Reading a Sectional Chart
Sectional Charts are meant to only show a section of
a flight region. These charts emphasize only landmarks and features that
would be important to a pilot for navigation during flight. Tall, man-made
structures and natural landmarks are indicated along with roadways, rivers
and railroad tracks, as these are easily seen and recognized by pilots
from the air. Topography is referenced by a special color code with lightness
or darkness of the color indicating a lower or higher in elevation of the
Take a look at the Sectional Chart below and notice how much information
it communicates to the pilot. We'll break this Sectional Chart down into
layers, so you can easily see how the many important features are noted
on the chart. Check the button for any given layer to view that layer;
uncheck it to hide the layer. Select any combination of layers to place
them together, so you can view the sectional chart in different ways.
There are a number of important components to this chart. Let's examine
them in detail.
Notice the use of color to show elevation. The color code is given in the box
next to the chart. Remember, the darker the shade, the higher the elevation.
The lighter the shade, the lower the elevation. Bright yellow indicates a
This layer shows the man-made and natural features that would
be easily visible to a pilot during flight. The man-made features include
tall towers, roads, railroad tracks, dams, outdoor theaters, race tracks,
bridges, lookout towers, power transmission lines, aerial cables, and
coast guard stations. The natural features include lakes, rivers and
mountain passes. Click the image of the key to topographic symbols at
right for a closer view.
These man-made structures are usually tall radio towers, simply tall towers or
they are very tall structures that are not specifically identified on the map.
See the key to the right.
An airport is indicated by the type and length of runway it
has. There are also special symbols to indicate if the airport is restricted
in any way, if it is a military airport, if it has been abandoned and
if it provides services such as fuel. Airports having control towers
are shown in blue. Additional data about the airport is given in a blue-lined
box. All other airports are shown in magenta. For specific details about
an airport, the pilot needs to consult the Airport Facility Directory.
Click the key to the right for a closer view.
The blue-lined box gives details about the airport indicated
in blue. (Remember blue airports have control towers!) This data can
be lengthy or brief and usually includes radio frequencies, elevation,
runway length and lighting availability. Click the key to the right for
a closer view.
The symbols listed in the box below inform pilots as to what radio aids are available
for their navigation. Click the box for a closer view.
The type of aircraft being flown will determine the airspace
in which it should be flown. The floor and/or ceiling for each different
airspace designation is sometimes indicated on the chart. Airways, departure
and arrival routes are also drawn on the map. Restricted areas and military
operation areas are boxed in blue or magenta. Click the box to the right
These symbols show special activity that can occur in a certain area such as
ultralight flying, hang gliding, parachuting and glider operations. If an airport
has a flashing beacon, it is also indicated. See the key at right for these
All names are printed in black, blue or magenta and can indicate cities,
mountains, rivers and regions.
Throughout a sectional chart a compass rose is placed to identify
to the pilot the orientation to the cardinal points (north, south,
east and west).