Cleared to land


Trying again

Oh dear... is it really over a year since I last posted? Like many blogs, this one was started with good intentions, and didn't last very long! Anyhow, I think it's time I got started again.

The major happening for me in VATSIM this year was that I took on the post of Vice-President (Communications), which makes me a member of the Board of Governors.

The Board of Governors (commonly known as the BoG - from a UK point of view not the best choice of name as the "bog" is slang for the toilet/restroom, or whatever you like to call it) consists of the President and a number of Vice-Presidents. The Governors have overall oversight and decision making power in the organisation, but operational management is the responsibility of the Directors. There are 7 regional directors, and the regions are divided into divisions (either a country or a group of countries) each headed by its own Divisional Director, supported by a team of staff. And all of these are volunteers, which considering the amount of time they put in is quite amazing!

So I now have responsibility for Public Relations for VATSIM as a whole, as well as overseeing the website at, supervising the forums at, and generally trying to keep communications flowing. I also get my say in strategic discussions and decision making.

That's only the factual side of it - my plan is to use this blog to give a bit more insight into how VATSIM functions, and perhaps improve communications and see how we can make it better. (And I might also learn how to use HTML a bit better!)


Comic Relief Night - 11th March 2005

Repost from the Vatsim forums

The Hawarden Virtual Airports Events Team would like to invite you to their Comic Relief Night on Friday 11th March 2005 starting 1800z till 0000z (Later if its busy). Full information is available at or (no registration will be required).

You will be asked to donate £1 per take-off or landing (so one circuit would cost you £2). We will keep a record of all aircraft movements, so when you are ready to disconnect or leave the airspace for the night please private message EGNR_APP to be told your total runway fees.

Next, go to and click on "Comic Relief" and then on "Make a Donation". You will be asked to fill in your details for our records and then sent to Comic Relief's website to pay your donation using our Comic Relief packs ID Number. Hawarden event organizers and VATSIM are not involved in the donation process, and therefore not accountable for any donations made by members.

Let's get as many through the runway as possible on the night and if we are busy please do not be put off if you have any delays. Most of all let's all have a great night and create as much money as we can for a worthy charity. A special thanks goes to Tony Pick for designing the extra scenery for this event.

Andy King

Hawarden Virtual Airport UK

Real Ops night at Stansted

On Sunday night the Essex Team staged a "real ops" night at Stansted. See The real world airline schedules were used to create flights for the pilots to fly, and for four hours it felt like the whole world was visting Stansted.

The Essex RTS members staffed all the ATC positions at Stansted and Luton over two shifts. I took second shift on Essex Radar. It was busy! Not as chaotic as my exam as there was no emergency to deal with, but a better range of traffic coming in from both ABBOT (to the east) and Barkway (to the west), so that the two streams of traffic had to be mixed before aiming them down the narrow corridor to runway 05. Adding in some arrivals to Luton having to be vectored from the east across the arrivals to Stansted coming in from the west meant some judicious use of levels and speeds.

Another advantage over the exam was having Stansted Director being responsible for the final approach onto the ILS. At least once I'd got them pointing in his direction I could hand them over and forget about them. I only gave him one particularly bad tangle to sort out. My excuse was that voice communications were really slow - it was taking up to 30 seconds for readbacks to come through, which slowed up the speed at which instructions could be issued.

My thanks to the Essex Gang for setting all this up - researching and writing the flight plans, developing the bookings page for the website, general organisation, and of course controlling on the night. I'm not listing any names because I'm bound to insult someone by forgetting to put their name in. A great night, and a lot to be learnt ready for the next one!


An account of my C1 (Controller) exam

That was an interesting evening! On Friday 25th February I sat my VATSIM controller exam. This tests the ability to work an Approach controller's position, dealing with all the arrivals to (and some departures from) the local airports. In my case the position is Essex Radar, covering Stansted and Luton Airports.

Approach control is a bit like three dimensional chess, but with the added challenge that some of the "pieces" have minds of their own! I'm not even sure whether the description below has everything in the right order, but it can be considered an artist's impression :-)

The evening started easily enough with a gentle flow of arriving traffic from both the east and the west. Even a change of runway twice at Stansted as the winds picked up wasn't too much of a problem, and it finally settled down to runway 05, while Luton stayed on 08 throughout. Then things started to get a bit more complicated. A couple of inexperienced pilots were having trouble flying the ABBOT hold, one wanting vectors, and one disappearing somewhere to the north in the direction of RAF Marham, at the same time as several VFR pilots wanted joining instructions for Stansted while still at Southend. As I started to sequence the arrivals on the downwind leg for the very tight turn onto the ILS for runway 05 I was aware of KNT544 arriving via Abbot and not yet having called me. Little did I know what was to happen next (though knowing the pilot of KNT544 I should have guessed).

