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Plugin Review : X-ATC-Chatter by Stick and Rudder Studios I was flying Rotate's MD88 from LGRP (Rhodes) to EGKK (Gatwick UK) and about mid-flight over the Adriatic Sea I was feeling a bit lonely, nothing wrong as the flight was excellent and everything was running lovely and smoothly. But this was a four and a half hour flight and although the images out of the cockpit windows were quite spectacular at times, it was otherwise quite quiet in the cockpit. Over the route you cover a lot of ground, but also a lot of airspace regions, of which are called FIR's or "Flight Information Regions". These FIR's mostly cover a single country or different regions of bigger countries, as the UK has three in England, Scotland and Ireland, notably the USA has a lot of CAN/FIR regions... USA (below left) and Europe (below right). FIR's cover the whole globe and the full list (worth printing out) is here. Flight Information Regions (wikipedia) All FIR's have the built in ALRS "Alerting Service (aviation)" and are divided into upper and lower zones (note on the X-Plane local map the upper and lower routes). Both Lower and Upper are noted as "UIR". So as you fly across several countries or states you will be "handed" over to the next FIR or control zone, as you reach the boundary of the current one, Europe FIR's are split between countries, but are still overall covered by the central ECAC member states, so that effectively that puts it all under one control authority called "Euro Control" based in Brussels. So as I was flying over Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France to the UK I had no contact with any of these FIR's, hence the quiet part of the flight. The X-Plane default ATC is beyond average, but it does hand you over to the next FIR region, but overall the ATC is pretty dire. Laminar Research are rebuilding the ATC from the ground up and the early signs will mean that it will be very good, but that ATC feature may well be a year or two away, if even as part of X-Plane12's features, however X-Plane v11.30 does have the new ATC voice system. Currently the online ATC systems for X-Plane is "Pilot2ATC" which is excellent but costs US$60... and VATSIM that has been around for ages. As for myself I don't do online ATC. X-ATC-Chatter So my thoughts were, as I am flying over these controlled airspaces then why not in hearing the usual ATC ground to flight chatter. The European area is interesting because you will have all these very different native accents, in Greek, Italian, Swiss and French. Now that would be interesting and also give the cockpit a bit of in-flight life... could X-Plane have such a tool or plugin? well it does with Stick and Rudder Studio's "X-ATC Chatter". X-ATC Chatter can be used in two ways. One is to intergrate it directly into Pilot2ATC for background chatter while you are online and conversing with the ATC controllers (It does go quiet when you are in contact with the controller!) or as a stand alone plugin with pop up panels and menu. Installation is different for each application... for Pilot2ATC you have to install the region (sound) files directly into the Pilot2ATC application and each of the different regions sound folder and there is an excellent video covering the slightly complex installation, as for the direct X-Plane version you just move the complete X-ATC Chatter folder to your X-Plane/resources/plugins folder. In the Regions folder, there are the seven regions in: Africa, Asia, Canada, Europe, Oceania, South America and United States, these zones are then broken down to controllers in those regions and then the different types of radio communications in; App (Approach), Clr (Clearance), Ctr (Control), Dep (Departure), Dep_Gnd (Departure ground), Dep_Twr (Departure Tower), Dep_Uni (Departure Universal), Dest_Gnd (Destination ground), Dest_Twr (Destination Tower) and Dest_Uni (Destination Universal). Note the Universal frequencies are the standard Automatic terminal information service, or ATIS frequencies. Menu The X-ATC Chatter dropdown menu is located in the X-Plane menu. You have two menu option panels with; "Control Panel" and "Nearby Facilities" Menus can be transparent (default) or with a solid background... ... and the menus can also be popped out from X-Plane simulator itself for the use on a custom cockpit layout. A note is that to make the menus solid is that there is the requirement of a total X-Plane restart from the desktop, so make sure you do this before setting up the aircraft, if not you will have to restart it all again from the beginning. Control Panel A lot of the options on the Control Panel can be segmented into two main categories. The left column has a selection zone for regions, so if you are flying over the US, then you select the US tickbox (more than one zone can be ticked) and the selection