22 May, 2010


One of my hobbies is aviation. For those of you who aren't aware of it, there's a community of virtual pilots and air traffic controllers who interact on the VATSIM network. VATSIM's motto is "As real as it gets". It's open interpretation, of course, but it's definitely as real as it gets when you throw a bunch of aviation geeks together. There's a code of conduct and certain rules that must be followed by pilot and controller alike, but the big difference is that controllers have to pass a series of tests and "over the shoulders" sessions before they can occupy certain positions. This, of course, means that any schmuck can fly on VATSIM, but only certain people can become controllers. I do both, but find controlling the most frustrating when pilots don't hold up their end of the bargain. When I control, I deal with pilots who start taxiing all on their own without even contacting me on tower. I send them a "contact me" message saying something like "N1234A, you need to request clearance before taxiing, sir." Nine times out of ten, these pilots reply "Oh, I didn't see any controllers online." BULLSHIT!. When I look at their statistics, I usually see that they've logged well over 100 hours of time on VATISM. I absolutely cannot believe that they've logged that much time without knowing how to find if a controller is online. It truly pisses me off. Then they usually request a departure runway that isn't currently active. "N1234A, if you had listened to the ATIS frequency, you would have known what runways were active." Now don't be thinking that I'm being a dickhead, when I see a new pilot online, I help them as much as I can. It's the experienced pilots not doing what they're supposed to be doing that make me angry. People fly and control on VATSIM for the realism that they might not otherwise be able to experience. VATSIM is NOT a free flight network. Another thing that gets me riled up is how controllers have to meet certain standards before they can control a position, but any jackass can fly on the network. There are basic rules a pilot is supposed to abide by while flying on the network, but it's rare that any of the newer pilots actually follow the rules. Hell, it's a good day when a new pilot even knows the basics of flying. In the real world, a student pilot will start out in a Piper Cub, Cessna Skyhawk or some other simple, single engine airplane. They learn the basics of flight such as what makes an airplane fly and what the primary instruments are and how they're used. These new pilots will fly traffic patterns at their home airport, take their first "solo" flight (meaning they fly a traffic pattern without their instructor sitting next to them) and eventually get their private pilot certificate. From there on out, it's a matter of learning. Learning how to fly by instruments, learning how to fly multiple engine aircraft etc. In the virtual flight world, it used to be almost exactly the same thing. There were differences to be sure, such as civilian flight sims and combat flight sims, but they all had virtual training programs that would teach a virtual pilot almost the same thing as a real pilot would be learning. That's where I started out. The first simulator I ever flew in was Air Warrior II. I then bought Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator and found it wouldn't run on the computer I had at the time. With the next computer purchase I jumped to Combat Flight Simulator 2 (WWII Pacific) and logged more hours than I care to count. Aerial combat was a part of it, but most of the people I met were mostly interested in the flying part of it, not the shooting part. We flew countless island hops around the South Pacific and somehow I became the default leader for these flights. I don't think it was because of any spectacular leadership skills, it was most likely because I knew how to get where we wanted to go. You see, after the initial noob excitement of being able to shoot down virtual aircraft piloted by real people, I wanted to learn more about flying. So, I went on a quest to learn more. I learned about fuel usage, trim, navigation and other basic things. I don't like not knowing how something works so when I don't know how something works, I teach myself. Things progressed to the point where if you threw me in a real airplane (a relatively simple general aviation aircraft mind you) I could fly it fairly well. So when I found out about VATSIM and finally got the nerve to sign up (it's free), I already had the skills needed to fly on the network without causing any problems. All I really needed to learn was how to interact with ATC. The initial contact with a real person working ATC was nerve wracking, but I did it and realized that it wasn't as complicated as I thought it would be. After flying on the network for awhile, I began to wonder how ATC worked, so I signed up to be a controller. Even before I became a virtual controller, I was appalled at the lack of skill many pilots had. For many that I chatted with, their first simulator was Flight Simulator X (FSX) and they had never flown online before. