Orbx Volanta is a virtual flight tracker, made by Orbx. I’ve had access to it now for a couple of months, and seen the tool progress a lot. In this first look article, I want to give you my thoughts on Volanta and tell you how it works.
Let’s begin with the latter part: how does Volanta work? Volanta integrates perfectly with your flight simulator, Prepar3D v5 in my case. This even happens when you’re not actively using it, but instead just have it running in the background. When you load up your sim and have selected your aircraft, Volanta will automatically add this aircraft (recognised by registration and type) to your fleet. In much the same fashion, Volanta will also keep track of your flights. If you fly from anywhere to anywhere, Volanta will log this as a flight too.
The interface of Volanta is simple and easy to use. It consists of a map, on which several different views, or cards, as well as overlays can be shown. These cards can be your flight and fleet information, or airport information. Airport information contains statistics, such as your number of visits to said airport, which will give you a certain airport ranking. It also shows the online capabilities for the airport, such as VATSIM or IVAO controllers that may or may not be online. A nice little feature also available in the airport statistics is the top users for every month.
Other map overlays that can be enabled or disabled, is who you can see flying on the map. You can limit this to nobody, to Volanta, to VATSIM and IVAO users and more. You can also show VATSIM coverage areas here. A feature that I personally find quite useless is the overlay of navdata on the map. The map has the ability to show fixes, navaids and airways. I suppose you could plan a flight using Volanta, but I personally never manually look up my airways and fixes, and always have a tool calculate a route for me. I believe the navdata is supposed to update with your Navigraph subscription, but after several cycles I am still stuck on cycle 1908.
The map interface works like a charm. There is a high refresh rate, and it is very easy to see your friends or strangers fly. Everything scrolls and translates very smoothly. The airplane icons themselves are fun to see who is flying where, and I was surprised to see someone crossing the ocean in a Concorde which has its own little icon. A nice little gimmick that the map has, is 3D mode. You can pan the map around and see people fly in 3D over the map, following their flight path.
I’ve already discussed Volanta’s passive flight tracking, but you can also do more active flight tracking. Once you have loaded up your sim, Volanta will recognise this and automatically set your starting point and aircraft. You can edit these though, should you so desire. In the open ‘Active Flight’ window, you can fill in the details of your flight, such as flight number, callsign, destination and alternate airport. Probably one of my favourite features of Volanta, is that it has SimBrief integration, and will automatically prefill your Simbrief data if you have created a flight plan there. You can also simply import a flight plan from your files or paste a route if you prefer. If you have a flight plan that contains a route, the map will show an overlay of your planned route.
Volanta offers challenges. At the moment, these seem more like an afterthought than anything else. The country tracker is not momentarily working, and the challenges themselves don’t appear very fun. Some of them consist of using real world procedures, whereas others simply tell you to ‘fly from A to B’. Once you’ve completed a challenge, you get a badge for this, but other than that there is no reward system. An option to do community challenges or create your own would perhaps be a nice addition.
Volanta would probably have a hard time breaking into the market if it had no data import options, and luckily, it does. You can import your flight data from projectFLY, SimToolKitPro and multiplayer networks. I’ve tried importing my projectFLY data, but it seems this consists of a cumbersome and manual process. Not entirely the fault of Volanta, as projectFLY’s data export is apparently incomplete for Volanta, but regardless, it’s a bit of a pain to make the shift.
Overall, I am really impressed with how smooth Volanta works. The interface is rather fast, intuitive and nice to use. Most of the available features seem to work quite well, though I have also encountered some hiccups. It’s hard to tell what way I want Volanta to go to the future, as for me personally, I will only use it for flight and fleet tracking. I personally do not care for planning flights through Volanta, such as is available in other tools that offer a similar feature set. To that extent, I hope Volanta won’t become an EFB like app, but I am of course not the only user. If anything, regardless of what features get added, I hope it will stay true to its simple design and user friendliness.
With having that said, I do think there are still some improvements to make in that regard. There is currently no way to bulk edit data (such as removing flights), or the ability to view these in a good interface that gives you a good overview of your recent flights. Currently, the flights list is limited to a small flight map overlay that lists only a few of your recent flights. And though the passive flight tracking is a nice feature, it would also be nice if Volanta could ‘ignore’ certain planes. I do not care to have the F-35 show up in my planes list when I load up the sim to test out sceneries or settings.
But concluding, I am very happy with the featureset that Volanta provides, and the way it provides them. And because Orbx is behind this tool, I am feeling very certain about the future of the tool and its future developments and stability.