How to Use an Aviation Sectional Plotter

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A pilot uses a plotter, a specialized ruler, to plan VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flights with a sectional chart. He begins the planning phase of a flight by drawing his intended course on this aviation map. He then uses the plotter to determine the compass heading of the flight, as well as the distance. The plotter itself has two separate parts. The rectangular portion measures distance, while the circular portion, an azimuth, displays the course heading.

Things You'll Need

  • Sectional Chart
  • Plotter
  • Pencil
  • Highlighter

Measuring Direction and Distance

  • Unfold the sectional chart. Choose an area large enough to view both your departure and destination points.

  • Draw a straight line between your starting and ending points on the chart. Use a pencil to erase any lines that might confuse you while flying. The line needs to be long enough to cross at least one line of longitude printed on the map. If the course line you draw is not long enough, simply extend it past a longitude line and erase the extension before you fly.

  • Place the center of the azimuth over the intersection of the course line and a line of longitude. The center of the azimuth has a small hole, which you will place directly over the point where the line you draw crosses a line of longitude.

  • Align the azimuth vertically along the line of longitude. Rotate the azimuth so that the 0 is on top and the 180 is on the bottom, set directly on the longitude line. Be certain that once aligned, the center of the azimuth is still on the intersection point.

  • Find your course heading. The course line you draw will pass under the plotter's azimuth, through a number on the outer edge of the plotter. This is your course heading based on compass directions. A compass, just like a circle, has 360 degrees. The 0 is north, 90 represents east, 180 is south, and 270 is west.

  • Measure the distance of your course. Using the straight edge of the plotter, measure the course line in the same manner as using a standard ruler. Most aviation measurements use nautical miles, as opposed to statute miles, so verify which side of the plotter to use to measure distance.

  • Use a bright yellow highlighter to draw over your course line for easier viewing in flight. If you choose a different color, it should not blend with the colors on the chart.

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