shows you how many chatter voice files are available for that region (I call them loops), these regions cover the same zones as noted earlier in Africa, Asia, Canada, Europe, Oceania, South America and United States. The Right column has another selection zone for the certain ATC areas that you want activated in; App (Approach), Clr (Clearance), Ctr (Control), Dep (Departure), Dep_Gnd (Departure ground), Dep_Twr (Departure Tower), Dep_Uni (Departure Universal), Dest_Gnd (Destination ground), Dest_Twr (Destination Tower) and Dest_Uni (Destination Universal)... and again each ATC area shows you how many chatter voice files are available for each of those ATC area. "Refresh Facility Cache", will refresh the frequencies of any added new (or old) scenery, it goes through the custom scenery folder to check all the correct frequencies required for X-ATC-Chatter. But the plugin can take time to do this, so I recommend a refresh every few weeks or so. "External Integrations" is that X-ATC-Chatter plugin offers an interface via an exposed dataref that allows 3rd party ATC or Traffic Plugins to control chatter playback. X-Life version 2.1 beta 7 is the first 3rd party plugin to take advantage of this integration. Hopefully the newer default Laminar Research ATC will do the same. "Interior sound" only allows the chatter inside the aircraft, a realistic option. "Radio Power" ticked on requires that the X-ATC-Chatter will not work unless there is power to the aircraft and it's radio units. You have the option of using COM 1 or COM 2 via the menu selection... ... "Centre Override" works with the "Automatic Controller" option. If you tickbox Automatic Controller option X-ATC-Chatter will look at the closest ATC frequency within 100 nm and set the ATC to that frequency automatically... the Centre Override will lock in only the main selection of Centre ATC chatter. In other words the plugin will ignore every frequency except for the main ATC centers as in areas ATC coverage can be sparse. Note in that you NEED the "Automatic Controller" option ON to sync to the correct set of sound files of the selected frequency. There are two sliders to adjust the main ATC Volume, and you can also still adjust it via the aircraft radio volume directly, and the engine internal noise can also be adjusted by the other slider, but it doesn't work on some custom aircraft sound systems, and only on the built in X-Plane sound. You can adjust the timing between chatter playbacks or create a delay, with a minimum and maximum setting in seconds (s). There is an audio device selection panel that can be selected via a bottom panel of where you can save options for selected "Audio Devices" or playback. Nearby Facilities You can select radio frequencies three ways. First is the "Nearby Facilities" menu which is the most comprehensive, and you can also edit the frequencies into categories to reduce the number of options, and you can do this via the tickboxes at the bottom of the menu, and then select refresh. Second frequency input is via the default X-Plane ATC menu, and if you are used to using that menu then this is a great choice, and it means you don't have use the plugin's Nearby Facilities menu, although you are restricted to the limited frequency options. Third input option is just dial in the frequency directly on the aircraft's radios.... and all the options work together. You can set most of the options available here via a keyboard input, but I only set three... with the "Play Chatter" on the Control Panel, the "Nearby Facilities" menu toggle and Control panel toggle. "Play Chatter" is obvious in playing or quietening the ATC chatter, so it is the main on/off switch, and that is why I have it on a keyboard toggle in case I need to quickly silence the noise. The Nearby Facilities menu toggle is for quick access to all the frequencies available. In Flight with ATC Chatter So where do these ATC communications come from. "LiveATC" which is a Live air-traffic website/App that listens into real world ATC communications, and I have been following it for years. So the chatter you are hearing is real, not faked. The live ATC streams are recorded and the sound levels are made to all the same volume, which is a great idea as if you have listened to ATC as then the volume can range from barely "I can't hear you" to SHOUTING... but here in the cockpit it works really well. All direct references are also filtered or edited out like "Boston Central" to make the ATC more generic and universal. ATC Chatter does rely heavily on community input, so people that will or can add in live feeds from LiveATC for the plugin are highly welcomed, and if you supply a 100 or more feeds then you also get the full package plugin for free which is a great incentive! Currently there are just under 5,000 streams supplied with the plugin with the USA 1,706, Europe: 