How to Use an Aeronautical Chart Plotter: Tools and Techniques for Accurate Chart Navigation

How to Use an Aeronautical Chart Plotter: Tools and Techniques for Accurate Chart Navigation

If you’re a pilot, you know how crucial it is to have accurate and up-to-date information when navigating through the skies. One of the most important tools for this task is an aeronautical chart plotter. This device allows you to measure distances, plot courses, and calculate headings with precision.

What is an Aeronautical Chart Plotter?

An aeronautical chart plotter is a specialized tool used in aviation to measure distances and plot courses on aeronautical charts. These charts are specially designed for pilots, and they contain important information about airspace, airports, and navigation aids. A chart plotter can help you quickly and accurately determine your position relative to these features, making it an essential tool for any pilot.

Why Use an Aeronautical Chart Plotter?

While modern technology has made navigation easier in many ways, aeronautical chart plotters remain an important tool for pilots. They offer a level of precision and accuracy that is hard to match with other devices, and they can be used even when other technology fails. Additionally, many aviation authorities require pilots to carry a paper chart and chart plotter as a backup to electronic navigation devices.

How to Use an Aeronautical Chart Plotter

Using an aeronautical chart plotter is relatively simple, but it does require some practice to become proficient. Some of the key skills you’ll need to master include measuring distances, plotting courses, and calculating headings. In this article, we’ll cover these skills in detail, as well as some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your chart plotter.

What is an Aeronautical Chart Plotter?

An aeronautical chart plotter is an essential tool for pilots and navigators to accurately navigate through the air. It is a device that helps in measuring distances, plotting courses, and determining headings on aeronautical charts. By using a chart plotter, pilots can plan their routes, estimate fuel consumption, and ensure that they stay on course during their flight.

Types of Aeronautical Chart Plotters

There are two main types of aeronautical chart plotters: the manual plotter and the electronic plotter. The manual plotter is essentially a transparent ruler with a rotating protractor that allows the user to measure distances and angles on a chart. The electronic plotter, on the other hand, is a more advanced device that uses GPS technology to provide real-time positioning and navigation information.

The manual plotter is a simple and reliable tool that has been used for many years. It is easy to use and requires no batteries or other sources of power. The electronic plotter, however, is more accurate and efficient. It can display multiple charts simultaneously and can provide real-time updates on the aircraft’s position.

Manual Plotter Electronic Plotter
Simple and reliable More accurate and efficient
Easy to use Displays multiple charts simultaneously
No batteries or other sources of power required Provides real-time updates on the aircraft’s position

Both types of aeronautical chart plotters have their advantages and disadvantages, and pilots may choose to use one or the other depending on their personal preference and the specific needs of their flight. However, regardless of the type of chart plotter used, it is essential that pilots are proficient in its use to ensure accurate and safe navigation through the air.

Tools and Materials Needed for Aeronautical Chart Plotting

Before you start using an aeronautical chart plotter, it’s important to have all the necessary tools and materials on hand. Here are the items you’ll need:

Aeronautical Chart

The first thing you’ll need is an aeronautical chart. This is a specialized map that provides pilots with important information about the airspace they’ll be flying in. Aeronautical charts show things like airports, airspace boundaries, navigation aids, and terrain features. It’s important to have an up-to-date chart that covers the area you’ll be flying in.

Aeronautical Chart Plotter

The next item you’ll need is an aeronautical chart plotter. This is a tool that helps you measure distances and angles on the chart. Aeronautical chart plotters come in various shapes and sizes, but they all have a clear plastic base that’s used to align the plotter with the chart. Some plotters also have built-in protractors and other measuring tools.

Pencil and Eraser

You’ll also need a pencil and eraser to make marks on the chart. It’s important to use a soft lead pencil so that your marks don’t damage the chart. An eraser is also essential for correcting mistakes.


A protractor is a tool that’s used to measure angles. This is important for determining headings and courses on the chart. Some aeronautical chart plotters have built-in protractors, but it’s also a good idea to have a separate protractor on hand in case you need to make measurements that your plotter can’t handle.

