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Pilots – Your Guide to Getting Ready for VATSIM Cross the Pond

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VATSIM’s largest event, Cross the Pond, takes place twice a year: once in March and once again in October. As the name implies, the event is all about crossing the pond (the Atlantic Ocean) with full ATC coverage from departure to arrival. It’s an event that has grown year-on-year, with more and more people taking part.

Seeing hundreds of planes fly across the ocean with such unison is exciting and there’s a real sense of community and realism as you see plenty of aircraft light up your TCAS. With the event growing bigger and bigger, we wanted to provide a small guide to help you be as prepared as possible for the event.

The next event is taking place on Saturday April 4th 2020 and the primary direction is westbound. This means that the departure airports are primarily European based, with the traffic due to head west to America.

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Cross the Pond Eastbound 2018 // Credit: Reddit [User: CStoEE]

This guide will be broken down into several sections. We’re always listening to feedback, so if there is anything additional to add, then let us know. We want this guide to be useful for as many people as possible getting involved into flight simulation or new to the VATSIM network.

  • Appropriate Aircraft
  • Cross the Pond 2019 Eastbound Airports (and add-ons to buy)
  • Pilot Clients / Model Matching
  • VATSIM Conduct, Filing a Flight Plan, NATs and Best Practice
  • Other helpful resources

Appropriate Aircraft

Cross the Pond, as mentioned above, means this event is all about crossing the Atlantic Ocean. As a large body of water, covering thousands of miles, it’s in your interest to have aircraft that are capable of being able to travel such distance.

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Common aircraft include wide-bodies such as the Boeing 747, Boeing 777, Airbus A330 and A350. Don’t feel limited to flying only those types of aircraft, but do keep in mind that you need something that can fly for the distances comfortably. It’s also worth keeping in mind that you may be held above your arrival airport for a bit before landing, so will need plenty of fuel in the tanks for reserve.

Here’s a list of some aircraft that would be typically seen as suitable for you have to complete your Cross the Pond journey.

P3D/FSX

QualityWings Simulation Ultimate 787

PMDG 747 Queen of the Skies II

PMDG 777

Blackbox Simulations A330/340 Prologue

X-Plane 11

JAR Design A330

Magknight 787

FlightFactor 777

VMAX Boeing 767 Professional

Of course, the list above isn’t exhaustive and there are plenty of choices and options out there. The more experienced amongst you will know the capabilities of your aircraft, so perhaps you fancy taking the Boeing 757 or even the Airbus A321 over the ocean.

When choosing an aircraft, it is super important that you are comfortable with the aircraft, how it handles and how to comply with an instruction such as turning heading or adjusting your speed. The airspace will be very busy, so you should endeavour to be as familiar as possible. Why add to the pressure of learning a new aircraft during this event? Instead, take up something you’re familiar with or do some testing beforehand. I cannot stress this point enough.

Cross the Pond 2019 Eastbound Airports (and add-ons to buy)

Being an eastbound event means that the departure airports will be primarily in the USA. Before each event, the community is given the chance to vote on the airports they would like to see featured. The arrival airports in Europe are voted for in the same manner.

What this means is that there are ‘slots’ available for those traveling between those specific airports (more on slots in a moment). That isn’t to say you cannot fly from another airport and take part, but it may mean you won’t get airborne in a timely fashion. We’ll go on into detail about flying with and without slots shortly.

This year, the departure airports are as follows. We have also listed some scenery you may want to add-on and install prior. Again, be sure to test your scenery first before joining the event.

KBOS Boston Airport

P3D: FlyTampa Boston Rebooted
X-Plane: MisterX KBOS Logan International Airport (Freeware)

KJFK John F Kennedy Airport (New York)

P3D: Drzewiecki Design New York Airports V2 or FSDreamTeam JFK New York V2
X-Plane: X-Codr KJFK New York (Freeware)

KMCO Orlando International

P3D: Taxi2Gate Orlando (KMCO) (no official P3D v4 support)
X-Plane: Nimbus KMCO Orlando

KMIA Miami International

P3D: LatinVFR KMIA Miami V5 (discounted)
X-Plane: Nimbus KMIA Miami

KORD Chicago O’Hare International Airport

P3D: FSDreamTeam KORD Chicago V2
X-Plane: Nimbus KORD Chicago V3

CYYZ Toronto Pearson International Airport

P3D: FlyTampa Toronto Pearson Airport
X-Plane: Globall Art CYYZ Toronto Pearson International Airport

On the other side of the pond awaits a range of UK and European airports. Again, here they are along with some add-ons you may want to consider for the event.