1,320, Canada: 1,779 taking up the most of the feeds... South America is 0 as is Asia: 0, Africa: 0 and Oceania only has 130 streams. So certainly you need some more from S. America, Africa and Asia. The USA and Canada areas are fine, but Europe has a bit of an issue? First LiveATC can't broadcast any live feeds from the UK, as it is illegal, which is a big bummer? but Ireland is fine, secondly is that all the European streams are all stacked together under Europe? This is not an issue in the States or Canada or even Australia as the accents there are universal, but in Europe you get Russian ATC, mixed in with French ATC , so when you are listening to the Tower in say the UK, you are listening to Russian and French tower controllers? So it is a bit of a cultural mixture? So it would be nice if Europe was split up more into certain regions, not too complex, in say Irish (sort of UK), French, German, Italian, Greek, Russian and Scandi north regions... Yes it would require a lot of community involvement, but it would be well worth the effort. Departure to Valencia (LEVC) is from Gatwick (EGLL), and after clearance I set the ATC to Gatwick GND (121.80) Then once the engines were running and was ready to taxi I contacted Gatwick Tower (124.72). Yes it is not ATC, where you can see the aircraft the controllers are talking about and even receiving your own instructions from controllers, but the realistic background chatter was excellent, if with a lot of Russian in there... Sitting in line for takeoff and you have this constant chatter in the cockpit (make sure the external chatter sound is off, it feels or sounds weird from the outside) My takeoff position came and the MD88 was given full thrust.... Once clear of Gatwick, I selected London Area Control (128.12) You do notice the different tones when you change frequencies, control (centers) communications feel slightly different from the tower frequency... One thing I noticed is that I had a lot of duplicate control frequencies? So as you have no actual ATC communications, then how do you know when you need to change FIR Controllers? You could download the FIR regions map (left) or in my case I use the excellent SimBrief, that notes in the flight brief the point of the FIR controller change (right). In this case it is "France FIR/UIR" (upper region) LFFF, also know as "Paris Centre" (128.10) I found I had to up the ATC volume a little bit over the wind noise (maybe engines as well on other aircraft), but it well "chatted" away nicely in the background as I flew across France... Only one frequency change is needed for all the selections to change, and if you know them or just note them down... then just input the frequency directly through the aircraft's radio. If you open the control panel you can see the selected frequency and the currently running sound file (above right, arrowed)... .... unlike the previous day when I flew up to Gatwick from Rhodes, the cockpit felt far more busy and alive, the constant chatter from Paris Control in the background felt far more realistic, but there is also now more workload to watch out for as well, as you have to watch the flight plan for control center changes and more cockpit housekeeping, but again that is why you wanted this X-ATC-Chatter plugin in the first place in that to make the cockpit even more interactive and have more in flight realism. Then it was the handover to Bordeaux Center (125.10), then when into Spain and another change to Barcelona Centre (135.35) LEVC - Valencia contact for the APP-Approach became active around 50 nm out from the airport. I recommend to use the frequency filter buttons on the "Nearby Facilities" panel, it worked fine when refreshed for airport frequencies unlike the duplicated control frequencies, so that feels like a bug. 15 nm out and I select the LEVC Tower frequency (118.55) and Valencia is now in sight... ... finals into LEVC RWY30, I would have thought earlier that I would have killed the constant chatter as would have wanted to concentrate on the approach, but instead it felt really realistic, so left it running on in the background, but if I had felt it was getting too distracting then a key input would silence the chatter. Once on TWY N3 I selected LEVC GND (121.70) that covered my arrival to the terminal area, and the chatter was now coming from the GND controllers. Shutdown, but the chatter still continued on in the background as I unloaded the aircraft... and continued until I turned off the radios. Summary I am not going to deny this X-ATC-Chatter is a replacement for a real ATC interaction, because it isn't and never will be. But it does create another level of realism and immersion in the cockpit that was missing before, and gives you something to fill in the area of interaction between you and the ATC, you still have to the change frequencies, and select the all the different