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There is a TON! of information on sectional charts, especially on all VFR charts, which are very useful to us as pilots. During your training you will need to know and understand what all of the symbols and information means.

You will be asked by the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) to identify curtain information or symbols on your chart during the check ride. You will also see a few questions on the knowledge test.

For an example a couple of actual questions on the knowledge test are “Which public use airports depicted are indicated as having fuel?” or “If Redbird Tower is not in operation, which frequency should be used as a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) to monitor airport traffic?”

We will break down and discuss the details of the VFR sectional charts and the meaning of the symbols. This covers all VFR type charts such as:

  • VFR sectional charts

  • Terminal Area Chart (TAC)

  • Other VFR sectional Charts:

    • Gulf Coast

    • Grand Canyon

    • Caribbean

As you continue your training you will learn more about Sectional Charts and their symbols. Let’s take a look at a VFR sectional chart, Chart legend, and look at a few basic symbols on the chart.

All sectional charts are published by National Aeronautical Navigation Services Group, which is a part of the FAA. Charts are required to be upgraded and published every 56 days.


The Sectional Chart Legend, which is found on VFR charts, TAC charts as well as IFR charts, which shows all of the aeronautical symbols on the charts and gives detailed descriptions. Topography information can also be found on all VFR charts, such as roads, shorelines, lakes/reservoirs, rivers, railroads, cities and more.


VFR Waypoints or checkpoints are indicated by a flag and the name. They are basically known and easily recognizable landmarks, such as; stadium, bridge, golf course, etc. These are used to give your location to ATC or other air traffic via the common radio frequency.


Let’s take a look at a few basic symbols that you will need to know.

  • Parachute symbol - Parachute or Skydiving Jumping Area

  • Diamond - Stadium and is associated with a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) during an event.

  • Glider – Glider, Ultralight or Hang Glider operations in the local area or around the airport.

  • Rocket - Space launch area such as; Vandenberg AFB, Cape Canaveral, and a few other locations.

  • Asterisk - is to show large exposed rocks, which can be easily seen from the air.

Now that we have gone over basic symbols, we will discuss in detail the more complex symbols found on sectional charts.


One symbol that we have to beware of especially flying in Southern California at airports, such as Brown Field (KSDM), Calexico International (KCXL) or even Jacumba (L78) which are located near or almost right on the border of the U.S. and Mexico.

The Air defense identification Zone (ADIZ), is basically an aerial border. All aircraft registered in the U.S. or foreign country must file, activate, and close a flight plan with the appropriate ATC or FSS facility.

Also, all civil or private aircraft entering the United States must land at an airport of entry, and must clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection.


Mode C is a transponder with altitude reporting that is required within a 30NM radius of a Class B airport. It is similar to that of the Class B airspace, as Mode C is also from the surface up to 10,000 feet MSL. Aircraft that where designed and certified without an engine driven electrical system may fly within the Mode C area, but must remain outside of Class A, B and C airspace and cannot fly underneath the shelfs of class B and C airspace.

Aircraft most be equipped with ADS-B Out when operating in most U.S. airspace (required since Jan. 2, 2020).

So, what is ADS-B Out? ADS-B Out sends information out about an aircraft's GPS location, altitude, and ground speed along with other data to ATC. If your ADS-B Out fails inflight, you can continue the flight to your destination.


You will notice a lot of magenta and blue circles with one or more white line inside of it, along with a few blue rectangles with a white line in side of it, these are airports.

The white lines within the circles or rectangles indicate the runways. Rectangle shaped airports are for runway patterns with at least one hard surfaced runway 1500 feet or greater in length.

The blue circles or rectangles indicate these airports have a control tower. Whereas, the magenta ones are airports with no control tower.

Some of the magenta or blue circled airports, having three or four tabs around it, indicates that airport has Fuel available.

Circular airport symbols having a star with a hollow circle inside of it, indicate that airport has a Rotating Beacon. For large airports the star will be in the location of the Rotating Beacon on the airfield. Rotating beacons operate from dusk to dawn.

