those who want to get into VATSIM but haven’t yet, here’s a helpful first setup guide with screenshots, updated for MSFS: https://forum.bvartcc.com/uploads/bva/GettingStarted/MSFS/index.html?Page=setup_index.html

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@PIC4506 @PHRodgers48 it’s so nice to see people who started with FS in 80’s. I also started in late 80’s with version 4.0. And it’s so nice to see how MSFS improved since then. And it’s not only the simulation that improved, but also much more learning materials are available thanks to internet.

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Just find somewhere fairly simple with a solo controller and not much going on and jump in. They’ll usually be quite happy to help - gives them practice as well, and they probably won’t mind if you break character.

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Thanks for the advice. i’ll definitely try that soon :wink: