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Most Challenging Aspect of Vatsim - A beginners viewpoint

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I'm about a dozen flights in on Vatsim. Long time 737 simmer, capable of reading NaviGraph charts, user of Pilot2ATC, frequent listener of LiveATC.net, reasonably proficient with the aircraft systems and FMS, so I felt that I had enough of the boxes checked and was ready to begin using Vatsim. I was right.....kinda, sorta. After three successful flights with only a couple minor stammers (listening and retention skills are much more difficult when you're a bit nervous) and feeling good about myself, I had a disastrous flight from KCLT to KATL mainly because of something that hadn't happened on my first few flights but has now happened several more times....the dreaded change of approach and/or runway from what I was expecting. Vatsim ATIS for KATL was not up so I could only guess on the arrival runway based on winds. Very real life to be sure, but task saturation took over. Entered new runway in the FMS, simple. But the arrival was not valid for that runway so now I'm trying to pull up charts. KATL arrivals from the east have two different "OZZIE" arrivals. Ugh. Then further instructions from ATC - descend, turn to new heading, airspeed was off so I was asked to adjust, descent profile was getting way off, ATC asked if airport was is sight....I don't know I don't have time to look out the window right now! Now I'm trying to go down and slow down, two things that don't work well together in a 737. Overshot the localizer, situational awareness was gone. I apologized to all online and said I'm going to save them the aggravation and bail. Approach is a very busy phase of flight, just curious if others have experienced similar issues and if you have any tips you'd like to share for dealing with approach changes and speed/ descent management. Practice is one answer and a timely "plan on runway X" from ATC is another.

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(Fellow) Robert --


It is indeed a different world where your AI ATC basically lets you fly exactly what you filed, without fail. It is a completely different animal altogether when you might actually have to fly the plane a little, isn't it... LOL. You're essentially correct that there's no substitute for practice.


A couple thoughts:

(1) some pilots like setting their FMC up with the "best guess" arrival runway then changing as needed. Others prefer NOT setting an arrival runway until [Mod - Happy Thoughts]igned. Play with both methods and see what works best for you.


(2) if you're on a STAR that has multiple transition routes based on runway [Mod - Happy Thoughts]ignment, resetting the runway [Mod - Happy Thoughts]ignment SHOULD also reset the STAR to the correct transition route. If it doesn't, you might try popping into heading mode, deleting the STAR altogether, then re-adding the STAR with the [Mod - Happy Thoughts]igned arrival runway.


(3) failing all of the above, don't be afraid to ask for vectors if you're task-saturated. ATC would rather throw you a heading and altitude than have you on a route you're not following accurately. "Approach, Southwest 1234, having issues with the route adjustment. Can we get a heading?" (EDIT: and that is predicated on knowing how to make your airplane follow a heading and altitude rather than what's on the STAR, so, know that too.)


(ADDITIONAL EDIT: the biggest mistakes I see/hear from newer airline pilots on VATSIM are: (a) blowing through the initial altitude on the SID, (b) turning directly toward the first programmed waypoint on the SID even though the chart calls for maintaining a certain heading until vectored by ATC, and © turning from the last waypoint on the STAR toward the first waypoint on the IAP before ATC tells you, again in disregard of the instructions on the STAR chart. Moral = look at the charts for your SID and STAR, don't just program them into the FMC and [Mod - Happy Thoughts]ume you've done your job. Apologies if that isn't news to you, but, it's good advice for new VATSIM pilots in general.)


Above all, DON'T be afraid to mess up, and DON'T take it personally if you mess up and get called out by the controller. Just try not to mess that same thing up next time. One by one, you'll mess up later and later in the flight until finally you can get to the ground at your destination without running afoul of anything. Then you'll do ten flights just fine, until suddenly you get tossed some other non-standard situation -- and the process starts all over again. In this hobby, be prepared to learn for the rest of your life.


Hope to see/hear you out there again soon...!




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You are not alone. A few weeks back i did a flight where i was arriving in KMCO. Checked the winds ,listening to live atc . live radar shows south traffic flow and the app/atc has me going north landing. I mentioned to him that everything shows south flow. This is Vatsim he replied.I scrambled to accommodate him.




Did you check the VATSIM KMCO ATIS, however?


As the controller said - VATSIM is a parallel universe, not a superposition of the real world... it is generally better to ignore what the real world are doing at this specific moment (which could be different to VATSIM for many reasons - for a start, changing the flow direction on VATSIM can normally be accomplished very easily whereas in real life traffic volumes mean ATC generally have to pick their moment carefully to minimise delays) and just refer to the ATIS, weather and any guidance provided in charts or the ARTCC's website to make your best guess (exactly like the real pilots would be doing).


That said I certainly sympathise with Robert's conundrum! As Rob Shearman has said, this dynamic stuff is exactly what makes VATSIM such a real environment and it happens in real life as well, very frequently. More so at some airports than others - and as you become more familiar with particular airports and airspace you will be better able to anticipate what might be likely to happen.


However - like all instrument flying, thorough preparation and being well-organised is the key! Whilst you're chugging along in the cruise wondering how to p[Mod - Happy Thoughts] the time, take a look at the airfield layout, the STARs that are available and the possible runway configurations. If you have a secondary flight plan/RTE2 function in your FMS and you think you might get a runway change, set it up there so you can easily switch to it. Get your charts organised in advance - make sure they are in the right order and easily to hand, and make sure any other charts you might need - for example, for a different runway or STAR, or the alternate airport -- are readily available as well so you don't have to go scrabbling around to find the right one.


Finally - make notes if you want! Flying isn't a memory test -- I like to scribble down useful information like this on the OFP or I have a handy little A5 notebook which is 'flight deck friendly' and especially if the route or airfields are unfamiliar I will often go through as part of my preflight planning and note down any useful info (runways, preferred runways, navaids, safety heights, what approaches are available, alternate details, any quirks in terms of local procedures etc) on a single page so that I can just glance at at quickly in flight if I need to.


Good luck and welcome to VATSIM!


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One extra point I forgot to mention - don't feel like you need to be rushed in to an approach by ATC. If you need more time to get sorted out and prepared - make time by asking for a hold, for example - that way you can take all the time you need to get set before commencing the approach.


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On a real airliner there are (at least) two people to split up the tasks and it's definitely a challenge doing it all yourself. But don't underestimate the importance of looking out the window. ATC can give you a visual approach if you can report the runway in sight. While you can still use an instrument approach as a reference, this can save you the time of switching approaches and you can just look at the runway and focus on flying the plane. As others said, if you're already too far off from being on a stable approach, don't be afraid to ask for vectors to resequence. I would personally rather see someone land on the second try than give up if it's not a major event. Just another option to keep in mind.

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It's all about the workload.


There are a couple of things you can do, and not all of them are obvious.


It starts with preparation.


Don't blindly trust the FMS data; get the VATSIM pilot briefing and charts (if available - most local organizations will publish at least some information about what you can expect) and study them. Compare your FMS data against those charts, and if things don't match up, figure out how you can fly the advertised procedures. If you're unsure, or not comfortable flying any of those procedures, consider saying something like "NO STAR" or "APPR VECTORS" in the remarks section of your flight plan, and don't file a procedure you can't fly.


Then, during your flight, anticipate. Get the information you need well ahead of time: calculate your top-of-descent at some point in your cruise, request your descent clearance (if you haven't gotten one yet) ~5-10 minutes before your top-of-descent, get your ATIS as soon as you can read the destination's ATIS station, calculate your V speeds before entering the actual approach, look up the ILS frequency and set it up on NAV1, etc. In general, try to proactively get the information you know you will need. If you're unsure which landing runway to expect, *ask*. It's easier for ATC to tell you early than to see you struggle and fly the [Mod - Happy Thoughts]igned procedure wrong. Prepare a checklist of the things you need to know before initiating your approach, and walk through it during the descent phase. "Brief" yourself on the approach, and don't forget the missed approach procedure.


And then there are those magical words: "unable", "stand by", "say again". Use them when you need them, they can make your life so much easier. It's better to say "unable STAR, request vectors" than to fly the wrong procedure badly. Worst case, controller will throw you in a hold or tell you to divert. Still better than messing up. As long as you have enough fuel, you can always bail (i.e., go around or hold), compose yourself, figure out what went wrong, and solve the problem. So you overshot the localizer? That means your approach course wasn't right, or you flew the approach too fast, or you didn't have enough time to set up the ILS, or the autopilot is having trouble with this particular approach, or maybe this approach doesn't really work on your flightsim of choice. Well, lesson learned, go around, get yourself vectored in for another approach, correct the problem (ask for a better intercept heading, fly slower, set up the ILS earlier, fly the approach manually, ask for an alternative approach, etc.), and try again.


Don't panic, stay calm, and remember that "too much workload" is a valid reason to go around.

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Something I find useful is the STAR Overview feature on Navigraph. It lays the track of all the STARS on the map displayed in Navigraph along with your pre-programmed route. That way you can instantly see which are the most likely STARS you'll be [Mod - Happy Thoughts]igned.


I fly Airbuses and the Q400 and have no knowledge of Boeing FMSes but the bus has a 'secondary flightplan' function. I copy the active flightplan into that and then set up what I think is the second most likely approach or combination of factors (STAR, transitions and runways).


Normally this all goes out of the window, especially if flying into Frankfurt (EDDF), but it makes me feel more confident if I have that backup option in the box before approach control starts sending me around the sky!


If all else fails I ask for vectors. In Germany and the UK it's common to be vectored along your flight planned path anyway when you're entering the approach phase of the flight.

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