How are aviation charts made? What kind of techniques are used?

From what I understand a GA aircraft equipped with:

  • A camera: takes images of the ground
  • Radar: calculates altitude and detects obstacles
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I guess aviation charts are made out of printed paper. What are you exactly asking? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 8:40
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @HugoWoesthuis come on Hugo.... $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 11:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Ben I didn't know jokes weren't allowed here;) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of chart are you asking about? Charts, as opposed to maps, provide information to support navigation. Terrain and obstacle data is present on VFR Sectionals, but they also contain navigation and airspace information. IFR charts have little to no terrain data. Have you researched the AeroNav part of the FAA web site? It may help even if you're not in the US. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ Like any other map, with GIS software. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 15:13

1 Answer 1


Mapping starts with basemaps, with topos (DEMs or digital elevation models) and geographic features. Then cultural overlays are added.

The charts in US utilize a national spatial reference system. Today this is done with GIS/Mapping software. Then overlays for aviation data, such as man made obstructions, and air navigation data is added.

The (old) process has been the topic of many articles in pilot journals. The newer process is rapidly evolving, as the government transitions to AWS / cloud based applications.

To address your questions, the DEMs may have been created with RADAR and integrated with topo data, but today LIDAR is the norm. LIDAR data helps with man made structures as well, while not as good as SAR RADAR, it can still show catenary and power line structures. Those metallic structures show up very well in SAR due to their conductivity.


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