Aviation In Canada

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Have you heard of VatSim before? If you're not into computer flight simulation, you probably haven't. Even if you are, you may not have heard of it.

A few years back, a couple of guys got together to provide the something that the flight simulation community had been begging for for years: Air traffic control. Some companies had tried to build ATC into flight simulator programs in the past, but none of them did it successfully. All of the major simulator programs have either built-in modules to provide something for ATC, or add-on products are available, but let's face it: a computer can't yet make decisions and react to humans the way a human can -- for better or for worse.

The way they did it was to build a pair of programs. One sat on the pilot's side, reporting position and altitude to a server. The other program was the controller client, which read data from the same server and displayed it on the controller's screen. Seems pretty simple, doesn't it? Get many pilots from all over the world flying many different aircraft in many places all over the world, and the controllers working sectors divided up as mirror images of the real world, even with the names of the real ATC centers. Suddenly, with internet voice capabilities, you have real time interaction between simulator pilots and virtual ATC. The servers even take real world weather sequences and load them into the flight simulator. The best part is this: It's all free.

The software in use was written by groups/individuals in their spare time. Right now a mishmash of programs are being used, but newer software is in development to combine needed features into an easier-to-use package. The servers they use are companies which are willing to volunteer extra bandwidth and space on their servers. There are groups of individuals around the world providing an organizational structure to help govern this and make sure it moves and stays fresh. The procedures in use are closely mirrored to real world ones, thanks in no small part to the dedication of the individuals in these groups. People with healthy appetites for realism and/or connections do the footwork that helps keep this whole world as real as it can be for those who want to fly in it. And since major flight simulation software has scenery for the entire world, a pilot can fly anywhere in that world and will often have ATC online for his flights. Many groups have even organized virtual airlines, painting up models and building route structures, often based on real world airlines.

VatSim is just one of the virtual ATC networks out there, but it's the only one I've engaged in. I fly online as a pilot, though not for a virtual airline. I also participate in the ATC department, attempting to use my real world skills and knowledge to help those flying in my area enjoy an experience as real as I can make it for them. Being able to help some pilots and some other controllers learn some procedures and have some fun is what started my Aviation Topic of the Week some time ago, and the encouragement I received from those efforts are what started this whole blog. I'm happy to contribute to this virtual world when I can, and hope to continue doing so. I've learned an awful lot in the process of all of this, and that's what keeps me going.

To find out more about VatSim, follow the link provided here. You can learn more about the orgnaization as a whole, and become part of it, should this concept interest you. http://www.vatsim.net