Realism in Air Traffic Control Simulations

One thing that I have come to realize after building more than five air traffic control simulations: You cannot simulate the real thing on a 19″ screen. There, I said it. My air traffic control simulation weighs in at an impressive 997×738 pixels, which is as large as I can make it while still serving the lowest common denominator. 20% of my customers are still running on a screen resolution of 1024×768, which makes it a tight fit. Any larger, and you wind up with the dreaded scroll bars.

It amazes me how developers of similar ATC simulations insist on giving you a ‘radar scope’, which in my opinion wastes valuable screen real estate. I wouldn’t dare waste screen space on a pretty radar dashboard with all of the switches and dials for brightness and contrast, not to mention the old-fashioned round radar scope. I’m pretty sure that’s only in the movies. I highly doubt John Cusack would be expected to push tin on a screen the size and shape of a small pizza.

A typical computer screen is simply not big enough to display an 80 mile-wide sector. With such an enormous range, you can’t vector airplanes. The details are too darn small. Since I can’t change your monitor into a 35-inch monstrosity, my simulation zooms you in on the action with its’ relatively small sector. It is only 40 nautical miles from edge-to-edge. Things happen pretty fast in a small sector like this one, and there is very little wiggle room when you get backed into a corner.

One more brag point before I finish: This simulation obeys the laws of air density. You must understand that in the real world (and in this simulation) a pilot’s airspeed under-reads at higher altitudes. So if a you assign a pilot at 10,000 feet a speed of 210 knots, you will observe a groundspeed of about 250 knots. At sea level, there is no error. It’s a simple concept, but it does require some getting used to. In my opinion, it’s not a realistic simulation without this principle.

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