How to Fly IFR with VATSIM
Flying IFR (Instrument Flying Rules) in Microsoft Flight Simulator is not very difficult, just tricky. You need to learn certain rules and the language of ATCs (Air Traffic Controllers). Communication with controllers is limited to certain instructions, and once you learn these, you can usually predict what they are going to ask you next. In fact, one of the main pieces of IFR advice is to always anticipate at least the next two ATC instructions. This way you avoid becoming flustered with doing several things at the same time while still flying the airplane. The approach we recommend is to take a single route, practice it several times without ATC, and then try it with the Controllers. Once you do this, we strongly recommend repeating the route several times until you master it. Then you can venture on to other routes.

Controllers are busy people, and they prefer having short and straight-to-the-point dialogues. Therefore, avoid niceties. Make your communications sound professional and courteous. Let them now that you are a new IFR pilot and that you will need some help. Once they know this, their tone and approach will be much friendlier.

IFR flying is what makes the flying simulation experience the most enjoyable. Once you master it, you can do all sort of different approaches and participate in fly-in events. Try this training module.

Before Starting

Please make sure you have downloaded and installed SquawkBox (SB). This is the software you will use to interface with ATCs. To do this, please proceed as follows:
  • Go to
  • Download the SquawkBox Manual and study it thoroughly. This manual will give you precise instructions on how to install and use SB. The time you spend studying this will be well worth it.
  • Download SquawkBox via one of the mirror links provided. [We recommend you save the downloaded file on your computer and later unzip it.] Install SquawkBox using the instructions provided.
  • Also download the file which will allow you to run SquawkBox from inside FS. Download the file, and follow the instructions provided in the readme.txt file.
  • You should also have the FSUIPC module installed. You can obtain it with the corresponding instructions at:
You are now done with the downloads. As a side note, if you want to get really professional about flying IFR, we suggest you buy the book: “Instrument Pilot” by Irvin N. Gleim. Another good book is Rod Machado's “Instrument Pilot’s Survival Manual”.

Flight Planning and Preparation

As we said before, flying IFR is a bit tricky but not impossible. The best way to learn to fly IFR with Microsoft Flight Simulator is with a detailed step-by-step example. For this lesson, we are going to fly the Newark (EWR/KEWR) to Boston (BOS/KBOS) route. So, let's assume that we will fly Continental flight #98 (COA98) from KEWR to KBOS.

The first thing we need to decide is which IFR route we are going to fly. Air Traffic Controllers strongly prefer that you fly the "Preferred Routes". For this flight, you can get them at several places. For example, try or at go to VATUSA, select Boston, Flight Planning at: Another place you can get them is at

After a brief search, you will find that the Preferred Route from KEWR to KBOS would be:



This route goes from Newark Airport (KEWR), to the MERIT intersection, to the Norwich VOR (ORW at 110.0), to the Providence VOR (PVD at 115.6), to the INNDY intersection, and to the airport at Boston Logan (KBOS). Controllers will provide you with an approach depending on which runway is being used given the prevalent winds at the time of your flight.

Let us plan for this example a cruising flight level at 19,000 ft., which we will refer to as Flight Level 190, or FL190. In this example, we will be using the Boeing 737-400 aircraft that came with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS2004), ignoring the fact that Continental does not operate that exact model. However, this flight can still be credited. So, let’s proceed now with step-by-step instructions on what to do next.

  • Before starting Flight Simulator, connect to the internet.
  • Start your Flight Simulator, and under the Create a Flight window, change the Current Aircraft and load the Boeing 737-400.
  • Change the Current Location from your default location, and move your aircraft to Newark Intl (KEWR), but before clicking OK, set Runway/Starting Position, to Gate C5 – Gate Medium. Then click OK.
  • To make the flight more realistic, let’s change the weather to current conditions. Click Change Current Weather, click Real-world Weather. After the download from Jeppesen is done, click OK.
  • Continental flight 98 leaves Newark at 16:00 (4:00 PM). Therefore, click Current Date and Time, and change the Local time to 15:30 (3:30 PM), to allow you enough time to do all the setups, and be able to depart on time. Good pilots always depart on time! Click OK to proceed.
  • It is time now to do the flight planning. Click the Flight Planner tab and enter the route we are intending to follow, with a cruising altitude of 19,000 ft. Save the route so that you can reuse it in the future without inputting each waypoint. So, select Newark Intl (KEWR) as your Departure Airport and Logan Intl (KBOS) as your Destination Airport, Check Flight Plan Type IFR, Choose Routing to High Altitude Airways, click Find Route, and in the Edit tab, remove the JFK, NEWES and RAALF waypoints, and add: MERIT, ORW and INNDY. Set Cruising Altitude to 19,000 ft. Your Flight Planner screen should look like this. Click OK to return to the Create a Flight Screen.
We have finished preparing and planning our IFR flight from Newark to Boston Logan on our Boeing 737-400. You should now be at gate C5 at KEWR, comfortably sitting in the cockpit of your 737.

