By Kyle Ramsey
To ensure pilots have all necessary items completed and are positioned in a safe location before connecting to a VATSIM server.
After completing this lesson the pilot should know what items to have completed prior to making the connection to a VATSIM server to start a flight. This ensures a timely clearance and departure from any airport.
All preflight planning should be completed prior to your connection. You should have the items required in a VATSIM Flight Plan ready to enter. Flight plans can be filed prior to logging on and they will wait for two hours for you to log on and fly them. All charts and maps should be placed in an easily accessible place in the order that you'll use them. Print out a flight plan and any weather information you might need. Have browser windows open to the airport charts page so you can easily access any IAP, SID (DP) or STAR ATC might assign to you or any other information you might need.
ATC will try to provide you with your filed flight path, however deviations are normal and should be expected by the pilot at connection. Have the information you need to quickly verify you can fly the cleared procedure correctly and accept your clearance in a timely manner. Preferred Routes links at most ATC web sites will have a listing of the favored routings for a particular airport. And keep scratch paper nearby to take notes, copy clearances, and calculate remaining fuel if needed.
Make sure your PC and connection hardware are ready to go. Some people only start an FS session after a fresh reboot, some clear their SYSTRAY of unneeded programs, and some run RAM optimization programs to give the best performance to FS as possible on their set up. Consult the various forums on how to get the most out of your FS installation. Ensure fresh batteries are on hand for wireless mouse and keyboards.
You should start your flight from a ramp area at the airport you'd like to depart from. If you are an airliner, choose a gate to start; if a cargo flight look for the cargo ramp. There is also ramp parking for military and general aviation aircraft as well as helipads for helicopter and other vertical lift aircraft. YOU SHOULD NEVER MAKE CONNECTION TO VATSIM WHILE PARKED ON A RUNWAY OR TAXIWAY. In Flight Simulator 9, the option to select where your aircraft is located at startup is on the page where you select the airport to start from, at the lower left. In FSX, it is as shown below. The drop-down menu allows selection of other airport locations to position your aircraft at for startup.
Choose an aircraft you have flown offline at least once before. VATSIM during a busy fly in is a poor place to learn the tricks your new airplane has built into it, on purpose or not. Make sure it has enough fuel to make the entire flight, or you have intermediate fuel stops at airports that have fuel. Declaring fuel emergencies on VATSIM makes for paperwork, and pilots hate paperwork. Choose an aircraft within your capability as a pilot. All powered aircraft of all sizes and speeds are welcome to fly on VATSIM, so start slow and small and work your way up as you become more proficient.
You may choose whatever weather source you like, however all VATSIM controllers and most all other pilots will be using VATSIM weather for commonality. Most weather programs will enable VATSIM weather automatically. Let it. All clearances and other ATC will be given based on the VATSIM weather posting at the moment. If VATSIM weather says an airport is IFR only, then no VFR clearances will be given for departures or landings, even if it is Severe Clear on your machine. Also remember everyone'sC generates the exact cloud locations differently so the cloud bank you see others will not.
All personal needs should be anticipated prior to connecting. Visit the restroom, fill your drink glass with your favorite beverage, and get settled in. It is considered permissible to step away from your keyboard for up to five minutes to attend to personal and real world needs, but much more than that comes close to an abandoned flight, which will get booted from the server if it goes more than 30 minutes as unresponsive to ATC. VATSIM Supervisors have tools that looks for possibly unattended flights and they do contact those pilots to make sure they are in the cockpits.
Successful completion of this lesson is measured by the preparedness and ease at which you find your connections. If you are stumbling around for charts or flight planning data, learn from the experience and make your next flight smoother through better preparation.
Try connecting with both the pre-filed flight plan on the VATSIM web site or filing from the vPilot, SB/XSB or FSInn pilot clients. Try changing airplanes with a friend to see how the various visual models look on a small, out of the way airport.