I am looking to make an emulation of the radar screen familiar to Air Traffic Controllers, such as the pictures below. I have been having a very hard time finding what type of chart/map is being used. The closest I've been able to come is enroute low ILS charts and something called a Radar Video Map. What type of chart are these and where can I find more of them (for the US)?

enter image description here
Source: telegraph.co.uk

ATC Example 2
Source: pennlive.com

ATC Example 3
Source: reddit.com

enter image description here
Source: youtube.com

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    $\begingroup$ Hi Zero! Can you edit your post to include the images instead of just linking them, to proof it against link rot? $\endgroup$ Aug 30 '21 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnWiseman Sure, done. $\endgroup$
    – Zero
    Aug 30 '21 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ It looks like the image in the video it's drawn with VATSIM VRC, more details here. Note there are different presentations depending on the type of control. It seems the one used here is emulating a TRACON. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Aug 30 '21 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ Top image looks like a TRACON and the bottom image an ARTCC. Bottom image showing high and low altitude sectors with radar display altitude filters off. (That's why it looks so cluttered). TRACON radar map shows necessary markings depicting runway alignment, sector boundaries, range marks, special airspace areas, etc. Top image (TRACON) is actually two radar displays (note the scale difference) $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Aug 30 '21 at 13:52

The question as it's phrased right now isn't clear if it's asking for the type of data displayed or the source of the data.

For the first case it has already been answered but I will reiterate for the sake of completeness:

  • Points (waypoints, airports, VFR points etc)
  • Navaids (VOR, ILS, NDB etc)
  • Runways
  • Coastline and border line
  • Control sectors
  • Range circles (for approach usually)
  • Airways and VFR routes
  • Radar tracks
  • Whatever the ATS unit wants

The last bullet is the most important as it answers the second question: you can't find these data. At least not easily. Some of them are in the country's AIP but that's not always freely available. Even then the AIP doesn't tell you what a controller sees as you don't need to know. The information is there but how it's displayed is another story.

Your best bet is to ask the unit you are interested to display. But again I wouldn't expect them to simply tell you "sure here it is". Take for example this question about Fayetteville TRACON. There is no answer (even mine) pointing to a ready to use data source. At some point while researching for that question I even came across the freedom of information act.

If this is for academic purposes though, it might be easier if the university makes the request.

Please note that my answer is based on my experience building my own radar simulator for HANSP and I know some of these aspects first hand.


Stelios is pointing you in the right direction: the video maps incorporate elements from the various published charts but are not a direct copy of any of them (and are not updated nearly as often).

In my experience at a TRACON in the United States:

There are many different maps we can select, including no map (a blank scope). Which information is separable (i.e. on distinct maps) can vary by facility.

In general order of importance, the maps can show:

  1. The sector boundaries, both with surrounding controls and the boundaries of internal sectors. These can and do change with airport configuration (landing and departing runways).
  2. The Minimum Vectoring Altitudes and prominent obstructions.
  3. An "Emergency Obstructions" map displaying all known obstructions to assist in giving advisories to aircraft in distress flying below the MVA.
  4. Any special-use airspace or TFRs.
  5. Airports and ground-based navaids.
  6. Runway final approach courses.
  7. Instrument approach fixes.
  8. SID/STAR/airway fixes.
  9. Other fixes commonly used for coordination.
  10. SID/STAR/airway routes.
  11. Airspace class (B/C/D/TRSA).
  12. Visual/geographic features like highways, train tracks, lakes and rivers, the coastline, etc.

Again depending on the facility, some of these are always visible—that is they are all combined on a single "base" map—and some may be toggled on or off. The older systems could only store six different maps; I'm not sure what the limit is for the current system but it's significantly more than that, at least 30.

I'm not experienced with the process of creating and editing the maps but they're vector images created by reference to lat/long coordinates, which allows the controller to zoom in or out and pan in all four directions while keeping the symbols where they should be relative to the ground and the radar site.

The video maps are not published, though the MVA charts are (with caveat of "not valid for navigation"). If you're interested in the maps used at a specific facility you will have to submit a FOIA request to the FAA.

If you're interested in just having the information to see for your own unofficial use I would look into VATSIM as @mins mentioned in a comment. They have hobbyist-level software that has already been developed to display video maps in a relatively realistic manner, and they have relatively realistic video map files to go with it. There's no need to reinvent the wheel, at least until you determine that the existing wheel doesn't work for you.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your help! I think FOIA is my best bet, any ideas on how I should describe what I’m asking for? Is the video layers of ATC TRACON? Or something like that? $\endgroup$
    – Zero
    Aug 30 '21 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Zero the term "facility STARS video maps" should be clear enough. You will likely have to submit a request for each individual facility you're interested in. For a Center use "ERAM" instead of "STARS." I don't know what file format they'll give you; I would at least ask if they have vector images (SVGs) available, but you might just get a JPEG of a scanned printout... $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Aug 30 '21 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ You might also reach out to VASAviation on YouTube—they obviously have some software they've developed and maps for it. (Those aren't FAA radar replays, only historical ADS-B tracks displayed on their own emulator.) $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Aug 30 '21 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah I did reach out and he told me he looked up “New York TRACON.” I did that and didn’t find anything like the one in the video, so… $\endgroup$
    – Zero
    Aug 30 '21 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, and it applies to Centers, as well, with the exception of #3. Our video maps don't have individual obstructions, but we have sectional charts overhead, that do. It's easy to visually correlate the two. $\endgroup$
    – atc_ceedee
    Sep 3 '21 at 18:11

You are right and wrong both. The screens show of course different information depending on the role of the controller, keep that in mind.

For example a sector controller responsible for high altitude traffic would see a different screen from his colleagues handling terminal traffic and the ground controller would see a different screen again.

The data is generally projected on a vector graphic of the area being controlled, so the controller has an indication of the geographical location of things. On top of that may be projected airways, waypoints, and things like that as relevant to the controller's responsibilities, and things like range circles as you see in the top image. Over that are projected the plots of individual flights, typically with information regarding aircraft type, speed, direction, altitude, and callsign.

The controller may be able to turn different layers of information on and off as needed to reduce clutter.

Different systems from different manufacturers and operating agencies may well have different information and other visuals, but that'd be a typical generalisation.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you! That makes a bit more sense. However, I'm still wondering where I could get some of the layers you are speaking about, namely the boundaries and obstructions found in the one in the video I linked. Any ideas on that? $\endgroup$
    – Zero
    Aug 30 '21 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Zero they're probably generated by the software on the fly based on semi-static information from places like the FAA and Eurocontrol. That's the same data printed charts (and those used in the electronic displays in aircraft) are ultimately derived from, but updated as needed rather than once every month or so. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Aug 30 '21 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah you're definitely right. I'm really struggling to find anything that I can use to make maybe a program to compile it into something simple. Not sure how I can do this $\endgroup$
    – Zero
    Aug 30 '21 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Zero these systems are multi-million dollar systems running on custom hardware. The data is probably not available to the general public, at least not easily. You'd have to contact say Eurocontrol or the FAA and ask them, maybe they have sample data sets you can use for that. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Aug 30 '21 at 8:47

In the US, enroute ATC facilities use a combination of public and proprietary data. Airports, low altitude routes, and high altitude routes are drawn using publically available information. Sector boundaries, range marks, extended center lines, etc are all custom designed and adapted to specific maps. The custom information is not readily available to the public.


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