“Flight simulator was a vital training tool in my ongoing journey to becoming a private pilot. I was given several recommendations by simulator friends when joining my first community but found mixed levels of pilot and controller proficiency. Eventually, I did find a multiplayer community where I fit in, they overall were very friendly, accommodating of different skill levels, and had a true interest in helping each other with difficulties and problems. Boston Virtual ARTCC, or BVA, became my multiplayer home and learning environment.”

The above excerpt is from a paper entitled ‘Flying a Desk’ written by Luke, known by his BVA handle of ‘ShyFlyGuy’, about the use of FSX as a trainer to be used in hand with real-world training.

Luke joined BVA as a controller-in-training at KTUL (Tulsa, Oklahoma). Today, Luke is a fully-certified FAA controller, student pilot, and prominent member of our community.

I’ve found the virtual controllers on BVA to be very helpful and welcoming. They use the same documents and rules as those for real controllers. The government 7110.65, which establishes rules for controlling traffic, is written in a formal legal language, extremely extensive, dry, and too much to ask a virtual controller to know. The BVA SOP takes the important and useful rules from the 7110.65 and combines them with technique, and plain language to establish a quick reference document to start teaching controllers. What takes 2-3 weeks of government training is covered in basic simpler form within BVA’s ATC training materials.

Over my years with BVA, I’ve become much better at flying the simulator and many of the virtual controllers have grown to know my virtual call sign as someone who could have fun, or be serious trying to learn something new. Often I’ll seek out controllers in training and bombard them with complicated, unusual, and odd requests both for my own practice, as well as to increase their opportunity to learn.

I would rate BVA’s ATC instructor staff, administrative team, and center-level controllers a solid 9/10, putting forth lots of hard work and extra time to keep the server going as well as moderating the community and training new controllers.

Q: How long have you been a member of BVA?

Since Dec 2009.

Q: How long have you been a real-world controller? What certifications do you hold?

Real world controller since Feb 2009, Fully certified at TUL Sep 2011. Real world ratings: Airline Dispatcher (ADX), Control Tower Operator (CTO), Student Pilot (As of 8/1/13, 37.9 hours logged).

Q: Where are you currently controlling? Have you controlled other positions?

Tulsa International (KTUL) is a FAA Level 8 Tower/TRACON facility. Fully certified tower and approach controller, rotate between those positions on a daily basis.

Q: Do you consider yourself primarily a pilot or controller?

While one of the higher qualified controllers on the server, I still consider myself more of a pilot and ATC advisor. I can and occasionally do control, but since that’s my real job, I usually fly.

Q: What type of aircraft and event are your favorite to fly in BVA?

While most other members like to move heavy metal in large twinjet commercial aircraft, I’m a staple member of the bug smashing community. My preferred aircraft are all single engine 2-4 seat unpressurized aircraft, usually with a wide range of capability in speed. Most of the time I’m in the server is spent designing, organizing, testing, and flying our VFR Challenge events. These events concentrate on basic Private Pilot level skills, while seeing some of the great, and commonly overlooked scenery of FSX. I have an absolute blast coming up with these events, and flying along with other members who are learning from them.

Q: What is your favorite part about participating in our community?

I’ve been very active in the forums since the first month I joined. It’s a great place to ask questions, learn, or just have a laugh. When you only have a few minutes and don’t have time to fly, it’s a great way to keep tabs on what is going on.

Q: Are you part of any other online aviation community?

I joined a large, U.S.-based international network shortly before BVA, although stopped flying with them after the first 3 months because I wasn’t satisfied with the controllers there.

Q: Given the inherent compromises that must be made between BVA and real-world operations, how realistic do you find BVA’s ATC Standard Operating Procedures?  

BVA ATC SOPs are a decent compromise between establishing the rules for controlling traffic and creating a reference on technique to controlling traffic. The government 7110.65, which establishes rules for controlling traffic, is written in a formal legal language, extremely extensive, dry, and too much to ask a virtual controller to know. The BVA SOP takes the important and useful rules from the 7110.65 and combines them with technique, and plain language to establish a quick reference document to start teaching controllers. What takes 2-3 weeks of government training is covered in basic simpler form within the SOP.

Q: From what you have experienced, on a 1-10 scale how realistic is BVA ATC staff, in terms of phraseology, patience and control in busy situations, and following FAA real world procedures? 

BVA’s ATC instructor staff, Administrative Team, and center-level controllers are a solid 9/10, putting forth lots of hard work and extra time to keep the server going as well as moderating the community and training new controllers.