EHAM Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

P3D: FlyTampa Amsterdam
X-Plane: Airport Amsterdam by Aerosoft

EKCH Copenhagen Airport

P3D: FlyTampa Copenhagen
X-Plane: Renair2 EKCH Kastrup Copenhagen Airport

EIDW Dublin Airport

P3D: MK-Studios Dublin
X-Plane: Aerosoft Dublin V2.0 for X-Plane

EGLL London Heathrow

P3D: Aerosoft London Heathrow
X-Plane: Aerosoft Heathrow

EDDM Munich Airport

P3D: Taxi2Gate Munich for P3Dv4 (discounted)
X-Plane: ShortFinal Design Munich Airport

EPWA Warsaw Chopin Airport

P3D: Drzewiecki Design EPWA Warsaw Chopin Airport
X-Plane: Drzewiecki Design EPWA Warsaw Chopin Airport

Pilot Clients / Model Matching

To get online, you will need to download and install something called a ‘Pilot Client’. The client you download will depend on which simulator you will be using during the event. Two of the most popular ones are vPilot and xPilot. These tools enable you to set-up your microphone, headsets, begin the process of model matching and in general, connect you to the VATSIM network. Both vPilot and xPilot function almost identically, with vPilot being made for FSX/P3D and xPilot developed to work with X-Plane 11.

With each client, you first need to download the most recent version (or update it if you have it installed) and then log in using your VATSIM credentials. If you’re not already signed up, you can do that here. You will need to note your VATSIM CID and password, as these are what connect you to the server. Ensure you then input your name, home base and choose a server. You ideally should choose one that is closest for the best experience.

Once you have set that up, you should then do some tests with your microphone and headset to ensure that’s all connected correctly. As per the instructions on the Audio for VATSIM website, your voice should be in the green bar when talking. If it’s too high or low, adjust your mic volume accordingly. After you’ve completed that, you should now head on to the model matching tab. Everything else is really down to you as an individual.

Model Matching

Model matching can be really easy. Thanks to some incredible developers out there, we can easily add hundreds of good-looking models to our simulator to ensure we don’t see generic aircraft when connecting to the network.

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What is model matching?

When someone logs into the network, an aircraft type and airline must be selected. This information then is sent to the simulator to then display the correct model and the airline’s livery. It may not always match the exact livery the user has (for example, a special edition livery likely won’t be generated), but for general use, it works just fine.

How to correctly match up?

As mentioned above, there are a few ways in which you can add model matching rules. If you already own an AI traffic pack (e.g. Ultimate Traffic Live), then you can use those models in your simulator. Alternatively, there is a range of packs available specifically made for use for online networks such as VATSIM.

P3D Freeware Traffic Packs

FLAi

AIG AI

P3D Payware AI Traffic Packs

Flight1 – Ultimate Traffic Life

Just Flight – Traffic Global

X-Plane Traffic Packs

Bluebell OBJ8 CSL Package

Just Flight Traffic Global

How Do I Install / Model Match?

Each package is different to install and come with their own instructions. FLAi, for example, simply downloads and extracts it to your main P3Dv4 folder. Once downloaded and installed, you need to head back to your pilot client.

In vPilot/xPilot, head to the “Model Matching” tab and click scan. It should automatically detect your newly downloaded aircraft models and instruct the client to use those models when matching to callsigns and aircraft types on the network.

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There are advanced options if you have them installed outside the sim folder, as well as custom rule sets. Please refer to other tutorial guides for those instructions as that falls outside the scope for this article.

VATSIM Conduct, Best Practice, Filing a Flight Plan, NATs and Oceanic Clearance

Big topic time!