Loading SquawkBox

It is now time to connect to SquawkBox using these instructions:
  • In your FS2004 window, access the Modules menu on the top of the window (press the alt key if top menu is hidden) and run Start Squawkbox.
  • Click Start and Connect and enter your username and password.
  • Now it’s time to select your aircraft. This is the plane that everyone else in the game will see you as. Click Add new aircraft, and select the make, model, and airline from the list (note: by default the list is of the most common aircraft, if you don’t see your plane then change the top selection box to All Aircraft).
  • You will have to name that airplane (for example, “COA 737”), but the only purpose of that name is so that you can find it easily for the next time you do a flight in that particular plane. So, you can name it whatever you want.
Once you get your flight set up and on the ground, you will see in the black Squawkbox screen a list of all the available ATC frequencies. Note that if you tune the frequency in your COM1 radio (on the airplane’s panel), it will be selected in Squawkbox. Also, when ATC assigns a transponder code, put that in your aircraft’s built in transponder on the panel.

You can right click on any ATC facility listed, and send a private text message. It is recommended that you contact one of the facilities listed, and let them know that you are a beginner.

We are almost ready to start flying. Besides, doing all this is part of the fun.

  • Your next screen should look something like this. The SquawkBox screen will show up. Minimize it for now, and go back to the SquawkBox screen. Over the black area of the SquawkBox screen again, right-click and select ATC Functions and File Flight Plan. You will get a Flight Plan screen. Enter the information as shown in this screen.
  • After clicking OK, your next SB Host screen will show Flight Plan Sent.
  • It is time now to connect to ATC. To do this, again in the black area of the SB Host screen, right-click your mouse and select: ATC Directory. If you are doing this in the evening, you will almost certainly find controllers for Newark, La Guardia or JFK. If you see EWR_TWR or EWR_GND, select one of them, if not select, JFK_APP, JFK_CTR or any other in the vicinity of Newark. Once connected your SB screen will show a series of messages; read these because they include weather and other useful information. By the way, if you connect to the wrong ATC, don’t worry. They will tell you to switch to somebody else and will give you the right frequency.
  • In the white window on top of the SB Host screen send a private message to the controller explaining that you are a beginner and that you would appreciate help and patience. Type the following message in the white window of the SB Host screen: ".msg XXX_XXX Hello Sir. I am new with SquawkBox and IFR. Please help and be patient." Do not forget the period "." before msg. Whenever you want to send a private message to ATC or to other aircrafts flying with VATSIM, precede your message with ".msg". Don’t forget to replace "XXX_XXX" with the code that appeared for ATC in the SB Host black screen area. For example, enter BOS_V_CTR, EWR_TWR, NY_V_APP, or JFK_V_CTR. These codes will appear at the ATC Directory screen.
Communicating with ATC and Flying on Flight Simulator
Remember that you don’t have to speak to ATC if you do not feel comfortable with it. You can send written messages instead. Simply enter messages directly at the white window in your SB Host screen. So if you prefer, replace the voice messages that I suggest later in this manual with written messages to ATC using this procedure. However, typing a message at the middle of a complicated ILS approach can be busy, so using voice is much, much easier.

You are now ready to start talking with ATC through SquawkBox. To send voice messages to ATC hold the F12 key on your computer keyboard and speak through your microphone. In this tutorial, all the communications from us to ATC will be highlighted in blue italics. Responses from the Controllers to us will be highlighted in magenta italics.

