In order to fly on line, you need to download and install your preferred pilots client.
VATSIM supports users of these simulators:
- Microsoft Flight Simulator (from version 2002 up to FSX, Windows)
- Flight Simulator (Steam edition, Windows),
- Lockheed Martin Prepar3D (Windows),
- X-Plane (Android, iOS, Linux, macOS and Windows),
- (B747 simulator)
Most of these flight simulators base on the Microsoft development. First created by SubLogic back in the 1980th, the first three in this list create an own dynasty of Flight Simulators; or to say it simple: the mother of all sims. However, X-Plane is also a very good sim but works completely different, therefore not compatible with the standard add-ons for the Microsoft palette. Those four sims are mostly used in the community especially if it comes to flying online. While the original Microsoft Flight Simulator should be completely out of market now (you might find some CD's of FSX still around), the Steam edition and Prepar 3D are alike (although on different simulation levels). However, since MS Flight Simulator is not developed anymore, you might look for the Steam edition (which still has a development team), line-up with the Lockheed Martin Version (more pro-alike and not that low on price), or try X-Plane.
As mentioned, X-Plane is different, but the graphical results speak for themselves. A great sim. X-Plane has an own architecture and therefore is not compatible with the Microsoft Sim addons. But there is a huge palette for addons for X-Plane too. And, as mentioned, the pictures speak for themselve. The mentioned B747 Simulator is something for the hardcore simulator fans.
Speaking about addons: you will need a bit of software and licenses parallel to the simulator you choose to get a flight done correctly. I would like to mention the AIRAC Cycles. These deliver a set of airways following the real ones. This is a really needed investment since the AIRAC Cycles change nearly every month in some areas. And while flying IFR you need to have a flight plan based on these cycles. Standard Instrument Departures (SID) and Standard Arrival Procedures (STAR) change. And if the Air Traffic Control clears your approach on a STAR, the flight management system needs to be programmed.
The flight simulators deliver a set of approx. 21.000 airports and fields around the globe. Surely, these fields are designed under the light of saving space in the simulators. And let's face it, the last grass strip might not look like the original. But all Flight Sims can be "pimped" with further sceneries to enhance the realistic look. You need to decide again and again if you would like to add a realistic airport to your scenery collection or other graphical enhancements. While the sims are not too expensive (starting by approx. 20 Eur), buying those enhancements can become a heavier load on your account...
What you need is an aircraft capable of flying realistic. Each simulator comes with a selection of smaller or bigger aircrafts. But it's the same with the airfields: if you would like a realistic 737, you need to buy this extra.
Coming to a bit of hardware: It would be best to invest in a headset for the communication with other pilots and ATC. Such a headset costs starting by a few Euros. We recommend to connect the headset via USB.
To connect with VATSIM, your simulator needs to have a pilots client software installed and configured. The client connects to VATSIM, exchanges your VATSIM user credentials and then starts to display e.g. other aircrafts and the weather on your system. Furthermore, it is the communication platform for e.g. air traffic control.
Important: these clients are coming free to use, but you have to pay for it with READING THE MANUAL of your pilots client. Normally, the client needs to be adapted to your system in their settings.
The main software applications are available for download free of charge. VATSIM currently support two software packages for pilots. Squawkbox and FS INN. We suggest you download them both and install them then choose the one you prefer, there is no harm in them both residing on your hard disc at the same time.
If you want to interact with ATC and other pilots by voice, rather than by text you need a stand alone voice program called Advance Voice Client. (this is however built in with Squawkbox version 3)
For pilots flying with any iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator and Prepar3D, we recomend to use vPilot; for XPlane, Xsquawkbox is currently the one to choose.
We have marked FSInn in brackets: while still available and being quite good as client for older sims (up to FS X), the software development stopped a few years ago. Although being equipped with quite neat features, you should consider to switch to vPilot, since this one is actually in development and kept up-to-date.
Installing a pilots client unfortunately is not enough to see other aircrafts in the beauty of their livery. The reason for it is simple: your flight simulator doesn't have the right livery for each airline and aircraft preinstalled. Therefore, the setup simply can't define the correct view to the other aircraft coming via the net to your sim. You need to install further packages of AI aircrafts to come to that benefit.
This all is completely written in the documents of the pilot clients. And especially XPlane users NEED to read the manuals...
You don't need to come online first to find out if your chosen airport faces traffic. There are a couple Offline Readers that display the currently connected members and their stations.FS Navigator, some will love it others will not, however there is no doubt this is one of the best add on programs ever developed for Flight Simulator. The trial version allows you to run it 20 times before having to register. We suggest you try it out.
These two programs (we recommend QuteScoop) transfer the online information to your screen. The traffic is updated every few seconds and therefore you can see what the other members are heading to...
We would like to also mention
When you fly on line IFR you obviously need to follow certain routing or waypoints to get from point A to point B, one way is to write all the waypoints and routes by reading Aeronautical enroute charts, but the easiest way is to use on of the Route Planning Tools around. vroute is the newest and indisputably the best freeware route planning tool available. And for those who want extra services, vroute also offers a premium service when it comes to flight plans.
Tools for Flight Sims
We also would recommend a few tools to embed in your flight simulator
FSTramp might be not known by all: it is the successor of FSNavigator. Although not freeware, it helps you to identify the area around you with the current aircrafts in your vicinity. But furthermore, you also have a view on the navigation aids. Recommended.
Another "oldie" in flight simulation is FSUIPC, an addon to your Microsoft Flight Simulator (and Prepar3D). FSUIPC opens a bunch of new setup function in your flight sim. Most recommended is the autosave-function...
When you fly on line, you will want to fly using the real weather at any given time and place. To achieve this you can make use of the built in Weather generated by FSINN or Squawkbox or enhance this weather by making use of one of the existing pay ware utilities that can be downloaded on various sites. there are several to chose from, but the most generally used are Active Sky, and FSMeteo.
When you fly on line IFR you obviously need to follow certain routing or waypoints to get from point A to point B, one way is to write all the waypoints and routes by reading Aeronautical on route charts, but the easiest way is to use on of the Route Planning Tools around. VRoute is the newest and indisputably the best free ware route planning tool available.
Route Planning Tools(s)
We strongly urge all new pilots to visit and read the various very informative chapters and lessons on the VATSIM Pilot Resource Center. These are written in English but there are links to different language files to be found.
Finally VATSIM network help and support can be found at the official VATSIM forums
Content updated: 12. March 2018.