This Wednesday, we were fortunate enough to have Keith Smith from PilotEdge back. Keith joined us a little over a year ago to share with us the progress he was making in creating a professional ATC environment for simulators. PilotEdge launched last October, and he provided us with a demo.
In a nutshell, PilotEdge provides a way for popular flight simulator programs (Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, Flight Simulator X, X-Plane, or Lockheed Martin Prepar3D) to connect to the PilotEdge network. Each simulated flight sends information about the aircraft (type, position, heading, speed, etc.) to the PilotEdge network, which in turn relays the data to other simulators connected to the network. The other simulators will then properly animate any nearby aircraft. The level of detail is such that things like whether or not the gears are down, or the landing lights or strobes are on, are correctly rendered as well. If this was it, it would just be a nice MMOG for flight simulators.
Where PilotEdge becomes a real training tool is the way they simulate radio communications. In effect, they operate a virtual ATC environment staffed with real live controllers that communicate in real time with each pilot connected to the PilotEdge network as if the pilot was actually flying in a real ATC environment—they provide the entire ATC environment from clearance, ground and tower, to departure, enroute and approach control. And their staff are well trained (we are told that there are a few retired controllers, a few controllers-in-training, and a few aviation enthusiasts who have gone through extensive training from PilotEdge), and the ATC environment they create is convincing.
It's hard to describe just how realistic the session can be so here are a few live audio clips from our session:
First "N736ZV" requests clearance for a local practice ILS approach, receives the clearance, taxies (gets lost a bit), takes off and gets handed off to departure control:
Then "N736ZV" is vectored to intercept the ILS approach back into the airport, is handed back to tower control for a landing:
These are both nearly an hour's worth of radio communications with all the white space taken out, but you get a sense of how realistic the exchange is. It's realistic enough to give one mic fright. (It was rather comical watching members trying to avoid being the guinea pig for the demonstration. And when one finally volunteered, there was more than a moment or two of hesitation before hitting the transmit key—just like in real life.)
Another example of how realistic this can be, if you make a mistake the controllers will gently (or not so gently) correct you as they might in real life (listen to the exchange starting at around 1:30):
And they will also allow you to simulate emergencies as well, and the controllers will respond to your emergency as controllers might in real life.
PilotEdge potentially very interesting and useful training tool. The "virtual" airspace that they provide is limited to the West Coast currently—a necessity both to keep staffing practical, and traffic density high enough to make it worthwhile as a training experience. Keith indicates that the next airspace will be the northeast, although he didn't elaborate on the timing. Even if these aren't the skies you normally fly, it is a great way to get comfortable flying in the ATC "system," sharing the sky with other traffic, or simply polishing up those radio skills.