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that; we all start somewhere. But us old hands of flight sims, kind of look down on the new pilots and think of them as morons. You, in the back. What was your question? "Why do you look down on them?" Good question, and I have a solid answer for you. Most of the new pilots, at some time, got the urge to purchase a flight sim and do some flying. They install the sim, select a Boeing 767 and fly from point to point. Direct. Via GPS. *groan* Most of them never take advantage of the excellent tutorials that come with the simulator. Therefore, they have absolutely no clue what VORs, NDBs and airways are. Every flight is direct via GPS. Take offs and landings are purely by luck. And since the majority of the flights are done by auto pilot they begin to think that they "know how to fly". In reality, all they know how to do is set the auto pilot. That's all fine and dandy for them until they hear about this online flying thing called "VATSIM" and they look into it. I originally thought that with the amount of documentation on VATISM's website, only those pilots truly interested in learning how to do things the right way would get through. I was wrong. Almost totally wrong. Much like license agreements during software installation, these new pilots simply clicked the "Next" button without reading anything. Thinking they know all there is to know about flying, these noobs wind up at a major airport, like the one I work at as a tower controller, and start to cause headaches. They'll call for clearance "as filed" with a flight plan (if they actually filed a flight plan in the first place) that makes no sense at all. Of course, this is assuming they actually contact a controller to begin with. Here's a typical scenario. A pilot will contact me and request IFR clearance to so-and-so airport "as filed". Since new pilots never contact you until you're busy with a bunch of other aircraft, you tell them "N1234A, clearance on request. Stand by." Not having read any of the training material available to pilots, the new pilot doesn't have any idea that clearance requests are at the bottom of the priority list. So, they call you for clearance yet again. As you're trying to jockey around three aircraft on final approach to three different runways. Once I finally get a chance to look over the noob's flight plan, I see it's either GPS direct, or some standard, pulled off the internet, flight plan. With the GPS direct flight plans, a controller will, at the very least, know it's a new pilot and can take appropriate action to help the new pilot. Slightly annoying, but hey, we all start somewhere. It's the jerks with the pay-ware airliners who can be the most annoying. They learn how to start the aircraft and program the FMS (Flight Management System. Basically a really fancy "auto pilot") then program the FMS with whatever flight plan they pulled off of Vroute. Whatever controller is doing clearances (ATC service on VATSIM is from the top down) will look at the flight plan and, if it's a noob pilot, the controller will usually sigh and wonder how much time they have left before the migraine sets in. As a Delivery, Ground or Tower controller, it isn't a big deal. It's when these noobs get to the Departure and Enroute Controllers where problems begin to mount. A noob pilot can download a flight plan that makes absolutely NO sense to them, program it into the FMS, turn on the auto pilot and fly the whole planned route without problem. The departure controller gets the first inkling of mayhem unless the delivery, ground or tower (from here on out referred to as local control) controller catches the flight plan glitches and corrects them with the pilot. Not knowing any better, a noob pilot will download and file a flight plan horribly out of date. Departure procedures that haven't existed in five years, VORs that have been renamed, fixes that no longer exist etc. Local controllers will be pulling their hair out while dealing with the noob pilot because the noob doesn't have the most basic flying skills. They'll file, for example, the O'Hare One departure procedure. O'Hare is currently using the O'Hare FOUR, departure procedure. But looking up charts, airport diagrams and learning how to navigate is just too much work ya know. So, after much banging of heads against walls by local controllers, a somewhat reasonable flight plan is filed. OK, the noob finally gets off the ground. The tower will say something akin to "N1234A, contact Chicago departure on 118.10. Good day." The noob will reply "Departure on 118.10. N1234A." It seems good, but things can still be deceiving. It doesn't take any skill to parrot instructions back to a controller. Immediately after departure, even a noob pilot can follow instructions. "N1234A, Chicago departure. Radar contact 1,200. Turn left heading 040. climb and maintain 15,000." It's after that point where the noobs become a real pain in the ass. Controllers are like any other employee. They want to do things as efficiently as possible. Therefore, they're going to give as few instructions as possible. "N1234A, cleared direct Grand Rapids." Here's where things get messy. ATC is all about phraseology. "Cleared direct Grand Rapids" means the pilot is cleared to fly direct to the Grand Rapids VOR. But the pilot's first waypoint is an intersection named "Petty" and the program in the FMS is Petty, GRR, etc. The noob has no clue what to do. They don't know how to reprogram their fancy FMS in mid-flight. What about the VOR frequency? Oh, yeah. The noob never bothered to learn about something as simple as flying to and from VORs. A very basic skill learned by all real world pilots from the very beginning. Personally, I use an FMS, but I also know from my flight plan (which I actually plan myself) what VORs are enroute to my