The Aeronautical Chart
From the foregoing explanation of UK airspace, it should now be clear that you should check any prospective flying location on an up-to-date aeronautical chart. There are various types of chart, but the ones required are those produced for pilots flying with visual reference to the ground, so flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). These are nowadays known as VFR charts.
VFR charts are available in two scales: 1:250,000 and 1:500,000, and come plastic-laminated. The laminated finish allows you to draw on the map with a washable felt-tip pen and then wipe it clean afterwards.
Scale 1:500,000 (United Kingdom)
These charts (known as ‘half mil.’ charts) show all airspace below FL195. Three charts (Scotland, Orkney and Shetland; Northern England and Northern Ireland; and Southern England and Wales) cover the whole of the UK. The scale is approximately 8 miles to an inch.
Scale: 1:250,000 (United Kingdom)
These charts (known as ‘quarter mil.’) only show airspace that has a lower limit below 5000 ft AMSL or Flight Level 55, which is not an issue for models/SUA operations! The scale is approximately 4 miles to an inch.
Keeping charts up to date
Airspace is regularly changed as civil airports grow, military aerodromes are abandoned, airways are raised or lowered and other changes occur. National Air Traffic Services (NATS) is responsible for aeronautical charts, and updated charts are released as often as within twelve months of the previous issue. You should therefore check at least annually to make sure you are using the most up-to-date issue. But even with an up-to-date chart, the information is only valid on the day of issue! In order to keep your chart fully up to date between new editions, it is necessary to consult the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) and NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) that NATS issues and amend your chart as necessary.
It should be remembered that all these charts contain long-term information only and there is nothing about those Royal Flights or Red Arrows displays or other special events that must be avoided.
National Air Traffic Services list all airspace changes that will be incorporated into the next chart issue, on a map by map basis, on their website. Go to http://www.nats-uk.ead-it.com and follow the links to airspace policy and aeronautical charts.
Where to get them?
You can obtain these charts from a number of different sources listed on the NATS website. Flying clubs at local airfields also usually stock them.
Using a chart
The chart symbols will seem totally confusing at first – don’t panic! The legend at the bottom is comprehensive and you will soon learn your way around it.
Aeronautical charts show vertical limits expressed using a variety of terms such as ‘ALT’ and ‘FL’ or ‘Flight Level’. Generally you need not worry about these as they are all positions above the ground. The key one from the model pilot’s perspective is any airspace that has SFC (surface) in its designation.
If you don’t have access to a VFR chart there are two third-party sources of information on the internet: http://www.skydemonlight.com/
Obviously the accuracy of the information presented on third party sites has to be treated with caution, but if it shows that the area you want to fly in is within a prohibited area or similar then you would be foolish to ignore it. And at the least it will help you build up a picture of the shapes of the various types of airspace.
Temporary Navigation warnings
The VFR charts will tell you about the long-term airspace features. But for short-term events, temporary controlled airspace may be created or other navigation warnings issued. For events like the London Olympics or the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, large prohibited and restricted zones were created for the duration of the event – and military fighters were on standby to shoot down any aircraft looking likely to breach these zones! Most major airshows also have the protection of a Temporary Restricted Area (RA(T)). Such short-term airspace restrictions or navigational warnings are notified on Freefone 0500 354802 and by Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) available at www.ais.org.uk or from the NOTAM Office on 020 8745 3451
This third-party website allows you to choose to see the NOTAMs in your area plotted on a map http://notaminfo.com/ which makes it very easy to see if there is anything you need to be aware of. You can also use http://www.skydemonlight.com/. On this site you draw a simple route (by clicking on your start point and end points) and it automatically brings up any NOTAMs within 5nm of that route.
See the next section here: Aircraft Knowledge