The Art of the Chart

Somewhere in those symbols, lines, and colors is all the information you need to fly from here to there.

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At the other extreme is young cartographer Rick Luzier, who toils at a computer workstation "drawing" a map with a keyboard and mouse--at the time I visited him he was working on a new, almost totally automated terminal area chart. (A TAC is an adjunct to a sectional that shows in large scale a single particularly busy city--Cincinnati, in this case--that has complex air carrier traffic and numerous altitude and airspace restrictions for light aircraft.)

But Luzier's work shows why human input is still important. He calls up from a computer database the chart layer that depicts man-made obstructions. They are magically placed on the electronic map more precisely than any cartographer could, but some so exactly that their symbols obscure more important information, and so profusely that Cincinnati becomes a blur of black. The computer is undiscriminating and, as requested, obediently flags every building over 200 feet high, but only a few of the skyscrapers need representation. "Most of the things we do manually can be automated if we have the equipment," Alsop explains, "but there's no way to put that much symbology on a single sheet without human judgment coming into play to decide what to print and where to put it."

Says John Brennan, supervisor of the Eastern Chart Section, "You can't compromise quality just in the interest of making production more efficient. Automation is certainly the way to go, but we have to approach it cautiously. Once something [wrong] gets into the hands of the pilot, it's impossible to recall it. All the young cartographers here are rarin' to go on this new stuff, but we're being cautious."

Still, the AC&C has a tempting goal in sight as it turns more and more chart symbols, locations, landmarks, airways, elevations, and contours into electronic bits: "a seamless database that will go straight into cockpit moving-map displays without ever being on paper," says Bolton. "After all, we're accurate to within better than one pixel on a CRT screen."

For the old fogeys among us, however, nothing will ever replace the sectional--a "database" that is not only cheap, accurate, portable, durable, and convenient, but beautiful.

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