  • We will start our communications with ATC by requesting that they give us the clearance for the submitted flight plan from Newark to Boston Logan. So, while holding the F12 key, repeat the following text literally:
    • Good afternoon, sir. Continental 98 requests IFR flight plan clearance delivery from Newark to Boston. (Remember, if you are concerned about talking, type this message on the white window area of the SB Host screen). This request asks ATC to “approve” the flight plan we filed. The advantage of using Preferred Routes is that they will seldom change our flight plan. If you don’t use preferred routes, you can be assured that ATC will change your route.
  • After a few seconds, you will hear Standby or something to that effect. Soon, ATC will get back to you with a message. Listen to it carefully, and repeat it word-for-word immediately back to ATC.
  • If your flight plan needs to be changed or it has been cleared for release, you will hear the following message:
    • Continental 98, please advise when ready to copy. ATC will then proceed to give a fast blurb with the new flight plan, which is almost always impossible to understand and repeat accurately. If this happens to you, reply to ATC the following message:
    • Sir, communication is coming broken. Please send flight plan by text.
    • Once you have received the flight plan, read back exactly the message to ATC either by text or by RW.
  • If there were no changes to your flight plan, you will normally receive the following message from ATC:
    • Continental 98 is cleared to Boston with vectors to MERIT, then as filed. Climb and maintain 5000. Expect Flight Level 190 ten minutes after. Departure frequency is nnn.n (119.2 for example. This is the communication frequency that you will have to use after takeoff). Squawk nnnn (3412 for example. This number is the frequency you will set in your Transponder).
    • Once you get this message, repeat it back to ATC exactly as it was given to you.
  • Once you reply, ATC will respond: Continental 98, read-back is correct (or they will give you corrections to your read-back). Approved for pushback. Advise when ready to taxi.
  • Proceed immediately to set-up the Transponder (Squawk) code they just gave you into the radios. You do not need to set up the communications frequency at this time. When you switch communications frequencies in your aircraft's COM1 radio, it will automatically switch the frequency in SquawkBox.
Prepare your aircraft for departure, check that the flight plan is loaded into your GPS in your Boeing 737, and program the autopilot. Use the Runway heading and the initial altitude ATC gave you (normally 5,000 ft. but it could be some other initial altitude). Departure speed should be no more than 250 knots (always maintain less than 250 knots below 10,000 feet). Do all the checklists you normally do and get ready to fly.

You are now ready to start taxiing to the assigned active runway.