Q: What would you change, if anything about BVA’s controllers?

We need more of them! Training for ATC isn’t easy; it takes work, and effort outside of your actual time controlling in the server. BVA’s mentors and instructors are constantly flooded with requests for training, that they are hard pressed to keep up with. Sadly many controllers, while dedicated at first, don’t stick with it. Approach ratings don’t come easily, there’s a large jump in required forward thinking and planning to go along with the new concepts and verbiage. But if you can earn that Approach rating at BVA, then you’d probably do well controlling traffic in the real world.

Q: Why don’t you spend more time controlling, and teaching new controllers?

Remember I control traffic for a living, and sometimes to keep from getting burned out I just need a break from controlling. When it comes to teaching new controllers, I find it difficult to train them to the BVA standard and not the real world standard (which is higher, and more difficult). I try to help controllers who are in training by flying in their airspace while they are training, providing requests, complicated traffic, and just being another plane to control. Often I’ve coordinated with their instructor ahead of time to see just what sort of difficulties they are having, or situations they haven’t yet seen.

Q: I’m new to BVA and want to become a real world controller. How do I start controlling with BVA? How do I turn that into becoming a real world controller?

Becoming a real world controller doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a month, it takes years! Start in BVA, learn to fly in FSX by following the Pilot Ratings Program flights. Not only will this give you a familiarity with VFR flight and instrument procedures, it shows you what other pilots will be asking of you as you control. Once you’ve done that, start training to be a controller on BVA. Listen in on a controller’s frequency for an event, and see what it sounds like. Talk with SoloWingDemon and some of the ATC Mentors and Instructors, find out how long it took them to get to where they are. Read the BVA SOPs, then read them again. Get to know them backwards and forwards, once you become a real world controller you’ll have to know your SOPs and Agreements (with other facilities) without being able to look them up. Be active in your training by signing into the sessions early with questions for your mentor. Throughout the session, continue to ask questions, if you can’t get an answer right away write them down.

If you’re still serious about becoming a real world controller start learning the 7110.65 Join StuckMic.com, and read the forums there with the real controllers who debate some of the less defined points of the 7110.65. If after all this you’re still interested in controlling in the real world, look into the ATC programs offered by various colleges, otherwise known as Collegiate Training Initiatives (CTI Schools). Another route to go is via the military, if you think you’re up for it. Becoming a real world controller isn’t like any other job, it is demanding from the minute you decide it is for you, and doesn’t stop even when you’re fully certified.

Q: With all that training and hard work to become a controller, why should I still want to do the job?

Controlling is one of the most instantly gratifying jobs you can ever have. Yes the paycheck is nice, but it’s when pilots take the time to thank you on frequency for getting them through a rough situation that really makes the difference. As a controller you will never forget when you help to save someone’s life, because all you can do is talk to and help guide them.

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Lucas KaelinFAA Air Traffic Controller, Student Pilot

I joined BVA in December, 2011. At the time, I’d had my PPL for just over a year and was about halfway through my Instrument rating. Today, I have almost 200 total hours, including 15 multi hours, 50 simulated IFR hours, and 10 actual IFR hours. I’ve flown both single and multi-engine DA40, PA28, BE76, and C172 aircraft into the smallest of the small uncontrolled airports and into large, commercial fields including KIAD and KMDW. BVA has been incredibly helpful in preparing me for those experiences.

When I was looking at communities to join, the materials on BVA’s website convinced me this community would be an excellent additional training tool to aid me in my IFR training. Since then, I’ve found BVA provides a safe and realistic environment to introduce pilots to new and difficult scenarios.  From IFR approaches at minimums to radio communications that range from basic VFR requests to complex IFR clearances spoken at a mile a minute, BVA is an exceptional forum to feel comfortable shooting that NDB approach that looks just a ‘bit too intimidating’ to do in real life.

One great example of how BVA has helped me with my own training occurred at 80D (Harrison, MI). Remembering what I’ve learned from my BVA Pilot Ratings Program flights and my IFR training, I felt confident in filing my first solo IFR departure from an uncontrolled field. The IFR clearance through the FSS was unclear and I ended up confusing Minneapolis Center when I finally got airborne. A few days later, I was talking to an FAA controller and a CFII through BVA. We agreed that the clearance made no sense, and that in future, I need to be pushier to get a clearance that makes sense. BVA gave me the confidence to try that departure for the first time, and the information I needed to figure out what I need to improve the next time I try it.

