My VATSIM Intro training class helps talk new pilots through getting connected to VATSIM. What is VATSIM you ask? Well you may or may not be familiar with The Multiplayer features of Microsoft's Flight Simulators. Someone has to "Host" a session and others connect to it. The Host has to find their IP address if it isn't an expensive fixed IP, and get that number to their buddies. The Host must have a decent computer and communication line to handle all the extra pilots in their airspace. This isn't a very user friendly process and takes a lot of scheduling to get a satisfying session in. Even then it isn't easy to coordinate pilots because as soon as you turn on Multiplayer FS2002 turns off the ATC.
VATSIM is sort of like "The Zone" in that it gives a common place for players to go to meet others. You don't have to set up schedules to ensure you can get a multiplayer session going. It does help to pick a time when ATC is available but a little more about that later.
Technically, you host a session, Squawkbox joins that session. You then tell Squawkbox to connect to VATSIM and it handles all the sessions. VATSIM has a network of about a dozen servers. These servers keep a constant stream of data going to each other about who is where and typeing what. You connect up to one of those servers and have immediate visibility of everyone in your virtual space. When you get close enough to someone (usually 20 miles) SB adds their session to yours. You see "GMA653 has joined your session" and if you look in the right direction and there aren't any obstacles you can see the tag "GMA653" floating in the air.
There are also virtual radio channels. Tune your COMM1 radio to the appropriate frequency and you can see text typed by others on the frequency. If it is unicom 122.8 you will see any text typed on unicom from anyone within approximately a 500 mile radius. SB helps you out here, right click on your message area and select "ATC Directory" from the menu and you will be given a list of available frequencies in your area. Double click on that list and it automatically tunes your COMM1 radio. If you have Roger Wilco connected it will automatically change your RW room so you can speak to them too.
A select group of well trained players are running a program called Pro-Controller or ASRC. It simulates the radar scopes used by real ATC. They have the capability of seeing where you and others are, checking your flight plans, sending you messages and giving you directions of how to get to the airport in your flight plan. They can even hand you off to the next ATC after communicating any special needs you may have to the next controller.
In conclusion, no one player has to broadcast his IP address and have a monster computer. Only when you get close to a very active airport will you notice slow downs due to heavy processing demands on your system. You get the chance to fly like a real pilot would with real world situations and communications. It helps experience that "as real as it gets" feeling everyone is looking for.
First, lets get some pre-requisites down. You need the following
1. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 or 2002. FS2002 has ATC and if you have used this feature you will be right at home once you get online.
2. The Green Mountain Airlines BAE Jetstream 41 installed in previously mentioned Flight Simulator. This is a twin turboprop plane that is relatively easy to fly and even the student pilot is allowed to fly it.
3. At least 1 hour of flying previously mentioned aircraft. We don't want to have to teach you how to taxi, lower/raise flaps, level off and make turns. The best practice is to go to KBTV in Daylight take off circle and land. Do this until you can stay on the runway and taxi to the gate.
4. Signed up for and recieved confirmation of a VATSIM Pilot ID and it's associated password. Go to www.vatsim.net and click on the "join now" link on the left hand side. They need a REAL name and a real e-mail address. You don't use aliases on this online service to join but once you are online people get to know you by your callsign.
Now for some links to download the needed software.
FSUIPC - used to allow other programs to communicate with FS
Squawkbox - The main program. This takes the Mutliplayer connection of FS sends it to a server and recieves information on other pilots and feeds it to FS. It also has a TCAS for seeing other pilots, a Flight Guidance computer showing your route, and a box to send and receive communications.
Roger Wilco - A internet voice chat program. You will need a microphone to use this. I picked up a nice $20 headphone/mic from radio shack but there are cheaper or more comfortable microhones out there. Some versions of this program are "Nagware". They encourage you to pay a $20 annual fee to help support public Roger Wilco servers and development. Most VATSIM operations use VATSIM authorized Roger Wilco servers that appear to be separate from the public ones run by GameSpy.
I can e-mail any of these files if given notice at least 12 hours before the class.
Some helpful links:
This doc tells you how to talk to ATC.
This one tells you how to get SB started using the SBHOST program.
I use a SBHOST.DLL that puts SB in a window in FS2002. If you have 2002 you need this to be able to fly in full screen mode. I understand that FS2000 pilots can use the .dll that comes with squawkbox. SBHOST.DLL can be downloaded from AVSIM.NET.
My little How To on what all those buttons are for in SB.
Install SB (Squawk Box) and SBHOST per their associated instructions.
Install RW (Roger Wilco). RW setup should be completed with the "test" button run at least once to make sure your microphone is working and set at a decent level.
We will be using an RW server to be announced and room/channel GMATrain. We will be flying patterns around BTV so here are some terms to listen for.
Pattern - Circle around airport.
Left Pattern - same as above turning left.
Right Pattern - same as above turning right.
Crosswind - 90 degrees from runway at the opposite end you will be landing on. Flying away from the runway's centerline.
Downwind - Opposite direction of landing direction. Flying parallel to the runway.
Base - 90 degrees from Downwind towards runway.
Final - Straight on to final touch down.
How Class Works
Once class time approaches find some way to get in touch with the teacher. Yahoo IM, ICQ or even Roger Wilco. This will let the teacher know you are online and ready to start learning. If you have already figured out how to get SB working then get online at a gate at the selected airport.
If you haven't figured out how to get Squawkbox working yet (that is what class is for right?) the teacher can talk you through the steps to get online using one of the aforementioned communicationchannels.
Once online with SB you can send the teacher a message by typing ".msg gma653 a message". That is assuming GMA653 is the teacher. If you forget the ".msg" you will broadcst your message to everyone flying in the area via Unicom. Once everything looks good we will contact ATC if they are online, tell them we will be flying a pattern.
They should then tell us what runway is active and we can taxi to it, take off, circle and land where we took off.
Tim Laswell - GMA653