A place for paper in an electronic world

September 24, 2008

If you’re lucky enough to fly behind the latest in glass-cockpit technology, then you already know how much information is available to you at the push of a button. Even if the only “glass” in your panel is a GPS, you have a tremendous information resource at your fingertips. But that doesn’t mean traditional tools, like VFR charts, are obsolete.

In fact, keeping paper charts at the ready during your flight is always a good idea.

“Charts are always there for you,” says Woody Cahall, AOPA vice president of the Pilot Information Center. “They don’t need batteries, they keep working if your electrical system goes down, and they are a great way to learn more about what’s passing beneath your wings.”

Charts can even offer comfort to nervous passengers.

“Handing your passenger a chart gives them something productive to do and can help them feel a measure of control,” Cahall explains. “And that can turn an uncomfortable flier into another cockpit resource.”

When it comes to using charts, be sure you are selecting the right type for your mission. Sectional, terminal area (TAC), and world aeronautical (WAC) charts all give you information about terrain, airports, and airways, but differences in scale can mean big differences in how the charts should be used.

Sectionals, with their one-to-500,000 scale, emphasize visual checkpoints and topographical information, and are great for visual navigation of relatively slow aircraft. Terminal area charts use a one-to-250,000 scale and offer even more detail about obstacles and terrain as well as additional navigation and communication information around busy Class B airspace. Finally, world aeronautical charts use a one-to-1 million scale and therefore offer the least detail, making them best suited for long-distance flights in fast aircraft. And, pilots should keep in mind that obstructions under 500 feet agl won’t be depicted on WACs after Dec. 18 of this year.

To learn more about the different types of aeronautical charts, visit AOPA Online or call the AOPA Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672) for answers to all your aviation questions.