Having all of these tools and materials on hand will ensure that you’re able to accurately plot your course on the aeronautical chart. With practice, you’ll become more comfortable using these tools and will be able to navigate with ease.

Techniques for Accurate Aeronautical Chart Navigation

Determine Your Course

Before you can navigate using an aeronautical chart plotter, you need to determine your course. This involves identifying your starting point and your destination, and then plotting a straight line between the two points on the chart.

Measure the Distance

Once you have determined your course, you need to measure the distance between your starting point and your destination. Aeronautical chart plotters typically have a ruler or scale built into them, which can be used to measure the distance between two points on the chart.

Calculate Your Heading and Groundspeed

Once you have determined your course and measured the distance, you need to calculate your heading and groundspeed. Your heading is the direction in which you need to fly to reach your destination, while your groundspeed is the speed at which you are actually traveling over the ground.


To calculate your heading, you need to take into account the magnetic variation, which is the difference between true north and magnetic north. You can find the magnetic variation for your area on the aeronautical chart. Once you have determined the magnetic variation, you can use a protractor to measure the angle between your course line and magnetic north, and then add or subtract the magnetic variation as necessary to get your heading.


To calculate your groundspeed, you need to take into account the wind direction and speed. You can find this information on the aeronautical chart, or you can get it from a weather briefing. Once you have determined the wind direction and speed, you can use a flight computer or E6B to calculate your groundspeed.

Adjust for Wind

Finally, you need to adjust for wind by using your heading and groundspeed to calculate a new course line that takes into account the effect of the wind. This is known as a wind correction angle, and it allows you to fly a straight line to your destination, even in the presence of a crosswind.

By following these techniques for accurate aeronautical chart navigation, you can ensure that you reach your destination safely and efficiently.

Tips and Tricks for Aeronautical Chart Plotting

Use a Good Quality Aeronautical Chart

When it comes to aeronautical chart plotting, the first step is to use a reliable and up-to-date chart. A high-quality chart is essential for accurate navigation and ensures that you have all the necessary information at your fingertips. Make sure to purchase charts from a reputable source and check for any updates before starting your flight.

Practice Your Plotting Skills

Practice makes perfect, and this is especially true when it comes to chart plotting. Take the time to hone your skills and become familiar with the tools and techniques involved in chart navigation. This includes learning how to use a chart plotter, measuring distances accurately, and identifying landmarks and other features.

Double Check Your Work

Accuracy is key when it comes to aeronautical chart plotting. Always double-check your work to ensure that you have plotted your course correctly and have not missed any critical information. This includes verifying your calculations, cross-referencing information with other charts, and confirming your location throughout the flight.

Stay Up-to-Date on Chart Updates

Aeronautical charts are constantly updated, with new information added and old information removed. It is essential to stay up-to-date with these changes to ensure that you have the most accurate information available. This includes checking for updates regularly and reviewing any notices to airmen (NOTAMs) that may affect your flight.

Aeronautical Chart Plotting Tips and Tricks
Tips Tricks
Use a Good Quality Aeronautical Chart Check for updates before starting your flight
Practice Your Plotting Skills Identify landmarks and other features accurately
Double Check Your Work Verify your calculations and cross-reference information
Stay Up-to-Date on Chart Updates Check for updates regularly and review NOTAMs


In conclusion, an aeronautical chart plotter is an essential tool for accurate chart navigation. By using the correct techniques and tools, pilots can ensure their safety and the safety of their passengers while flying.

Key takeaways:

  • Always use a chart plotter when navigating through the air.
  • Understand the different types of chart plotters and their features.
  • Practice using the chart plotter before flying to ensure proficiency.
  • Use the correct tools and techniques for accurate chart plotting.
  • Ensure the chart plotter is updated and accurate before each flight.

Remember, safety is paramount in aviation, and using a chart plotter is just one way to ensure you are taking all necessary precautions. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can improve your chart navigation skills and fly with confidence.

Useful Resources:
Resource Description
AOPA Provides resources and training for pilots.
FAA Offers regulations and guidelines for aviation.
Jeppesen Produces aeronautical charts and related materials.

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