I’ve kinda eyeballed vatsim for a while, have listened in from time to time… put off actually doing a flight.
The other night I decided to do a little VFR flight under a controlled area, but by the time I got my stuff together, the controller had shut it down for the evening – so there I was buzzing about on Unicom treating it like CTAF and making the best of it. It was pretty lonely except another guy was making proper CTAF calls at another nearby field… but hey, not a bad start, it actually added a little reality.
But tonite my region (which will go unnamed for the safety of those involved) was pretty well manned in VATSIM, so I decided to do a little 500 mile romp under IFR in the CJ4.
For those that do not know – before I kick off into this kinda mini-review, I’m a long inactive private pilot, perfectly comfortable with ATC lingo, but a little rusty in practice. I’m not and never was a real world IFR guy, and certainly not a jet-jockey… but, as it goes to flightsim, I get by just fine and know what to do and say.
So, I loaded up at my departure field, filed my plan, got the CJ all set up and programmed and generally made sure I had my ducks in a row.
Called up to activate my IFR, no issues there – no local tower or approach controller online so was dealing with the Center controller (USA-some unnamed region)… Got all the things done and called him back for the taxi clearance and he’s asking where I am on the field… Not unreasonable question really, but I know that MSFS taxiways and stands have no actual relationship to real world. Unsure exactly how to answer this question I just told him the nearest taxiway intersection and that I was at the ‘main’ terminal.
He was ok with that, and responded just like I was a professional with a valid answer. Set me up a clearance for taxi to a runway I wasn’t expecting and modified my planned departure a bit… Meh, we gotta be flexible, stuff happens.
Reprogram the FMC a little, consult some charts a little, Ok, all good. off I trot to the hold short – He didn’t specifically tell me to hold short, but I’m not an idiot.
At the hold short I call up that I’m ready, at this airport and runway… But I will admit I neglected my callsign on the end… my bad.
Now, I’ve done that in real life… and in real life when you’re the only thing moving at a place, normally the controller just pretends you didn’t make that error and you get on with your day.
Not today tho… XYZ Center is going to flex a bit… Silence… A few seconds go by and I get a bit of a condescending 'Aircraft at runway XX, please repeat"… Ok, so I play along read it back again this time not failing to add my callsign, and we’re all good again.
It wasn’t necessary. It was just irritating. Now, to his credit, he was dealing with a cartoon voiced kid at another airport who was genuinely confused about everything, and this might have just been his way of maintaining some kind of control of the conversation… I’m not hating on him, I’m just saying, it was unnecessary.
Anyhow, he clears me for my departure, and then clarifies three times on my ascent to my first restriction that I know the restriction. This was irritating because after the ‘Readback Correct’ part of the discussion I have never had a controller quiz me about the clearance.
But, I have dealt with real world controllers who were worse in other ways, so you know… so far its really not unrealistic. This guy was a bit of a curmudgeon, but he’s not really doing anything wrong.
On my climbout I got a weird instruction from him that also seemed unnecessary and just intended to reinforce who is the controller (I think this was kind of a down stream punishment for my incorrect call for take off)… but, no big, did as told flew my plane, and let him deal with his scope.
I want to reiterate… I have had real world flights with controllers who were ridiculous strict or weird… Its fine, I fly the plane, they tell me where to go… I was not phased by any of this and I did everything exactly as told.
It was just more intense than I had expected.
Anyhow, well on my way I get handed off to the next enroute controller on my route. WOW, what a change of attitude. This guy was completely chill, accomodating… was also dealing with nine-year-old squeekers on the radio, and was just not at all a thorn in anyone’s side ever… and yet was still providing perfectly great ATC.
Just like real life, this guys exist just like the weird ones do.
Anyhow, my point with all this is that it was ultimately a pretty realistic experience with a few different controllers over a 500ish mile route… It was… Pretty good really. And it was very much in line with my real world experience, with the caveat that I only ever flew VFR in real world (but I have been able to ride along and listen to IFR comms many times)…
What to tell you if you’re thinking of trying VATSIM?
Take time to learn how to conduct the flight you’re going to fly. Do not log in with no experience and expect to have a perfect experience doing a heavy flight from LAX to JFK… because there is some expectation if you’re doing that flight that you’re able to follow the requirements…
Lots of people where clearly first time users doing pretty straight forward VFR runs from one little local airport to another and seemed to be getting good help where needed… some were more advanced… etc…
It was fun… I started a little above my paygrade with a CJ4 flight IFR, but I’m really confident on the radio and with the procedures.
Anyhow, most importantly, none of the controllers were really hard on anyone or being jerks. That first guy was more likely to just kinda be silent if a caller didn’t make sense… So not the most helpful, but at the same time he wasn’t really being excessive hard on anyone either.
There isn’t anything to be afraid of… jump in.
I felt it was a good flight and added a lot of realism. I just wish they had better coverage, and fewer gaps in controlled space so it’d feel a bit more real.