It is a peaceful evening in the sky over Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The air is still, barely a hint of cloud above. Visibility stretches for miles. The conditions are perfect for the flight. In fact, air traffic control has just told the pilot that he is ready to take off. The sky is the limit, it seems. But the controller isn’t sitting at O’Hare, and neither is the pilot. They are located thousands of miles apart, united by a Discord channel and a multiplayer server for Microsoft Flight Simulator, both operated by a bustling community known as fsATC, or flight simulator air traffic control.
Trained in summer 2019, fsATC is one of the many communities that have developed around flight simulators with the goal of keeping the game as realistic as possible.
You may remember stepping into the cockpit of a classic version of Microsoft Flight Simulator and buzzing eiffel tower or landing on the Golden Gate Bridge– the kind of reckless feats that only become possible in a video game. Members of the fsATC and other members of the flight sim community would prefer not to have the daredevil skies. Instead, they fly while remaining grounded in reality. Air traffic controllers keep an eye on flight conditions and are responsible for clearing flight plans offered by pilots looking to complete a trip. Success is declared when a plane lands safely at its designated destination.
If that sounds a little trite, well, consider it a virtue. When all is well – when air traffic controllers and pilots cooperate – planes take off and land without a hint of a problem. The community as a whole operated on a similar premise: as long as everyone kept the spirit cooperative, it continued to grow. It worked until a founding member of the fsATC, like a pilot flouting air traffic control instructions, decided to go rogue and veered straight into the turbulence that rocked the entire community.
Evan Reiter, actual airline pilot and co-founder of Flight simulation associationâAn organization dedicated to growing the flight sim community â says flight simulators, a relatively forgotten genre of games that seemed relegated to memories in the early 2000s, have been given a new lease of life in recent years. This is largely thanks to the release of Flight simulator, a reboot of the classic Microsoft title that dropped last year. The two versions of Flight simulator available via SteamâMicrosoft Flight simulator X and the most recent Microsoft Flight SimulatorâAn average of over 6,500 simultaneous players combined at any given time, according to SteamCharts. This is enough to place the games in the top 100 most played games.
âThere has been an influx of people, new ideas and support for the flight simulation enthusiast with the recent Microsoft Flight Simulator release, âsays Reiter. “We saw a lot of new slow cookers, but also a lot of people who had given up on the hobby come back, both because of the new version and the pandemic.”
One of the main draws of the title is the emphasis on realism and the ability of modern computers to reliably deliver a simulation experience. According to Reiter, the title has “gone much further into the real world, both gaming and aviation, than other simulator platforms.” He says he has seen more people involved in the aviation industry, “from aerospace engineers to airline pilots,” talk about flight simulation, and Flight simulator is the biggest engine.
Reiter says the flight sim community has done such a solid job of faithfully replicating the flying experience that he thinks some “could possibly manage to get an aircraft to fly, at least for a while and under the right conditions.” – although he notes that he ‘I prefer to stay on the ground for these flights.
A community takes off
A member of the fsATC community who calls himself DorkToast said he was sucked into realism after briefly becoming obsessed with all the ins and outs of air traffic control. âI’ve been there and you had these people ranging from real pilots to real air traffic controllers doing this in their free time because they love air traffic control,â he explains of his first visits. to the fsATC Discord.