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The History of ATC

Air Traffic Controller was originally written in 1978 for the TRS-80 Model I and in 1979 for the Apple II by David Mannering, a professional air traffic controller. You can still play the original Apple II version at Virtual Apple. I have not yet been able to find the TRS-80 version of ATC, but it should be playable with Jeff Vavasour's TRS-80 Model I emulator.

ATC was a big hit around our offices but at the time only a couple of folks owned any PC, much less the revered Apple II. What we did have, however, was a Data General Eclipse minicomputer running the inimitable AOS and a pile of programmers. Two of us, Will Fastie (yours truly) and Bill Appelbaum, wrote a version of ATC for AOS using a high-level programming language called TOTETRAN. I bought that Eclipse in 1979 and to the best of my recollection Bill and I wrote the game in 1980.

As the manager of the group, I probably should have been fired on the spot. ATC became wildly popular in my group, which of course meant it became an instant productivity drain. (The truth is that all my people were working 60 or more hours per week - a little diversion at work was not a bad thing. We sure did have some dedicated players, though.)

In September, 1981 a few of us starting buying the IBM PC. The PC was a more natural fit for most of us than the Apple. We were one of the first companies using Intel microprocessors as general purpose CPUs rather than calculator chips and we were always on the cutting edge of Intel technology. We were also focused on business applications, albeit sophisticated ones, making IBM a more natural fit. Despite the fit, we geeks deemed the PC more technically sophisticated than the Apple and believed it would have a brighter future.

With PCs popping up around us, I decided to port the game to the PC. This required a compete rewrite from the proprietary TOTETRAN to something else. That turned out to be the impressive C86 compiler from a company called Computer Innovations. C86 was particularly useful because it had certain features that allowed ATC to run in real time. You may recall that MS-DOS was quite limited in this regard at the time.

The PC version was as popular as the DG version and soon everyone I knew with a PC was asking for a copy.

In late 1983, after I had begun my stint as Editor of Ziff-Davis' PC Tech Journal, Bill and I agreed to publish the PC version in ZD's PC Disk Magazine where it appeared in Volume 1 Number 4. Bill and I pocketed a modest royalty but we also made sure that David Mannering received compensation.

During the '80s many new programming language products emerged, including excellent offerings from Borland (Turbo C) and Microsoft (Quick C). At some point I converted ATC from C86 to Borland's Turbo C. By this time MS-DOS had evolved a bit and I was able to write the code without the tricks I had used in C86.

ATC was last compiled by Turbo C in November, 1988. The EXE file in the MS-DOS download at this site contains that version, 2.01.

My personal Web site went online in 2003. Almost immediately, I began to get requests for ATC and starting compiling a mailing list. The list eventually got long enough that I decided to create this site dedicated to ATC.

With history as prelude, there may be more in store. Stay tuned.

Other Versions

I was obviously not the only one who decided to port ATC to other systems. Here are the ones I've found so far. I would appreciate hearing from you if you know of others.

Air Traffic Control 1.0 for emacs. For HP-UX; presumably would port to other platforms. By Neil Jerram.