Eventually I plan to make a few bucks back from my investment in training.  Ideally I plan to get my CFII and do some freelance instruction, and hopefully use that as a nice source of income during retirement.  I believe BVA will continue to be an integral part in reaching that goal, both with providing a forum to practice commercial flight maneuvers and also gaining teaching and instruction experience as an ATC mentor for our controller staff.

The best thing about BVA for me is the social aspect of the tight-knit community BVA promotes. The process of joining BVA is simple. The community is accepting of all users (young, old, new, and experienced—it doesn’t matter). These are things you can’t get from any other multiplayer gaming experience.

Q: How long have you been a member of BVA?

I joined in December, 2011.

Q: Do you consider yourself primarily a pilot or controller?

Real world pilot, virtual controller. However I will hop in a sim aircraft on the server every once in a while to brush up on a few difficult Instrument procedures and hone in my radio communications. (Or to just oogle over the NGX and LevelD!)

Q: Approximately how many hours to you spend on BVA each week?

How much do I want to? Or how much does my wife let me? 😉 Depending on the week, it will range between 5-15 hours per week.

Q: What is your favorite part about participating in our community?

The social aspect of the tight knit community BVA promotes. Unlike the rest of VATSIM or some multiplayer servers, the process of joining BVA, and the acceptance of all users both young, old, new, and experienced is something you can’t get from any other multiplayer gaming experience.

Q: Summarize what BVA is to you in two sentences or less.

BVA is a welcoming community of aviation enthusiasts led by one of the finest groups of professional & dedicated entrepreneurs around. Their commitment provides a forum for aviators around the world to congregate and experience the world of aviation from their own PC.

Q: What real-world aviation experience did you have when you joined BVA?

When I joined BVA I had my PPL for just over a year and was roughly half way complete with training for my Instrument rating. Browsing the web material, I thought BVA would be just what I would need to give me an additional training tool to aid me in my IFR training. I had no idea how much more it would offer at the time but I’ve yet to be disappointed since clicking ‘submit’ on the entry exam.

Q: How many flight hours do you currently have?

Almost 200 total, 15 multi, 50 simulated IFR, 10 actual IFR.

Q: Can you give us an example of how BVA has helped you?

One great example of how BVA has helped me with my own training occurred at 80D (Harrison, MI). Remembering what I’ve learned from my BVA Pilot Ratings Program flights and my IFR training, I felt confident in filing my first solo IFR departure from an uncontrolled field.

The FSS operator gave me a clearance involving a VOR in South Carolina (we eventually agree he heard Center wrong when he was being read the clearance) and an unclear departure instruction. It sounded fish but I bought into it, read that back, got my departure release, and away I went…

Due to the local geography, I wasn’t able to contact ZMP until I reached 4,000 heading 170 direct SPRTN. ZMP seemed upset and asked why I wasn’t on a heading of 270. I tried to explain how I was cleared, but they just said “Whatever, you’re radar contact, climb and maintain 7,000. Contact Saginaw Departure on 126….”

A few days later, I asked some of the guys I know on BVA—an FAA controller in Tulsa and a CFII from Washington—about the instructions I received. We all agreed that the clearance it was read to me made no sense. I’ve learned that the next time I get into a situation like that, I need to be more vocal about getting a clearance that makes sense. BVA gave me the confidence to try that departure for the first time, and the information I needed to figure out what I need to improve the next time I try it.

Q: In what way has BVA helped you with your real-world flight training?

BVA provides a safe and realistic environment to introduce pilots to new and difficult scenarios From IFR approaches at minimums to radio communications that range from basic VFR requests to complex IFR clearances spoken at a mile a minute, BVA is an exceptional forum to feel comfortable shooting that NDB approach that looks just a ‘bit too intimidating’ to do in real life.

Q: From what you have experienced, on a 1-10 scale how realistic is BVA’s ATC staff, in terms of phraseology, patience, and control in busy situations, and following FAA real world procedures?

I’d give it a 9.999…. No matter what we do, there is always room to learn and improve in the world of aviation. I’ve yet to fly the perfect flight, yet to have the perfect session while working ATC, and I don’t believe I ever will. However it’s that strive for perfection that keeps me coming back. The BVA admin has the right philosophy to keep things as close to the FAA standards as practical. Choosing to deviate is not done lightly and is done for the right reasons. The controller training program is spot on, and will only get better as time goes on. However, as the forums say, 0.999… = 1, so I’ll let you guys be the judge!

Q: Do you intend to pursue any additional ratings? Why or why not? If yes, do you think that BVA will be a factor in helping you achieve those ratings?