  • Call ATC holding down F12 and say:
    • Continental 98 is ready to taxi.
  • ATC will respond:
    • Continental 98, taxi to runway 22 left (or runway 4R) and hold short of active runway.
  • Repeat exactly what ATC said and proceed to the runway as instructed by the Controller. For this example, let’s assume ATC said: Taxi to runway 22 left. Sometimes ATC gives you the taxiway names you have to follow. Try to use them and repeat the instructions given to you by ATC. For example, from Gate C5, they could say:
    • Continental 98, taxi to runway 22 left via Romeo (R), Hotel (H), Bravo (B), Mike (M), Bravo (B) and Whiskey (W). Hold short of Runway 22 left. Look at a map of KEWR and you will easily identify the taxiways ATC gave you.
  • Proceed to runway 22L following (to the best of your abilities) the instructions given by ATC. (No real problem if you mess up here.)
  • Holding short on taxiway W for Runway 22L, contact the tower and say:
    • Continental 98 is ready to depart, runway 22 left.
  • ATC will most likely respond:
    • Winds are 200 at 10 (for example). Continental 98 is cleared for takeoff. After takeoff fly heading 190 (noise abatement procedure in Newark). Upon takeoff, be careful not to ascend beyond the initial approved altitude.
  • Repeat exactly the above phrase and proceed to take off, find the little black window that has a button on it labeled Squawk normal and press it. Afterwards, you can hide this window as it has no use in flight, unless you are instructed to “ident” (press the Ident button). I hide mine by dragging it to the edge of the screen so I can barely see it. Finally, proceed to take off.
  • Shortly thereafter, ATC will say something like this:
    • Continental 98 is radar contact. Turn right heading 270 (or some other direction) and contact NY Approach at 119.2 (the frequency could be different).
  • Repeat exactly the previous phrase. To change to the new Controller, set the new frequency the controller instructed you to switch to in your COM1 radio.
  • You are ready to talk to the new Controller. You would contact NY Approach as follows:
    • NY Approach, Continental 98 is with you turning right heading 270, climbing to 5,000.
  • After a few seconds, NY Approach will reply:
    • Continental 98 radar contact, turn right heading 060, climb and maintain 17,000. (They might give you slightly modified instructions, but eventually, they will vector you to the first waypoint of your flight plan: the MERIT intersection.)
  • Repeat the last instruction to ATC, and continue your flight as instructed; that is, turning right to heading 60 degrees, and climbing to 17,000 ft.
  • Soon ATC will call you and say:
    • Continental 98 proceed to MERIT as soonest able, then as filed.
  • Repeat the last instruction, and proceed flying your route as you filed it; that is, fly to MERIT then to ORW, PVD and so on.
  • ATC will then say:
    • Continental 98, contact NY Center on 130.72.  (they could give you a different frequency number). Good day.
  • Repeat the last instruction, change frequencies to NY Center in the SB Host Window as previously instructed, and contact ATC, then saying:
    • NY Center, Continental 98 is with you 9,000 (for example) climbing to 17,000.
  • NY Center will reply with something like:
    • Continental 98, roger, continue climbing to Flight Level 190 (your target altitude).
  • Repeat to ATC the last instruction and proceed as directed.
  • After a few minutes, NY Center will contact you and say:
    • Continental 98, contact Boston Center on 131.725. Good day.
  • Repeat the last instruction, and switch to Boston Center through the SB Host Window. Then contact the Boston ATC saying:
    • Boston Center, Continental 98 is with you, 9,000.
  • ATC will respond:
    • Continental 98, roger. Proceed as filed. Cross the PVD (Providence)VOR at Flight Level 110 and 250 knots. Advise when leaving Flight Level 190.
  • Repeat the last instruction, and plan your autopilot so that you cross the PVD VOR at an altitude of 11,000 ft. and a speed of 250 knots. When you start your descent, contact ATC with:
    • Boston Center, Continental 98 is leaving Flight Level 190 descending to 11,000.
  • ATC will acknowledge. After a while, Boston Center say:
    • Continental 98, contact Boston Approach on 118.25 (or another frequency number).
  • Repeat the last instruction and proceed to change frequencies on the SB Host window. Contact ATC saying:
    • Boston Approach, Continental 98 is with you, 15,000 (or whatever your altitude is) descending to 11,000.
  • ATC will acknowledge. Sometime after crossing the PVD VOR, probably before you reach your next waypoint INNDY, ATC will contact you again and will say something like:
    • Continental 98, turn left heading 060, descent to 6,000 expect vectors for ILS 4 Right. (We will assume that we will use the ILS to runway 4R in this example. They may and most often will give you other approaches. Remember that KBOS has 8 runways, and about 15 different approaches. You can get the approach plates at:
  • Repeat the last instruction, and proceed as instructed. Using your approach plates, set all your frequencies for VOR, OBS, NDB radios, etc. and get ready to start your process for landing. After a short while, ATC will contact you again and say:
    • Continental 98, descend and maintain 4,000; turn left heading 040 to intercept ILS 4 right.
  • Repeat the instructions to ATC, and descend to 4,000 ft. turning left to heading 040. Soon ATC will say something like this:
    • Continental 98, you are 15 miles from WINNI (the Initial Approach Fix).Maintain 3,000 until established. Cleared for the ILS 4 Right approach to Boston Logan.
  • Repeat the last instruction, descend to 3,000 ft. and get ready to intercept the ILS 4R approach.
  • Once ATC sees that you are established on the ILS 4R approach, the Controller will contact you again and say:
    • Continental 98, contact Boston Tower on 125.62. Good bye.
  • Repeat the instruction to ATC, switch frequency on the SB Host Window, and contact ATC saying:
    • Boston Tower, Continental 98 is with you, established on ILS 4 Right to Boston.
  • ATC will acknowledge and say something like:
    • Continental 98, Winds 050 at 8. You are cleared to land Runway 4 Right.
  • Repeat the instruction to ATC and land. Once on the ground, ATC will contact you and say:
    • Continental 98, welcome to Boston. Turn first left and contact Boston Ground on 121.9. Good day.
  • Repeat the last instruction, switch frequencies on SB Host window and contact ATC saying:
    • Boston Ground, Continental 98 is with you. Just landed on Runway 4R. Please provide taxing instructions to terminal.
  • ATC will acknowledge you and will issue instructions such as:
    • Continental 98, welcome to Boston. Taxi to terminal via Yankee, Runway 33, left on November, right on Kilo, left on Mike to ramp and terminal. Please Squawk standby.
  • Repeat the instructions and follow the directions to terminal. To Squawk standby, go to the small transponder window that you hid earlier, and click on Squawk Standby to switch to standby. ATC does this to help them identify that you are on the ground and not flying anymore.
  • Once parked at the gate, contact Ground saying:
    • Boston Ground, Continental 98 is parked at the gate. Request flight plan closing and permission to shut down engines.
  • ATC will reply:
    • Continental 98, flight plan is closed. Proceed to shut down engines. Thank you for flying to Boston. Have a good day.
  • Repeat what ATC said, and shut your engines down. To end your SquawkBox session with VATSIM Controllers, access the SB Host Window, right-click on the black area of the window, and click Disconnect. Again, right-click on the black area of the window, and click Exit to close the SquawkBox connection. You may now disconnect the multiplayer session and exit FS2004.
You are now done with your IFR Flight to Boston.
We suggest you do this same route several times. After a while, you will be guessing what comes next. And that’s one of the secrets of IFR flying: the ability to anticipate what ATC will say next, and prepare for it.

Flying IFR sounds complicated and busy. And that’s the reason why it is so much fun. Again, it is a bit tricky, but with practice, you will become very comfortable with every aspect of it. And the fact that it is busy makes the experience of flight simulation so much better and fulfilling. No more long periods of flying following a dull route without anything to do. Here, you will be busy and enjoy the experience much more. Safe IFR Flying, and see you in the air!

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about this tutorial, please ask on our Message Boards.

This tutorial was originally written by David Velez and revised by Brandon Jones.

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