VATSIM can be an exciting world, but also very daunting. With hundreds of pilots online, it’s advised that if you’re new to the network, you spend this event observing to take part in the next Cross the Pond. That’s not to say you need to be super experienced, but it’s important you’re comfortable with the network, your aircraft and how to comply with instructions so that everyone, including you, has a good experience.

VATSIM Best Practice

Of course, there’s the VATSIM code of conduct which you must follow when flying, but here are some good things to consider:

Submit your flight plan correctly. We’ll give you some tips on how to submit it, but by getting this right will make for a smoother experience and ensure you depart sooner rather than later.

Spawn at a gate, not on the runway. Nothing more to add here. Be courteous and change position if your gate is occupied. Airports get busy and you may not be able to depart at the gate you first chose. If someone is there first, be courteous and move somewhere else.

Be patient. The event will be busy, so just be patient and await your turn. There is a lot of coordination from the controllers during this event so they may not be able to get to you straight away. If a reasonable amount of time has passed, then feel free to check-in (unless they give you a clear time frame).

Don’t butt in. Everyone on frequency should be able to hear everyone else. If someone is giving a read-back, or a controller is delivering a message, then await your turn. Don’t cut anyone off as it just makes the whole process take even longer.

Be chill. Remember, the controllers are all volunteers and are doing this for fun, just like the pilots do. Don’t get frustrated with the controller and be sure to comply with their instructions. Just because you may not see the reason why, the controllers are working with the bigger picture in mind. Work with them, they’ll work with you and everyone will have a good time.

Slots

Earlier this month, slots were made available to people to book. In short, slots have been designed to help the controllers manage the flow of traffic between the event airports. Only a limited number have been made available. If you have one, congratulations – be sure that you use it! If you don’t, not to worry, you can still take part in the event – but be prepared to possibly wait a little longer.

If you have a slot, you should ideally be at your gate and ready to go a few minutes before. You only have a limited amount of time to be ready to push once your slot hits, and if you miss it, you may face a lengthy delay (just as in the real-world).

If you do not have a slot, and wish to depart or arrive at an event airport, then you will be at the bottom of the pack. Those with slots will be given priority, but you will eventually be given some kind of clearance. There may be a break in traffic or perhaps someone didn’t turn up for their original slot. Equally speaking, you don’t have to depart or arrive from an event airport to take part. Again, be prepared to face some delays as the priority will be given to traffic traveling to and from event airports.

Filing a Flight Plan

Filing a flight plan is an important element of having a good experience during the event. There are some great tools out there to assist in ensuring you produce a realistic and accurate flight plan. We would recommend using either SimBrief (freeware) or PFPX (payware).

Whichever you choose, you will have to fill in basic details. There are plenty of tutorials out there that focus on these tools, so be sure to check them out if you need help.

As per usual CTP events, if you have booked a slot, you will receive your routing 6-12 hours before the event. This route must be used (imagine it is your airline’s ops giving you this routing) when on the event. You can then put this route into your software (SimBrief or PFPX) and then it will give you all the other bits of data you need. Once you have populated that, it’s then important you complete the Flightplan Prefile page so that controllers can see your plan. You should submit this prior to connecting to the VATSIM network.

A few tips to remember:

  • Ensure your callsign and aircraft type match what you input into your client
  • Ensure that you have accurately put in the route, with correct SID (Standard Instrument Departure)
  • Ensure you fill out details such as flight level (cruise altitude), aircraft equipment and your departure time correctly

NATs (North Atlantic Tracks)

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The NATs are the highways in the sky that go across the Atlantic. In its most simplistic form, they are simply a pre-determined set of waypoints across the ocean that offer the most efficient way for aircraft to fly. This could be based on weather or wind. The idea is to keep traffic at safe separations. The tracks themselves change on a daily basis, so on the day of the event, you will know exactly what waypoints to input into your aircraft or flight plan.

The tracks are split into different alphanumeric designations. For example, you may see on your routing NATC. This means you will travel on the ‘C’ track, which will consist of 7 different waypoints. They will consist of an entry point, an exit point and also 5 other waypoints based on coordinates over the ocean. Below is an example of what the full routing for NAT would look like.

