CTP 2015: Lots of duckies and a very large pond…
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand the yearly wonder that CTP Eastbound has to offer.
What is CTP? You may ask- Good question. Essentially it is to VATSIM, what Christmas is to children- up to the age of 75.
Every year VATSIM will staff 4 departure airports, 4 arrival airports and all the space in between. Now considering that “Space” is the North Atlantic Ocean, we are talking quite the commitment; to quote a film I can’t name for legal reasons “beg pardon sir, but it’s a big ass sky”… up to 8 hours’ worth of flying, at times.
For me CTP was a fly on the wall’s look at KIAD. I’d appreciate that you not take my times and opinions as gospel… I’m not planning on setting up a cult- though I appreciate the sentiment.
Night was still upon us when I logged on as the invisible “watcher 1”- a default microlight plopped nicely between runway’s 30 and 1L. The sky was dark and the wind was light.
As my scenery loaded in (Flightbeam’s KIAD- a strong recommendation for those that want a great, “mid US” airport to base Caribbean holidays, US internals or European long-Hauls) an Air France A380 was heaving its way into the air. AF8631 heading to Paris at a guess. 8 hours separate its contact with terra-firma once more.
To the north of me 2 air France Boeing T7’s sit at dark gates, wing lights reflecting off of the cold tarmac and their over-eager PC Pilots checking various systems and carrying out virtual walk-arounds before the long trip across the ocean to their destinations.
Gate 29 was where I spotted the first Austrian Airline’s aircraft- Yet another T7 bound for Vienna.
As the morning light started to break through the darkness, a familiar face from the forums- Ben Smith- loads in in BA829 and begins his pre-flight checks before the slog to Manchester.
Shortly after, more and more people start to flood in as the clock counts down to 11:00z. A sea of triple 7’s and a shrine to PMDG’s ability to dominate our little market, bring the airport to life before my eyes. The smell of kerosene was there- if you have the imagination for it, and the noise that only an airport can generate started to fill my headphones. It was at this point I spotted the first guy to fly something other than PMDG’s $80 big-boys-toy. A United 757 at gate C5- good effort sir.
At 10:48z the first of these aircraft was ready to go. BA292- one of the early birds- glides skywards on runway 30 with about 200m to spare. Little does he know the drama he has narrowly avoided. Listening in to the ATC chatter, it becomes pretty apparent that whoever was on clearance delivery was not having a good day. Server failures and a busier-than-reality airport meant that people were waiting for clearance well after they were due to join the hundreds of others already climbing to their cruise altitudes from other airports.
I decided to take this opportunity to fly over the terminals and see how well my traffic programme was dealing with the various liveries- horribly, it would seem. “Ultimate Traffic 2” in my opinion needs to change its last word to “Ballache”. Outdated liveries and no built-in updater means any livery changes require an hour online and offline updating. You would be surprised how many pretty liveries have changed in the 5 years or so that it’s been out…
Digression aside, I was very pleased to spot 2 Boeing 767’s in the mix- tuna in a sea of whales. Speedbird 1209 to Schiphol and UAL915 to Paris. As the 767 holds something of a sweet spot in my past, it always brings a smile to my face to see this now dated tubeliner still in service- like when a 727 rocks up next to mine at some cargo ramp in the Caribbean. On the subject- tt is always nice to see a few Cargo Bob’s in amongst the tourist traffickers and I was pleased to see FedEx 94 join the clearance queue at number 12.
Then at 11:42 the servers went down- only for a second, but it was enough to just tip clearance over the edge with 20+ aircraft in the queue and delays of 45 minutes plus.
I started to wonder if some of the late departures would hit the Atlantic before darkness sets in for us in Europe.
At 11:48 our BA 676 manages to escape the chaos- Happy landings sir! As he raises his gear, our A380 is already over the Atlantic, somewhere just north of St Johns, (Newfoundland for those who can’t access Google Maps quick enough)
As Air France 054 called in for his clearance, I spotted a queen of the skies sandwiched between yet more T7’s as United 4084 to Manchester- I am curious as to the maker of the virtual icon you were flying… PMDG or ifly?
After a bit of mike-related difficulty, AF54 receives it, along with a pushback slot for quarter past 12. The race for him is to beat our A380 from this morning. You see, this pilot decided to travel in style- Concorde may be painfully difficult to learn, but will reward you with flight times that get you into JFK, 3 hours before a 747- that departs 2 hours before you… Yes I took that from my “how to” guide from FS Labs, but they make a good point…
Unfortunately my time at KIAD came to a close shortly after this point- I have dedications to New Zealand’s All Blacks Rugby team and a room full of friends, a few beers and (little did I know) a stressful 80 minutes of rugby is a ritual that I just can’t say no to. I would like to hear from anyone I observed at KIAD on how your flight went last week, and to those that were controlling the airways, I salute you- you did one hell of a job.
Finally, I’d like to close on an observation from my few hours on the pixelated grass between runways last Saturday. Our little hobby is one of the few that, on occasion, has the ability to push that stereotypically British ability to “hurry up and wait” to its limits.
My expectation of aircraft lining up at the runways was replaced with an invisible wait for clearance. My concern of frustrated pilots eliminated with a quick look at the chat box and the banter between pilots simply oozed between those that waited patiently to enjoy the event of the year.
I like that- I like that total strangers can become suddenly close with a common interest, and stranger yet, a common problem. To those looking in from the outside world, spending 3 hours “waiting around” only to “push a few buttons” and wait some more as you cross a large expanse of simulated water, may be what it looks like. But it’s not, is it…
As a virtual pilot, to fly from A-B is fun, we know this- we discussed it last time… but alongside other people- known or unknown… it’s completely different, its spending time with like-minded people and within that, a feeling of acceptance- reassurance even, that there are indeed many other people out there that love this hobby as much as you do.