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Is Blue Tougher than Red?

As you study and learn the Sectional Chart symbols for landmarks and airspace you begin to notice a hidden message within the color codes.

As you study and learn the Sectional Chart symbols for landmarks and airspace you begin to notice a hidden message within the color codes. In most every case the color blue is used to depict a more stringent situation than the color red (magenta).

You probably think I have been looking at charts and airspace a little too long, but there are some simple tricks that will help any pilot navigate the coded complexities of an aeronautical chart. For one, on the chart, the color blue is tougher than red.

First take AIRPORTS...

Figure 1

BLUE: Controlled airports that require radio communications and are under the watchful eye of an air traffic controller are printed on the chart as a blue symbol.

RED: The uncontrolled airport where no radios are required and only the guys pumping fuel are watching the traffic pattern ... those are printed in magenta. (The image on the right.)

Next, AIRSPACE -- Class D&E...

Figure 2

BLUE: When controlled airspace to the surface also comes with a control tower it usually changes to Class D and is shown with a blue dashed line.

RED: When Class E airspace comes down and touches the surface, a dashed magenta line is used. (On the right.)

AIRSPACE -- Class B&C...

BLUE: Class B Airspace might be the most demanding of all. B's surround the busiest airports, and some B's are so busy that Student Pilots are not allowed. Class B lines are blue.
» Click here to view an example.

RED: Class C airports are busy, but they are not the biggest of the big like B's. Student Pilots can fly to any Class C airport. Class C lines are magenta.
» Click here to view an example.

AIRSPACE -- Special...

» Click here to view an example.

BLUE: Special Use Airspace such as Prohibited, Restricted, Alert, and Warning Areas all present significant hazards to aircraft. In some cases the hazards include missiles, bombs, and target practice -- serious stuff. All these areas are shown on the chart in blue.

RED: The Military Operations Area (MOA) is shown in red. MOA's do not have the same hazardous (read: live fire) operations listed above. MOAs are essentially practice areas for military pilots in training. We should watch out in MOAs -- but there are no bombs.


» Click here to view an example.

BLUE: Even navigational systems shown on the chart follow this hidden code. The VOR system has been the backbone of navigation for decades. We navigate from place to place using dependable airways that have VOR stations as their bookends. The VOR symbol, the VOR compass rose around the symbol, and the VOR information box are all blue.

RED: The NDB on the other hand is helpful, but normally cannot be used for enroute navigation. NDB's are shown in red. With its calculations of relative bearing, the NDB is harder to -- plus, on a stormy night it may not be useable at all.

VOR -- reliable like an old friend -- blue.
NDB -- short range and confusing -- red.

BOTTOM LINE: Blue versus Red. On an aeronautical chart, blue should be your wake up call. In aviation, blue is a subliminal message of stronger, tougher, faster, more stringent and indicates a higher level for just about anything ... or maybe I've just been writing about airspace too long?

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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