So I did a new thing tonite VATSIM

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.


i recommend you to use Navigraph (Charts[SID/STARs]+NavData, payment) and SimToolKitPro (free).
Both have the correct Taxiways of every airport

They do, but the airports in the sim do not, except for the hand crafted ones. I’m not sure about the ones that were tweaked after AI import though. For 90% of airports you would have to ignore what the airport signage tells you and go by Charts instead. Charts connect via Simlink works very well.


They may not have them in the sim, but using the actual charts, you can correlate your position to the real-world taxiways. It makes a big difference and will help you immensely.

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Use Navigraph charts and taxi using ‘enable moving maps’ on the ‘Airport, Airport info’ chart. Can’t go wrong with it you can see where you are in reference in the airport.

Thanks for the write up @PablodNinja, I gave Vatsim a go earlier this year but I found it really stressful as a newcomer. I had done my research and as a big aviation fan I felt I knew the ropes enough for a basic 20 min vfr flight. But the controller at my starting airport (which was very quiet!) was really aggressive and it immediately threw me and stressed me out. I even put on my VFR plan “new to vatsim, please be gentle!”.

Then the same thing happened to me that you experienced, I departed and was handed off onto center, and this new guy was so friendly and helpful! He was also super quiet (just me in the TBM and an airliner at the time I think) and just helped me out.

I know it’s supposed to be realistic, but I feel like I need to psych my self up again and go into with a bit of a more cocky “this is just a game” attitude while trying my best, rather than feeling like I’m going to be told off for something serious. If 10 year olds can do it, surely I can!

I also recon that a lot of “the kids” are used to talking to strangers online when gaming so that doesn’t phase them at all. Whereas me being mid 20’s and not a gamer at all other than FS2020, it was quite intimidating!

Oh and also I want to wait until navigraph integrate their app into FS2020 toolbar which is in the works. That will mean I can fly vatsim in VR with which I feel much more confident than flying 2D!

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Yep encountering the occasional grumpy controller is very realistic, lol.

I’m in training on VATSIM for Ground and Clearance Delivery. Center I can’t imagine, controlling all those airports. Sometimes I think controllers take on more than they can reasonably handle.

Sometimes I hear controllers say things like “He has only one controller to worry about, I have 20 planes.”Yes but we are also FLYING AN AIRPLANE. There’s a reason it’s “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” not the other way around!

I’m glad you enjoyed the experience and if you ever feel like visiting Winnipeg Centre I might be your controller sometime.


Thanks all,
With regard to the many suggestions to use real charts… I was… What I didn’t have for him was my exact gate. I had the gate that MSFS uses, but not the real one. The airport diagram for my departure airport didn’t have the terminal designated as any letter or numbers, so all I had was the nearest taxiways which were the correct and real ones.

Yes, for any reading along… use real charts of some sort, many are available on line such as at skyvector, and other similar places.

As another mentioned above – I’m also waiting for full integration of navigraph, once something like that is done I might be able to do a vatsim flight in VR. For now tho, I need access to other resources on paper or another screen.

You don’t need to know the exact gate. Just a taxiway you are in front of. That’s why the real charts help.

Overall VATSIM is pretty realistic and most guys seem pretty cool. You do get the occasional grouch but that’s expected in the real world also.

I use FLTPlan Go on my Android it’s free and has all the USA and CA airports, up-to-date procs and taxi charts. No need to pay for another service unless you really want to. I complete all flights on vatsim using this and have never had a problem or missing information.

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