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March 9th 2023
6 min read

Everything You Need To Know About Pilot Charts

Everything You Need To Know About Pilot Charts

Pilot charts are a vital piece of equipment to have in the cockpit. Containing a great deal of information, they allow pilots to plan their routes safely, avoiding obstacles and danger zones.

Including topographical data like bodies of water and mountains and practical information like airports, landing areas and high obstacles, pilot maps are invaluable for low-flying planes, and various types are available depending on your needs.

Follow our guide as we explore the history of pilot charts, the types of charts available and which ones to choose.

Pilots in cockpit looking at a pilot chart

Table of Contents

  1. The history of pilot charts
  2. What kind of maps do pilots use?
  3. What is the scale of a pilot chart?
  4. What is VFR navigation?
  5. Who publishes pilot charts?

This history of pilot charts

American aviation pioneers, the Wright brothers, invented, built, and flew the world's first successful planes in the early 1900s. Not long after the Wright brothers made their first historical flights, more planes began taking to the skies. 

Way before the technological advancements of today, pilots then relied on sight and clear weather to navigate their aircraft. Pilots became reliant on key landmarks and visible transportation routes to know where they were and made personal notes to help them navigate routes to airports further away.

Some pilots began selling their notes with sketches of landing sites, obstacles and other notable features. Captain Elrey Berber Jeppesen was one of these pilots, and he even climbed hills to note their height. Jeppeson collated this information into a manual, calling them ‘Jepp Charts’, and sold his first manual in 1934.  

The Jeppesen Airway Manual reduced accidents as pilots were warned of obstacles, and at the time, no such aviation bodies and charts existed. These charts led to standardised maps, and since then, pilot charts have been monitored and updated to keep up with modern aviation.

What does VFR stand for?

VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules. Under Visual Flight Rules, pilots must operate their aircraft in weather conditions that are generally clear enough for them to be able to see outside the cockpit and visually avoid obstructions and other aircraft. These regulations are designed to ensure safety in the skies and to help pilots navigate safely. 

What is VFR navigation?

Under VFR, pilots are required to be able to see and avoid obstacles and other aircraft clearly. Pilots flying under VFR are not usually given routes or altitudes by air traffic control (ATC).

Weather conditions that meet the minimum requirements for VFR flight are called Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC), which are specified by the relevant aviation authority, including minimum visibility and distance from clouds. Pilots must use Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) if the weather does not meet the requirements. When operating the aircraft under IFR, the focus is on referencing the instruments instead of visually observing the environment. 

What are VFR charts designed for?

VFR charts are designed for pilots flying at low speeds over short distances or medium-range flights at low and intermediate altitudes. 

VFR maps aid a pilot’s navigation so they can plan safe routes. They show land features like large bodies of water and mountains, distinctive landmarks, high obstacles, airports, restricted areas, and controlled airspaces.

What kind of maps do pilots use?

Aeronautical charts refer to maps used for air navigation that include topographic features, hazards and obstructions, navigation routes and aids, airspace, and airports. 

Pilots use aeronautical and VFR charts designed to help pilots plan and fly a safe route. Pilot maps usually look like topographic maps, with flight chart information on top.

What is the scale of a pilot chart?

Pilot charts are available in various scales. They are divided into categories based on the map's scale, which is proportional to the area covered. The amount of detail is reduced when larger areas are represented on a map.

World aeronautical charts

World aeronautical charts (WACs) have a 1:1,000,000 scale and cover large regions. They are used for navigation by pilots of moderate-speed aircraft and aircraft at high altitudes. WACs show topographical information, airports and radio navigational aids. They are most useful for flight planning, where pilots need to see the entire flight area. However, WACs do not contain some information, such as airspace restrictions, and so are rarely used under VFR. 

VFR or sectional charts

Sectional charts of VFR charts have a scale of 1:500,000. They typically cover a total area of about 340x340 miles, printed on both sides of the map. Sectional charts show topographical features like terrain elevations or ground features identifiable from the sky, like rivers, dams and bridges. They also feature practical ground features like landmarks and airports.

Terminal area charts

Terminal area charts (TACs) are used under VFR and depict areas surrounding major airports, mostly those with Class B airspace. They are much more detailed, with a scale of 1:250,000 and contain information on approach, departure, and transition rules and procedures.

Who publishes pilot charts?

Two of the main publishers of pilot charts are the Civil Aviation Authority and RogersData, providing up-to-date charts with important information for charting a VFR flight.

  • Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) creates and implements UK policy on aeronautical information. The CAA publishes aviation charts that are regularly updated and known for their technical content. Find CAA charts covering England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and London Helicopter flying routes.

  • RogersData

RogersData maps cover the United Kingdom and most of Europe. These aeronautical charts contain the latest information from the CAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). They include a detailed description of your chosen airspace with a topographic terrain chart with landing sites, glider airfields, aerial sporting and recreational activities, airfields, reporting points, restricted and danger areas, significant points and border crossing points.

Shop for pilot maps from Flightstore

Not only are pilot maps a useful tool for navigation, but they are also a legal requirement for the cockpit. 

Depending on your needs, various types of UK maps or European charts are available, so be sure you have the right maps to cover your flight plan.

With pilot charts and accessories, find the most up-to-date maps at Flightstore so you can navigate the skies safely and get ready for takeoff.

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