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Rarely Noticed VFR Chart Symbols

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Have you ever set down and looked at a VFR sectional even a terminal area chart (TAC)? Of course you have. But, have you set down and really looked at a sectional chart?

If you look closely at a VFR chart you may notice some symbols that we don’t usually see every day. Keep in mind these symbols may not be shown on your local sectional chart, they may also show up on terminal area charts as well.

Let’s take a look at the ones found mostly in the Southwest area of the United States along with a couple interesting symbols in Alaska:

Below the sea

In some parts of the U.S. there are airports that are below sea level. Such as at the Cochran Regional (TRM) airport just southeast of Palm Springs. Cochran Regional airport is minus 114 feet MSL. Another airport that is even lower than Cochran is the Furnace Creek (L06) airport in Death Valley which is a whapping minus 210 feet below sea level.

Since these airports are below sea level this doesn’t mean they have low density altitude. These airports do get rather hot in the summer time.

When you see the word “Minus” in front of the airport elevation, you need to keep in mind you are going to be landing at an airport that is below sea level.


Why would the word “Objectionable” be on a chart? Well first off, that word doesn’t show up on a sectional chart, it actually appears on a VFR terminal area chart (TAC). In this case the word is used in conjunction with an airport symbol that conflicts with airspace surrounding that airport. These conflicts may be traffic patterns with another airport, hazardous runway conditions, or even man-made obstructions near the landing area.

In this case Nichols Field (0CL3) is not listed in the Chart Supplement, this makes it a private airport located a few miles northeast of Brown Field (KSDM) in the San Diego, California area. Nichols Field is a sky diving airport located underneath a San Diego Class Bravo shelf, they also drop skydivers through the class bravo shelf at 13,000 feet.

Bright Light Area’s

In many locations of the United States there areas with large solar farms, which can give off a blinding light or ocular glare if flying near them. On sectional charts the FAA has marked these areas to warn pilots of this ocular (vision) hazard.

This example shows the three solar farms of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which is located near Clark Mountain in California, about 25 nautical miles south of Las Vegas, NV.



Special Military Activity Routes (SMAR)

These are shown on VFR sectional charts by gray hashed borders, along with a box that has the FSS name and radio frequency. Also, inside the SMAR’s are some military training routes (MTRs). 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), this 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.



Terminal Radar Service Area or TRSA, are used around busy class Delta airports, which are not busy enough to be made in to class Charlie airports.

When flying within a TRSA under visual flight rules (VFR), it is recommended that pilots receive radar services from ATC, however radar services are optional.

Terminal Radar Service Area’s do not change the airspace around airports. TRSAs a shown on VFR sectional and terminal charts as a solid dark gray line, along with altitudes shown in black for each segment, similar to that of class Charlie or Bravo airspace.

Not Seen in the Lower 48

A couple of symbols you won’t find in the Lower 48 states of the Continental United States. These two symbols are actually found on the Alaska VFR sectional charts. Pilots are to adhere to specific guidelines set forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while flying near these areas marked with a Walrus around coastal areas, or a Bird symbol (Peregrine Falcons), south of the Deadhorse Airport (PASC), AK.


VFR Sectional Charts 

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