As I organised a neat little row of three aircraft for the ILS another light aircraft called for a zone transit, and got told to stay outside controlled airspace because by this time it was getting busy. I got them onto the ILS, including a text only pilot who seemed to have to be told everything twice, but had to chase the light aircraft back out of CAS as he'd almost orbited onto the final approach path. At last I managed to talk to KNT544 , who had flown on past ABBOT without instruction and was now NW of Stansted still at FL80. A hurried instruction to descend and turn on the downwind heading, and I had space to deal with the zone transit.

With 4 aircraft all in the same couple of square miles southwest of Stansted, it happened! "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. KNT544 has lost the no. 1 engine, and I mean it has fallen off the wing" (at least that's what I think he said!). Events become rather confused in my mind here, as I tried to get everything else out of the way.
G-BILL just establishing on the ILS was told to go around, but discovered he didn't have enough fuel. I wasn't sure if that was another exam set-up, but apparently it wasn't and he kindly disconnected rather than stress me out even further. One aircraft ended up holding well into Luton airspace (sorry, Luton Director), and at this point I discovered that the zone transit aircraft and I had different understandings of where he was going.

Having notified everyone who needed to know of the emergency and got the zone transit safely out of the way, I then realised I'd forgotten to give KNT544 further descent so he was too high for the ILS. So it was through the ILS to establish from the other side, but he ended up very close in, and I was so relieved when he accepted my offer of a visual approach. Somehow he managed to get his plane down on the ground in one piece - excellent airmanship, Mr Blackburn, sir!

Retrieving various holding aircraft after that seemed comparatively simple. Somewhere in the middle of it all I'd also had several VFR flights wanting RIS or FIS to Luton. They didn't get much of service because of the Mayday; I can see why real world controllers often transfer the non-emergency traffic to another frequency. I also had a northbound Military pilot who rather got left to his own devices as he headed over my airspace to Wattisham. Technically I didn't think he should have been mine anyway as he was at FL120 when he was handed off - I think LON_CTR did that on purpose.

My brain was spinning so much I missed the examiner's first text message to say I could finish. On receipt of his second message my relief was palpable. The debrief wasn't too long, and at last I heard the magic words "yes, you've passed". I can't actually remember much else of what the examiner said; I think he realised as I did that that wasn't one of my better evenings controlling.

It was a fascinating evening and I learnt a lot just from the sheer workload and challenge. I'll post later with some of the points I think are worth noting.

My thanks in particular to Ben Hunwicks (my examiner), the three Chris's who mentored me (Dobison, Norman and Yates), and to Chris Yates and Martin Leat for nagging me to sit the thing in the first place. And to all the supporting controllers and pilots for their work on the night. And that even includes KNT544 :-)

Onwards and upwards!


Dress rehearsal

It was my last practice tonight before my Controller exam which is tomorrow. The evening was quiet until I had three arrivals coming via BKY, nicely spaced, arriving at Stansted on runway 05. And then G-LEAT arrived back from London City via ABBOT - and 8 miles out called an emergency with smoke in the cockpit.

Easy enough to send him downwind on the south side of the airport, but there were four aircraft to get out of the way - G-BILL to do orbits until further notice, BSY14 and EIN224 back to the hold at LOREL, and a Ryanair joining the hold. Next time I'll just have to remember to get them to hold a bit higher - BSY14 ended up outside controlled airspace completely! Still it wasn't just me that was having problems; there were some interesting holding patterns being flown, especially the one that ended up halfway to Stansted.

G-LEAT landed safely, and I was able to get the rest of the aircraft landed. Memo to self - make sure small aircraft keep the speed up on the final approach, or they risk having the following 737 a bit too close for comfort.

A good evening, and no near misses ; I hope I can keep the examiner happy tomorrow night.


Online ATC simulations

I'm obviously biased because I am a member of Vatsim, but there are a number of online ATC simulations out there. These are the ones I know so far

VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network)
IVAO (International Virtual Aviation Organisation)
FPI (Flight Project International)


What on earth is this?

Once upon a time, when personal computers were young, someone wrote a programme that would simulate flying on a PC. The first flight sims had wire frame graphics and were slow and clunky, but gradully they became more refined, until with the arrival of Microsoft Flight Simulator, the world of flight simulation opened up to the masses of home computer users.

But even with modern technology the computer pilot flew alone, with only AI aircraft and the most basic of air traffic control. Then multiplayer capabilities allowed him (or her) to fly on the internet with other pilots, and suddenly he was not alone.

And with all these aircraft buzzing around in cyberspace, someone was needed to stop them crashing into one another. And so, online ATC simulation was born. While the pilots sit at home with their on-screen cockpits, ATC simmers sit behind their simulated radar screens watching the blips - each one representing a real person flying his simulated aircraft - and giving them the directions to get to their destination safely.

This site is dedicated to the online ATC simmers. While written from the point of view of one particular organisation, VATSIM, it aims to become a resource for online ATC and pilots everywhere.

Read and enjoy, and more importantly, come and join us!

Ruth McTighe
Deputy Director, Vatsim-UK