The history of the development of military aeronautical charts began immediately before the First World War. The first charts created at that time did not differ much from topographic maps. Air planes were fairly slow back then and had a small range of action, which meant that the charts were developed at the scale of 1:200,000. When speed of aircraft increased, it soon turned out that this scale was too large. Therefore, many countries began to create charts with smaller scales: 1:300,000 and 1:500,000. The International Map of the World 1:1,000,000 (IMW) was frequently used for continental flights prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, while 1:3,500,000 and 1:5,000,000 maps were commonly used for intercontinental flights.
The Second World War brought a breakthrough in the field of aeronautical chart development, especially after 7 December 1941, when the USA entered into the war. The Americans created more than 6000 map sheets and published more than 100 million copies, which covered all continents. In their cartographic endeavours, they were aided foremost by the Brits.
On the other hand, the Third Reich had more than 1,500 officers and about 15,000 soldiers and civil servants involved in the development of maps and other geographic publications during the Second World War. What is more, the Reich employed local cartographers and made use of local source materials in all the countries it occupied. The Germans introduced one new element to the aeronautical charts – the printed reference grid which made it easier to command its air force.
The experience gained during the Second World War and local conflicts was for the United States an impulse to undertake work on the standardization of the development of aeronautical charts. Initially, standardization work concerned only aeronautical charts issued by the US, but after the establishment of NATO, standardization began to be applied to all countries entering the Alliance. The currently binding NATO STANAGs (Standardization Agreements) distinguish between operational charts and special low-flight charts. The charts are developed in the WGS-84 coordinate system, where the WGS-84 ellipsoid of rotation is the reference surface. The cylindrical transverse Mercator projection was used for the scale of 1:250,000, while the conformal conic projection was used for other scales.
The first aeronautical charts issued at the beginning of the 20th century contained only a dozen or so special symbols concerning charts’ navigational content, whereas currently the number of symbols and abbreviations found on such charts exceeds one hundred. The updating documents are published every 28 days in order to ensure that aeronautical charts remain up-to-date between releases of their subsequent editions. It concerns foremost aerial obstacles and air traffic zones.
The aeronautical charts published by NATO have scales between 1:50,000 and 1:500,000 and the printed Military Grid Reference System (MGRS), while the aeronautical charts at scales between 1:250,000 and 1:2,000,000 contain the World Geographic Reference System (GEOREF).
Nowadays, modern military air planes are characterised by their exceptional combat capabilities in terms of speed, range and manoeuvrability. Aside from aircraft, contemporary armed forces make increasingly frequent use of aerial robots, drones and unmanned cruise missiles. This is why, there has been a noticeable increase, especially in NATO, in the amount of work devoted to the standardization and development of aeronautical charts, as well as deepening of knowledge of navigation and aeronautical information.