destination. I have at least one (two whenever possible) tuned in at all times. I always know where I am, in at least a general sense. A controller is usually going to clear you direct to something initially. Most likely, it will be whatever is next in the flight plan. Be it an intersection, NDB, VOR or GPS fix. A controller will also expect a pilot to be able to actually FLY the flight plan they filed. If your aircraft's equipment or your own skill only allow you to fly direct from one VOR to the next, it's probably not a good idea to put a bunch of fixes and intersections into your flight plan. Unfortunately, I see this crap way too much. Most virtual pilots and controllers are men. It's not sexist, it's just that women are either not interested in being an aviation geek, or they're too scared to admit it. Whatever. So, men not wanting to admit that they're lost won't say "unable" when given direct to something they have no way of finding. The proper procedure would be "N1234A, cleared direct Petty." "Departure, N1234A is unable direct Petty." (even though the idiot had Petty intersection in their flight plan.) The noob pilot will respond "Departure, uhhh.... request vectors Petty." Great. Just fuckin' great. A controller who is already overloaded with aircraft now has to hold some idiot's hand and guide him step by step to a way point which should have never been in the flight plan to begin with. You get the idea. The rest of the noob's flight is going to be similar. An approach controller will try and reduce his/her workload by clearing the noob for a visual approach, weather permitting of course, only to find out that the noob pilot has no clue where he is in relation to the destination airport. Again, the controller has to hold this dipshit's hand all the way down. Once on the ground, the local controllers will realize the noob doesn't have an airport diagram and is unable to find his way around the airport's taxiways. More hand holding. It's the job of a virtual controller on VATSIM to provide as much assistance as possible to the aircraft under his/her control (again, it's mostly men controlling.) But pilot's should be held to at least some basic standards. Christ, they should, at the minimum, be able to tune in a VOR and fly to it. But no, they can't. Because in the virtual flying world, you don't have to start at square one. You can start right at the airliners. Even if you can't navigate your way across the fucking room. As a controller, it is very, very difficult to not let my frustration come through over the frequency. I had some fuck face tonight sit at the gates for 30 minutes before he filed a flight plan. When he did file a flight plan, I could tell it was a very old flight plan and wasn't even relevant anymore. But, it was slow and I could clear him "as filed" if only to get him the hell out of my airspace ASAP. Well, this jackass didn't call for clearance or even contact me at all. He pushed back and started taxiing wherever he wanted to. I checked his stats and saw that he had logged over 530 hours on VATSIM. I eventually sent him a "Contact me" message and when I did, I saw his aircraft stop in its tracks. He contacted me, finally, with the worn out "Tower, N1234A with you." I replied, "Sir, you need to request clearance before starting taxi." I got the old "Oh, you didn't send me a message so I thought I didn't need to contact you." crap. "N1234A, it is the pilot's responsibility to contact ATC." Of course, I got "Well I didn't see you online". "N1234A, you have logged over 530 hours on VATSIM. You should know by now how to see what controllers are online." I hate being a dick like that, but this idiot had no excuse for not contacting me. He knew I had him cornered as soon as I mentioned how much time he had logged. It's information readily available to anyone who wishes to look for it. I frequently look at pilots' stats to get an idea of what kind of skills they might possess. This moron requested clearance "as filed" to KJFK. Even though his first way point was no longer valid for the O'Hare Four departure procedure, I knew it would be like pulling teeth to explain things to him. So, I cleared him as filed. He was told to expect runway 10 for departure since that was near where he stopped when I forced him into contacting me. He had the balls to request runway "35L" for departure. O'Hare doesn't have a 35L. It has a 32L, but it didn't matter. Because 9R and 10 were the active departure runways per local procedure. I told him "N1234A, if you had listened to the ATIS broadcast, you would have know which runways were active. ATIS available on 135.40". Then he really knew he was up against the wall. He cooperated very nicely after that. Even followed the taxi instructions to the letter. I cleared him for take off and once he was off, I sent him over to the advisory frequency (a VATSIM thing. Don't ask. Google it.) He then started apologizing for having "internet problems" which meant he wasn't going to bother actually FLYING his route. He would slew up to his cruising altitude and blame it on "lag". Fucking morons. They can't navigate, they can't communicate and they most certainly can't fucking fly. If you took half of the fuckin' hose bags on VATSIM out of their airliners and put them into Cessnas and told them to fly from one VOR to the next. They wouldn't be able to do it. And they wouldn't even have the slightest desire to learn how to do it. I find that very sad. And very fuckin' pathetic.