aspects that ATC requires from clearance to departure to tower, and more importantly that handover to area control to area control as you go from one ATC FIR sector to another, again on landing the ATC procedures are reversed. Even when X-Plane's ATC system is (finally) up and running I still think this background chatter will still have a purpose even then, as it does now with Pilot2ATC... it will be very interesting if Laminar Research take the idea on board. The basics in the plugin are very well thought out and clever, it works, but there are a few areas that need attention, one is the control area frequencies that are duplicating themselves, even when only the "Center" selection is ticked, and so in creating far too many duplicates of the same frequency. A big point is the separate areas of Europe. Listening in you get all nationalities blended together instead of the local one, and the same blending of cultures when moving from one FIR to another, so it doesn't quite work, in the US, Canada or Australia, it is fine, but Europe is too big and diverse and it is an important an area to use... and more feeds are certainly required in the other regions in that they have no chatter at all? This is a community thing that requires some external input, but the benefits would certainly be worth the effort. No UK ATC is a big loss, but that is not the fault of the plugin, but the UK authorities, maybe try and find another UK speaking zone to replace it? Overall X-ATC-Chatter does give you a far more and another realistic level of flying aircraft, either with the chatter out of your GA speaker, or flying the routes over a distance. The plugin creates only background noise, but very effective background noise it is, and I loved it, and it gives you more work to do as well when flying the aircraft in selecting the right frequencies and at the right points in the flight, and brings us all that little bit closer to the real thing... best of all it is great to fill in those long flying hours, and you now don't have to talk to the first officer either! Highly recommended. _____________________________________ Yes! X-ATC-Chatter by Stick and Rudder Studios is now available from the X-Plane.Org Store here : X-ATC-Chatter Price is US$15.00 Free! if you provide 100 or sound files from LiveATC X-ATC_Chatter is a collaboration with LiveATC.net to bring high quality ATC audio clips to the flight simulation community. X-ATC-Chatter is a collection of audio files designed to support the controller chatter playback capability in Pilot2ATC. The product also includes a stand-alone player for X-Plane 10 and 11 for those people that don’t use Pilot2ATC. The stand-alone player also features an integration with X-Life 2.1 ATC. Clips are edited to remove any glaring location specific information. As an example the exchange “United 6626, Boston Tower, Line up and Wait” will have been edited to say “United 6626, Tower, Line up and Wait. References to specific SIDS, STARS, Ramps, Taxiways, Runways, and way-points are not changed. Clips are organized by controller so when you are tuned to a specific controller in Pilot2ATC you will hear clips associated with that controller. Each clip has its audio volume adjusted so that all clips have roughly the same volume level. Includes a stand-alone player for X-Plane 10 and 11 Runs on all three OS platforms, Windows, OSX, and Linux Automatically selects the right chatter files based on the ATC facility you are tuned to on your COM1 radio Will automatically pause playback when tuned to an ATIS facility Includes a nearby facility display showing the frequencies, icao code, distance, and name of up to 40 ATC facilities within a 75 NM range Includes an integration with X-Life 2.1 Installation X-ATC-Chatter is installed two ways with one way for Pilot2ATC, and the second a straight plugin install for the standalone panel version into your X-Plane/resources/plugins folder. Requirements X-Plane 11 (or X-Plane 10) Windows, Mac or Linux Download and Documentation Full install, not the demo with 5000 sound files is 688mb Comes with full install and how to use video, and manual (20 pages) X-ATC-Chatter_User_Guide ______________________________________________________________________ Plugin Review by Stephen Dutton 31st October 2018 Copyright©2018 : X-Plane Reviews (Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions) Review System Specifications: Computer System: Windows - Intel Core i7 6700K CPU 4.00GHz / 64bit - 16 Gb single 1067 Mhz DDR4 2133 - ASUS GeForce GTX 1080 8Gb - Samsung Evo 512gb SSD Software: - Windows 10 - X-Plane 11.25 Addons: Saitek x56 Rhino Pro system Joystick and Throttle : Sound - Bose Soundlink Mini Plugins: Environment Engine by xEnviro v1.07 US$69.90 : US$19.95 : WorldTraffic 3.0 Plugin - US$29.95 Scenery or Aircraft - MD-80 professional by Rotate (X-Plane.OrgStore) - US$59.95