Associated with the airport symbols is the airport data group. This gives you the airport name, ATIS frequency, field elevation, length of the longest runway, UNICOM frequency, etc.


The Maximum Elevation Figure is also seen all over a chart. These numbers indicate the highest elevation within a current quadrate rounded up to the nearest 100 feet such as terrain, towers, trees, etc. They are actually located in ever quadrate. On sectional charts a quadrate is bounded by lines dividing each 30 minutes of latitude and 30 minutes if longitude.


Types of NAVAIDs found all over section charts are:

  • VOR - VHF Omni-Directional Range

  • VORTAC - VOR Tactical Aircraft Control

  • VOR-DME - VOR-Distance Measuring Equipment

  • DME - Distance Measuring Equipment

A NAVAID that is located on an airport will not be represented as a typical NAVAID symbol. A small open circle indicates the NAVAID location on an airport symbol.

This NAVAIDs are associated with a compass rose and the radio information box. Keep in mind DME only, does not have a compass rose, only the radio information box. Some NAVAID radio information boxes maybe shown with a heavy line box. This heavy lined boxed indicates you as the pilot can communicate with a Flight Service Station (FSS) via that NAVAID.

The zero mark on the compass rose, are not set to follow the lines of longitude or true north. The compass rose is oriented to follow magnetic north. True north and magnetic north are not in the same place, they are approximately 316 miles apart.


There are a couple of different types of airways that you will find on a sectional.

  • Federal Airway

  • GPS Routes

  • Military Routes (Used by the military only)

Federal Airways:

If you look closer at the compass rose of a VOR, you will see multipole light blue lines with magnetic heading and a letter/number combination such as; V 8-21, these are Victor Airway. Victor airways are used both by VFR and IFR aircraft, to fly between VOR stations. They can also be used for easy flight planning purposes.

When a Victor Airway splits off into another airway, it is called an intersection. The intersection is associated with a five-letter identifier that can also be used as a reporting point.

Example: you depart from French Valley (F70) Airport to TANNR intersection, to pick up V 186, then direct to Palomar (KCRQ) Airport.

Airways are 4NM from the center to the outside in width, 8NM in total width. On some of the longer airways, a box with a number will indicate the distance between the VOR stations.

Airways start at 1200 feet above the surface and extend up but not including 18,000 feet MSL.

GPS Routes:

Global Position System (GPS) routes look identical to Victor Airways. GPS routes also originate from a VOR station. The only difference is that letter/number combination begins with a ‘T’ such as; T 326.

GPS routes will also have an RNAV waypoint along with a five-letter identifier.

Military Routes:

Military Training Route (MTR) are used by the military only. They are light gray with letter/number combination such as; VR1262 or IR425. MTRs are low altitude, below 10,000 feet, and high speed (over 250 knots) routes.

The MTR routes are shown with ether an “IR” or a “VR”. The “IR” means those routes are flown under IFR, and “VR” routes are flown under VFR.


Remote communication outlets (RCO) can be very hard to find on VFR charts. They are a small blue dot with a small circle around it, along with a box with the name of the outlet, flight service station (FSS), and the radio frequency. Sometimes these remote communication outlets may have more than one FSS radio using it.


You will be asked during your check ride some airspace questions. However, there is one airspace symbol that is rarely seen on sectional charts, you most likely will be asked during your checkride.



National Security Areas (NSA) are a section of airspace of defined vertical and lateral dimensions, which is designated on VFR sectional charts that require an increase in security or safety for current ground facilities.

NSA are depicted on sectional charts by either a thick magenta dashed line (don’t get this confused with Class Echo airspace, which are thin magenta dashed lines), or shaded area along with an information box.

For more information: Click Here


VFR Transition Route are VFR routes through class Bravo airspace. These routes are designed to be flown on a specific course and a specific altitude assigned by ATC. Pilots are required to receive a class bravo clearance from ATC, to fly a transition route.

Transition routes are found on Terminal Area Charts (TAC).

Remember to always refer to the legend of the sectional chart!


VFR Sectional Chart / TAC (Terminal Area Chart)

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