Eventually I plan to make a few bucks back from this investment. Ideally I plan to get my CFII and do some freelance instruction, and hopefully use that as a nice source of income during retirement. I believe BVA will continue to be an integral part in reaching that goal, both with providing a forum to practice commercial flight maneuvers and also gaining teaching and instruction experience as an ATC mentor for our controller staff.

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Jeremy ValentinePrivate Pilot (ASEL), IFR

I have been a member of Boston Virtual ARTCC since 2007. To me, BVA is the most realistic online flight-environment provided by a community filled with fun, passionate members who continuously explore aviation and better their knowledge. I love the passion for aviation everyone possesses; the eagerness to learn about aviation is fantastic. Whether it is pilots learning new procedures or flight techniques or controllers being exposed to various scenarios and learning how to maintain proper positive control of aircraft at all times, BVA is filled with enthusiastic members who love to have fun while also learning and becoming better at what they do.

BVA has helped with almost all my flight certificates. I’m an airline transport pilot with airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land, and instrument ratings. I am also a Flight Instructor with airplane single-engine and instrument ratings. Outside of real flight, BVA has provided the most intense, realistic environment to practice real-world flight procedures. I used BVA to keep my skills honed while also being able to practice procedures that I was not the most familiar with without placing myself at any risk. My various flight instructors had always commented on how advanced my knowledge of aviation and flight procedures had been compared to most others, and I owe a lot of that to the time spent flying and controlling on BVA.

Keeping in mind the technological and personnel limitations of a virtual community like BVA, I would give the ATC staff here a 9 out of 10. Virtually everything is done based on real-world procedures using real rules from FAA Order 7110.65. Our controllers do a fantastic job following these rules and using the proper procedures to accurately and safely control aircraft, and the phraseology is by far the most realistic online (given some limitations.) These controllers prove why BVA has the most professional, realistic staff out of all online Flight Simulator communities.

Q: How long have you been a member of BVA?

I believe I’ve been a member since 2007.

Q: Do you consider yourself primarily a pilot or controller?

My heaviest involvement has been on the controlling side of BVA.

Q: Approximately how many hours to you spend on BVA each week?

I spend about 20 hours a week on BVA, primarily controlling and training student controllers. I used to be on for 30 or 40 hours a week when I was just starting with BVA, eager to learn real-world procedures from both the pilot and controller perspectives.

Q: What is your favorite part about participating in our community?

I love the passion for aviation everyone possesses; the eagerness to learn about aviation is fantastic. Whether it is pilots learning new procedures or flight techniques or controllers being exposed to various scenarios and learning how to maintain proper positive control of aircraft at all times, BVA is filled with enthusiastic members who love to have fun while also learning and becoming better at what they do.

Q: Summarize what BVA is to you in two sentences or less.

The most realistic online flight-environment provided by a community filled with fun, passionate members who continuously explore aviation and better their knowledge.

Q: Has BVA helped you work toward your commercial rating? How so?

BVA has helped with almost all my flight certificates. I’m an airline transport pilot with airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land, and instrument ratings. I am also a Certificated Flight Instructor with airplane single-engine and instrument ratings. Outside of real flight, BVA provided the most intense, realistic environment to practice real-world flight procedures. I used BVA to keep my skills honed while also being able to practice procedures that I was not the most familiar with without placing myself at any risk. My various flight instructors had always commented on how advanced my knowledge of aviation and flight procedures had been compared to most others, and I owe a lot of that to the time spent flying and controlling on BVA.

Q: What does BVA offer that no other community has been able to provide you?

Realistic flight and ATC procedures and people willing to help you learn them. I have not seen this anywhere else on the internet, at least to this intensity.

Q: What keeps you coming back to BVA?

The ultra-realism and enthusiastic members. We all challenge each other to get better and learn as much as we can while also maintaining a fun, welcoming atmosphere.

Q: From what you have experienced, on a 1-10 scale how realistic is BVA’s ATC staff, in terms of phraseology, patience, and control in busy situations, and following FAA real world procedures?

Keeping in mind the technological and personnel limitations of a virtual community like BVA, I would give the ATC staff here a 9 out of 10. Virtually everything is done based on real-world procedures using real rules from FAA Order 7110.65. Our controllers do a fantastic job following these rules and using the proper procedures to accurately and safely control aircraft, and the phraseology is by far the most realistic online (given some limitations.) These controllers prove why BVA has the most professional, realistic staff out of all online Flight Simulator communities.

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Jamsheed LovelaceCommercial Airline Pilot, CFII