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Aviation Charts
Using charts to plan and navigate flights

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Navigating the Old-Fashioned Way
Using the GPS
Using the Flight Planner

Using Real-World Charts with Flight Simulator

In Flight Simulator, you fly over terrain modeled from real-world digital elevation data. With an aeronautical chart in hand, you can plan flights, plot your progress, use dead reckoning, and practice recognizing symbols on the chart and identifying their Flight Simulator counterparts. Ultimately, using real-world charts during Flight Simulator flights will improve your chart-reading abilities and general navigational skills.

Development of Aviation Charts

Not long ago, a road map was a pilot's best—and perhaps only—reference while flying. Road maps were good at identifying objects of interest to drivers, but not necessarily things that were important to pilots. Flying on a clear day at an altitude of 5,000 feet, it's possible to see more than 25,000 square miles of terrain. With that kind of perspective, pilots are drawn to different kinds of landmarks than drivers, landmarks that pilots need to recognize to navigate safely.

Until the 1920s, few official aeronautical maps existed. Instead, there were aeronautical bulletins that included information about airfields, and flight instructions, which outlined airfield approaches and air routes between towns and cities. Bulletins and instructions were basically compiled from pilots' notes. During aviation's early years, pilots flew by simply observing and following visual elements on the landscape, such as lakes, rivers, roads, and train tracks—a navigational technique called pilotage.

The sky was truly the limit, and pilots could fly virtually anywhere without permission from anyone; there were few flight regulations. Pilots had minimal training, and barnstormers looped and swooped in fragile wood-and-fabric airplanes that often crashed. U.S Army Flying Regulations from 1919 included pointers, such as: "Don't take the machine into the air unless you are satisfied it will fly," and "Pilots should carry hankies in a handy place to wipe off goggles," and "Do not trust altitude instruments." In those days, pilots also regularly flew in marginal weather conditions. As aviation evolved, however, pilots and navigation got more sophisticated, the skies got more crowded, airports developed, and the need arose for detailed aeronautical charts.

In 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act, which produced the first list of aviation regulations and required pilots to have licenses. Also, in 1926 and 1927, the Department of Commerce began publishing maps of civil airways. This program created airway charts, or "strip maps," that covered 330 miles of flight information. The strip maps were a scale of 1:500,000—or about 8 miles per inch—the same scale aviation sectional charts use today.

Individual pilots also contributed to the development of aviation charting and flight information. No name is more recognized in the aeronautical chart business than Elrey Jeppesen, a pilot whose license was signed by Orville Wright. Soon after receiving his license, Jeppesen bought a Curtiss JN–4 "Jenny." He spent time barnstorming, became a flight instructor, and later worked in aerial surveying. During the winter of 1930 and 1931, however, many of Jeppesen's fellow flyers were killed, and he felt their loss was largely due to the lack of published flight information.

Jeppesen set out to change things. In a black notebook, he recorded field lengths and notes on lights and various obstacles. He drew airport layouts and included the phone numbers of farmers who could report weather conditions. Soon, pilots asked Jeppesen to share his flight information so often that he began selling copies of his black notebook for $10. Today, Jeppesen remains the most respected source for instrument aeronautical charts, GPS NavData, and flight planning software.

The first United States government aeronautical charts were printed in three colors and included airfields, occasional navigational aides, topographical features, and prominent landmarks. Today's complex aviation charts contain nearly 150 symbols for cultural and topographical information, as well as 100 symbols for aeronautical information. They reflect the mosaic of open and restricted airspaces, controlled and uncontrolled airports, and myriad features such as VOR beacons, dams, airways, compass roses, and radio antennae. Roads and railroads, which were once the navigational aids to pilots, are still depicted, too. Sectional charts in the United States are revised and reprinted every six months, and a study in the development of aeronautical charts is ultimately a study in how the world changes—and how rapidly it changes.

Types of Charts

The charts you'll find most useful for everyday VFR flight in Flight Simulator include Jeppesen SIMCharts and the 1:500,000 scale charts listed in the table below. The larger a chart's the scale, the more area it covers. At the same time, larger-scale charts include less detail. Charts for instrument flying are listed below the VFR charts.

Type Use Purpose Sources
SIMCharts VFR/IFR Designed for navigation in Flight Simulator (entire world) Jeppesen (see Partners)
Sectional VFR Topographic, landmark, airport, radio, and hazard information; 1:500,000 scale Pilot supply stores (at airports and on the Web)
Visual Navigation Charts (VNC) VFR (Canada) Topographic, landmark, airport, radio, and hazard information; 1:500,000 scale Pilot supply stores
World Aeronautical Charts (WAC) VFR Same as sectionals but 1:1,000,000 scale (United States and Caribbean). Pilot supply stores
Global Navigation Charts (GNC) VFR Same as WACs but 1:5,000,000 scale (entire world). Pilot supply stores
Operational Navigation Charts (ONC) VFR Same as WACs but cover entire world. Pilot supply stores
Jet Navigation Charts (JNC) VFR Same as WACs but 1:5,000,000 scale (entire world). Pilot supply stores
Tactical Pilotage Charts (TPC) VFR Same as WACs but 1:5,000,000 scale (entire world). Pilot supply stores
Terminal Area Charts (TAC) VFR Depicts information similar to sectionals but in 1:250,000 scale in United States Class B airspace. Pilot supply stores
Visual Terminal Charts (VTC) VFR (Canada) Depicts information similar to sectionals but in 1:250,000 scale in five Canadian terminal airspaces Pilot supply stores
Airport/Facility Directory VFR/IFR Specific airport information Pilot supply stores
Low altitude enroute IFR Airways, airspace boundaries, radio navigational aids, airports with instrument approaches and more. For use below 18,000 feet MSL Jeppesen
High altitude enroute (jets) IFR Airways, airspace boundaries, radio navigational aids, selected airports and more. For use above 18,000 feet MSL Jeppesen
Instrument approach procedures IFR Procedures for specific precision and nonprecision approaches Jeppesen
DP or departure procedures IFR Procedures for specific routes used when departing selected airports Jeppesen
STARS standard terminal arrival routes IFR Procedures for specific routes used when arriving at selected airports Jeppesen IFR Facility, STARs, DPs,approach procedures On the Web