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Fly the virtual skies

A common first step to becoming a pilot is taking an introductory flight lesson at a local flight school. However, this is not the only method by which potential pilots kick off their flight training.

Delta Virtual Airlines Vice President Scott Clarke reports that simulated flying can be a gateway to real-world flying. "Flying the virtual skies requires a computer, Internet connection, joystick, and the flight sim program to get started, so it's a great low-cost option for those who dream of flying, but aren't yet ready to start flight training," says Clarke.

Delta Virtual Airlines features an online community of virtual pilots, student pilots, flight instructors, and air traffic controllers. From realistic aircraft cockpits to changing weather conditions, the virtual experience aims to replicate what it's like to be a pilot or air traffic controller.

Virtual pilots can choose to fly general aviation aircraft or commercial aircraft, but first, they may want to attend the Delta Virtual Flight Academy, which is equipped with virtual CFIs who teach students how to "fly" the equipment.

When connected as a pilot, or to VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network), the virtual pilot can fly just like in the real world. You call up to ask for taxi or takeoff clearance, and you can even contact approach or center control for vectors from online virtual air traffic controllers.

The added challenge and realism of having schedules, flight plans, and real radio communications provides the virtual pilot with a glimpse into the real world of flying where sometimes delays happen and weather keeps you from landing or taking off.

Delta Virtual Airlines is a non-profit, volunteer-staffed organization that is available to users age 13 and older, free of charge. In order to use Delta Virtual Airlines, users need a copy of Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2004 or X ($50), a USB headset/microphone ($15-$30), and a computer with an Internet connection. Delta Virtual Airlines is not affiliated with Delta Air Lines. For additional information, visit the Delta Virtual Airlines Website.

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