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5 Uncommon VFR Sectional Items To Watch Out For

You might be surprised by the strange and interesting things you'll find on your sectional chart.

1) Space Launches

This rocket ship symbol represents just that - launching spacecraft activity. Located at iconic places such as Cape Canaveral, FL where NASA conducts most of its space launches, and Vanderberg, CA where Space-X launches many of its' spacecraft. For up-to-date information about potential launches check the chart-supplement and NOTAMs.

2) National Security Areas

If you spend enough time looking at a sectional chart you will come across a 'national security area.' Denoted by a maroon shading or dashed box, these areas are accompanied by a text box indicating how far you need to stay away. Though you aren't always required to avoid the airspace, it's best to keep your distance.

The example below is the NSA is in the San Fransisco bay area, over the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Pilots are requested to stay at least 800 feet AGL over the facilities as they conduct research on nuclear arms, energy, and bioweapons!

3) Asterisks

Asterisks on a sectional chart usually mean large, exposed rocks, but when an asterisk is red it means it is a designated seaplane landing area.

4) Hazards On The Ground

You're probably used to hearing about hazards in the air, but it's important to consider hazards on the ground.

Located just north of Cape Cod Coast Guard Airstation (KFMH) and marked by a zig-zag blue line is a Caution Area. This Caution Area warns pilots that within a 1-mile radius and up to 4,500 feet the PAVE PAWS radar system could prove damaging to the health of you and your avionics. The Precision Acquisition Vehicle Entry Phased Array Warning System is a cold war era radar system designed to detect nuclear missiles from enemy nations.

Another example of a Caution Area is in the southwest desert; there is a solar farm between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that uses mirrors to focus the sun's energy at a single point. This structure has the potential to harm your eyes because at the right angle you could be aligned with a mirror and have the sun blind you. The FAA has deemed it an ocular glare hazard.

5) Marine Lights

These small blue dots on a sectional can actually be a great navigational aid to you--they represent Marine Lights and are usually attached to buoys or lighthouses. At night they can provide a clearer definition of the shoreline.


Want to learn more about VFR charts and symbols? Sign up for our VFR Charts and Publications online course here.

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Nicolas Shelton

Nicolas is a private pilot from Southern California. He is currently studying at Purdue University, where he is working on advanced pilot ratings. You can reach him at nicolas@boldmethod.com.

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