By BILL WILSON
“Skyhawk 345 make an immediate left turn to 270 for traffic!”
The urgency of those words, fired staccato like from an approach controller, mean only one thing — act now or risk a mid-air collision.
But you are not hearing them from a perch 3,000 feet above southern California. They are coming to you as you execute the turn and quicken your scan around your computer monitor to search out the conflict.
You are flying a simulator, but you are in full gaming mode.
Your computer flight is being flown at the same time other simulator pilots — perhaps dozens of them around the country — are using the same electronic airspace, which provides an eerily realistic picture of the real thing. Hence, the call for traffic.
So where did the turn command come from?
An air traffic controller, from the comfort of his den, is providing full tracking and approach control services to you and the other simulator pilots as you sweat through difficult IFR conditions. You have tapped into Pilotedge.
“It’s certainly no secret that IFR lessons in airplanes can be quite expensive,” says Keith Smith, CEO of Pilotedge. “Because of time and money considerations, a student might only get a single route clearance and couple of approachs per flight. Pilotedge is the way you can get that important practice with real time ATC without actually being in an airplane.”
Smith employs off-duty and retired FAA controllers to provide ATC services, as well as people who have never served in an ATC tower — “although we work hard to make sure that the non real-world controllers sound pretty much the same as the real ones,” he noted.
All of the Pilotedge controllers are familiar with the geographical areas represented in the simulations. Right now coverage extends to southern California, Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada.
The controllers bring their skills and professional backgrounds to the simulation world, allowing Pilotedge users to freely create the kind of flight, VFR or IFR, they want to practice. It’s as simple as dialing up the correct frequency on the sim and pushing the talk button on the yoke.
You are immediately connected to the controller on duty who will respond to your request to file flight plans, provide clearance for approaches or approve flight following. They will even respond to CTAF calls. All this as other simulator scenario traffic buzzes around.
Pilotedge supplies its services through proprietary software additions to Microsoft Flight Simulator (2004), FSX, Lockheed-Martin Prepar3rd (v 2.2 +,) and X-plane 9 or 10 for Mac, Windows, Linux 32 or 64 bit.
“Those are the most popular simulation programs,” Smith notes.
The Pilotedge website allows users to see in real time who is using sim programs in what areas. Despite the desire of many pilots to fly in traffic free skies, that rarely happens around major cities. Pilotedge makes it easy to join a scenario that is already populated, allowing the traffic mix experience to be practiced.
Pilotedge was one of the sponsors of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture 2016. Instructors there reported excellent reactions from their pilots-in-training who had the opportunity to use Pilotedge for ATC contact during their simulator scenarios.
One young pilot from southern California related that he had been using Pilotedge’s service for quite some time. His instructor was truly impressed with how easily this young man jumped into the IFR system and flew his scenario.
The youthful pilot said he joined Pilotedge at first because he was intimidated by the thought of talking to ATC. He said after about a month with Pilotedge his fear was gone and he was smoothly requesting clearances.
Other simulator pilots at the proficiency center reported their improvement in copying ATC instructions and facilitating read back. Many were surprised at how simple and straightforward dealing with ATC could be.
Pilotedge offers an introductory rate of $19.95 for the first month after a two-week free trial. According to Smith, the best way to begin your simulated ATC experience is through the website.