DuraCharts: Sturdier sectionals for the VFR pilot

The paper VFR sectional is probably the hardest working — and most abused — piece of equipment in the airplane. They get handled extensively, unfolded, folded, crumpled up, tossed in the back of the airplane, written on, erased, stuffed into gear bags and, in my house, they are apt to be chewed on by a 20-pound Siamese cat. All these things take their toll, which usually results in a tear in the paper along the seam, necessitating the purchase a new chart well ahead of the chart’s expiration date.

“I’ve been flying since 1964 and I’ve seen many charts tossed into the wastebasket or recycling bin before their expiration date because they’ve worn out,” said Joe Caccamise, the creator of DuraCharts. “It’s frustrating and expensive to have to keep replacing VFR charts before the six-month expiration date.”

He added that it also can be frightening to passengers when the chart tears in two during the flight. “Once I was flying with a friend who is a non-pilot and I asked him to get the chart to get the information we needed about the next VOR we needed to use. He unfolded the chart and it ripped in half! He looked at me with that ‘oh no!’ look on his face and I said ‘Oh great, now we’re gonna get lost’ in a completely serious voice and he believed me!”

The DuraChart is on the top, while a regular chart is below.

Having pulled this same joke at least once or twice in my career, I could relate. I’ve had students who insisted on using the same well-used chart over and over again until it is covered with pencil lines and pen-drawn courses and the paper has been reduced to the consistency of damaged silk, with the information faded and fuzzy. The joking stops, however, when they can’t read a critical piece of information like a radio frequency or field elevation, because the chart is so worn.

The fade and fuzzy shouldn’t be a problem with the DuraCharts, said Caccamise. As the name implies, the DuraCharts are sturdier than the paper charts produced by the FAA, plus the color of the DuraCharts is brighter and more vibrant than the FAA products. The DuraChart has a fine coat of laminate, which makes it more resistant to tearing and eraser damage, as well as making it moisture resistant. You can spill water, coffee, or soda on it and literally shake it off.

“We had one of our charts go through the 2011 tornado at SUN ’n FUN,” Caccamise notes with pride. “After the tornado we had one hanging outside the booth. It was ugly, but you could still read it!”

This last statement was the Gauntlet of Challenge, thrown down before someone raised on the legend of Prince Valiant. For two weeks anyone who came into the flight school was asked to fold, unfold, crumple and attempt to spindle the DuraChart. Several gentlemen of a certain vintage took turns trying to tear it. Some pressed it flat, trying to introduce the dreaded seam-crease-evolves-into-a-tear that sends many VFR sectional to the recycling bin before it is halfway through its useful life. Chewbacca, the yellow labrador AKA “Chewy,” also had a go at it.

The DuraChart performed admirably.

This was no surprise to Caccamise, who notes the DuraCharts were three years in development with the emphasis on making a cost-effective, durable product.

“We went through three paper suppliers until we found one that would work for us, and we spent 13 months working with the FAA to get their approval,” he explained. “We started by producing VFR sectionals for the busiest airspace first. There are 37 sectionals in the United States. As we finish those and more revenue comes in, we will expand to do other charts, such as IFR and Helicopter charts.”

Cost-wise, the DuraChart is slightly more expensive than the FAA paper chart, as in $1 more, but you get what you pay for.

For more information: DuraChart.com

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