RESNO 56/20 56/30 55/40 53/50 RIKAL

RESNO is the entry
56/20 56/30 55/40 53/50 is shorthand geographical coordinates
RIKAL is the exit point

If you’re using an aircraft that reads flight plan files produced by your flight planning software, they will import this data automatically from your flight plan. It’s always best to check. The best resource to see the current NAT information is this official government website.

When filing a flight plan on a NAT, you will also be given a cruise altitude (odd if traveling East and even if traveling West) and also a mach number. Those two things are given to you during the event at the same time you receive your route.

Unlike other waypoints, your speed and altitude must comply with what you’ve been given. You will be asked to enter your NAT at a certain altitude, which should be conformed to. Your controller may give you exception should this be possible to change. Typically, you won’t be able to step-climb in the NAT either. As for speed, you will need to ensure you have a consistent mach through each waypoint on your NAT. If the aircraft you’re flying supports this, you can program it via the FMS, or set it via your MCP.

So for example, if you’re given NATC with an entry altitude of FL360 and a mach speed of 0.82, then you should be entering the NAT at those requirements. Your FMS may look something like this.

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You then need to maintain that speed and altitude throughout the duration of the time you’re on the NAT, unless otherwise told to do so.

Oceanic Clearance and Position Reports

Perhaps one of the more complicated elements to flying across the Atlantic. Usually, once you’re in the sky, you simply cruise along being passed from controller to controller. However, when flying over a large body of water, you will have to be in contact with the controller throughout the whole crossing. Part of that communication happens also before you reach the NAT.

Requesting Oceanic Clearance is relatively easy. In most conditions, you request clearance and receive clearance whilst airborne. The controller you’re active with will clear you to change frequency and to contact the clearance controllers. In regards to what you need to request, this handy sheet will be of huge help.

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Click the image to be taken to the download page.

In essence, you will need to read to the controller your intentions (your routing, your estimated time of entry to the NAT, approved altitude and approved speed). They will then read back the information and you need to confirm. You are then handed back to the original controller and you continue as normal.

A quick tip: the TMI is found on the link I gave for the NAT tracks.

Once you are then on the track itself, you will then need to give a position report to the oceanic controller. The position report is done to make sure that everyone is where they should be and no one is where they shouldn’t. It’s used in the real-world due to the fact there is no radar covering the Atlantic so controllers can’t see where the planes are. The cheat sheet above will give you an easy way to write down the data so you can relay that to the controller on frequency.

Other Helpful Resources

Is this it? For now, yes. This is an article we intend on growing as time goes on. We’re hoping that we have covered some of the basics to get you started for the next Cross the Pond event. There is a lot to know and cover, and what we’ve gone through above is hardly scratching the service.

Saying that, there are loads of resources out there with plenty of useful tips, tricks and information that will help you have a fun and enjoyable experience on the network during Cross the Pond. Below are some of them.

AviationPro

VATSIM Oceanic Procedures Tutorial: How to Cross the Pond! [2018]

NEW Audio for VATSIM: Introduction, Basic Theory, Tips & Tricks [Tutorial]

Flightsimmer101

How to set up VPILOT and connect to VATSIM with model matching

Virtual Norwegian

Oceanic Clearance

NAT Information

Position Reports

VATSIM

Approved Software

Code of Conduct

Cross the Pond Home Page

Cross the Pond FAQ

Setting Up and Configuring xPilot

Finally…

If you have any comments, questions or feedback, let us know in the comment section and we’ll adjust the article if we feel it’s needed to assist with anyone trying to get involved. If you’re from VATSIM and need us to amend the information or clarify, please do reach out.

Good luck to all and remember: have fun.

Tags : Cross The PondGuideHelpTutorialVATSIM
Calum Martin

The author Calum Martin

I have been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of ‘2000 and have developed my love for aviation ever since. I have the knowledge and experience to really deliver an excellent aviation community. Although no real life flying experience, I have a good understanding and always learning more and more.
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