Aeronautical Charts

How to Read Aeronautical Charts (And What They Are)

Are you wonder what aeronautical charts are? Make sure you take a look at this guide to learn how to read them and what they’re used for.

Anyone into the wonderful world of flying needs to have a working knowledge of aeronautical charts. This is true whether you are piloting a plane like the Airbus A321XLR on a non-stop trip from the midwest to Hawaii or piloting a radio-controlled aircraft or drone.

These charts help pilots understand where they are allowed to fly and how to plan the best route to get to their destination. They provide details to keep them safe from hazards, alternate landing locations in an emergency, and all the other necessary information they need to navigate at altitudes from 400 feet to over 38,000 feet.

The information below will explain the different types of charts, what they are used for, and how to read them. 

Types of Aeronautical Charts

Although there a nine aeronautical charts pilots use in the U.S., most are used for instrument flying. There are three that are most often used by pilots following the Visual Flying Rules (VFR). These are sectional aeronautical charts, VFR terminal charts, and world aeronautical charts.

Sectional charts are used when flying slow and medium speed planes and are available for all areas of the country. The information is displayed on a scale of 1 to 500,000. Sectionals provide information relating to terrain, airspace type, obstructions, radio frequencies, airports, city lights, and restricted airspace.

VFR terminal charts are only made for areas around Class B airports (which are the busier airports). These airport charts are displayed 1 to 250,000 scale and are preferred for use when flying in these areas since they provide a lot more detail. 

World aeronautical charts are the type used by aircraft traveling at much faster speeds. These aviation charts show detail at a 1 to 1,000,000 scale. Because the scale is so large, these charts do not show as much detail as sectional and terminal charts. 

How to Read Aeronautical Charts

Aeronautical charts use contour lines, color tints, obstruction symbols (triangle with a dot in the middle), shaded relief, and Maximum Elevation Figures to help aid pilots. Combined, this information denotes elevation, the contour of the earth, and notes obstructions. “Inland Water” and “Open Water” are depicted using a darker and a lighter blue, respectively.

Airports are shown using various symbols to denote the length of the runways and the runway’s surface type (hard-surfaced, other than hard-surface, and seaplane bases). Airports with a control tower have a blue symbol while those without a tower are shown in magenta. Other symbols depict where fuel is available. 

Airspace is marked to show which type it is by their respective colored solid- or dashed- lined circles. Classes A through E are controlled airspaces. Class G is uncontrolled airspace. 

There are other types of airspace. Some of these are areas with Temporary Flight Restrictions, National Security Areas, Military Training Routes, and the Washington DC Flight Restricted Zone. 

Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to learn how to read aeronautical charts is to jump right in. Order one or find one online and start deciphering the symbols and information they contain. Consider starting with the one for your nearest airport since you will be familiar with the local geography.

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