Monday, December 6, 2010

General Meeting: PilotEdge ATC Simulation Network

At this month's general meeting, we had a fascinating presentation from Keith Smith, the brains behind PilotEdge ATC simulation network.

So, what is an "ATC simulation network"? Basically, it is a plug-in software for popular flight simulators (X-plane, Flight Simulator 9/X) that gives you access to a virtual network of air traffic controllers who provide ATC services during your simulated flight.

Some people may be familiar with VATSIM, which tries to do something similar with uneven success. Think of PilotEdge as a dramatically more advanced version---a "shrink-wrapped" product vs an open-source (volunteer) effort.  So, what are some of the advantages of PilotEdge?
  • 15/7 guaranteed ATC presence
  • Real controllers (PilotEdge has real---off-duty, retired, etc.---or equally well trained controllers directing traffic just as they would in the "real world") working off of realistic "radar" screens.
  • Limited geographic coverage. This may sound like a negative, but it is in fact a plus. By limiting geographic coverage, it effectively concentrates the simulated traffic, making it a more realistic training environment.  It also ensures effective ATC coverage as well.
And the last bullet point is critical. VATSIM is basically a hobbyist's toy.  PilotEdge is intended to be a real training environment, especially for IFR flying.

Keith started off the presentation with a question: "What's the difference between a IFR student pilot and an ATP?" His answer was "the ATP's experience in navigating the system." This strikes true. Very few newly minted instrument pilots have a lot of experience flying "in the system." This means that they don't know how to translate what they are hearing over the radio into a clear mental picture of what is going on in the airspace around them---basically low situational awareness. They are not hearing, the radio chatter. The only way to gain that ability is through experience. And PilotEdge seeks to do just that by plugging pilots flying simulators into a realistic "virtual" ATC environment that has professional controllers directing virtual traffic in real time.

Perhaps some people saw their demo at Precision Flight Controls at the AOPA summit. But seeing (or actually hearing) is believing. I can see how this would have been incredibly beneficial during my IFR training, and how it can be useful in keeping at least one aspect of IFR flying sharp (situational awareness) through sim flying.

Very interesting presentation indeed.

A few samples:


  1. At the time the presentation was made, PilotEdge only had a pilot client for X-Plane. We are now working on the FS9/X client and expect it to be ready for public beta testing in mid February. Keep an eye on the front page of the site or on the Facebook page for updates.

    Thanks for having me at PFC, I had a good time telling your members about it!

    Keith Smith
    PilotEdge Founder

  2. It took longer than expected, but the FS9/X client (alpha release) is now available.