Live Sectional HowTo

I spent a good couple of months working on streamlining this process so my fellow pilots can quickly get one of these fun live sectional maps up and running at their home, flight club, local airport, office, or all of the above. 🙂  In this post you’ll find a detailed shopping list, step by step directions as well as detailed videos walking you through each step of the process.  If you end up building one of these I’d love a picture of your finished project.

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Components – Link to Amazon Shopping list of basic components.  Full list below

  • LED’s (String of 50) You may need two depending on the number of airports in your project.
  • Power Adapter You’ll need one for every two strings of lights.
  • â…ś inch Grommets
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Particle Board
  • 3M Spray Glue
  • 1×2 Pine Board (to create a spacer behind the particle board)
  • User: pi
  • Pass: livesectional
  • Includes support for a power off button
  • Includes support for a light sensor to dim the LEDs in a dark room
  • Software to copy the img file you just downloaded to your blank MicroSD card.
  • Source Code For those of you who don’t need this guide.


  1. Equipment Test

  2. Getting the Map On the Board and Board Preparation

  3. Configuring the Scripts for your Airports

  4. Wiring Everything Up

  5. Enjoy

  6. Consider throwing a couple bucks my way 🙂

  7. Get stuck?  Email me

Step 1: Equipment Test

During this process I had to switch out LED brands after sending one back and trying a replacement of the first brand.  The reason we start with this on the how-to is just to be sure you have all working components before you start gluing things.

So lets get your Pi set up first, without changing out the airports file as you’ll need to tweak that once you actually glue in the LED’s.  

First thing you’ll want to do is download the preconfigured img.  This is the operating system and live sectional scripts for the Pi.

Full Pre-configured Live Sectional  Pi Image File (3 GB Download – Now supports 8 GB Micro SD Cards)

  • User: pi
  • Pass: livesectional

Next install Software to copy the img file you just downloaded to your blank MicroSD card.

This image below shows the basic steps.  Select the file that you downloaded, plug your MicroSD card into your computer using a card reader or MicroSD to SD card adapter Select that as your drive, and then click the flash.  This will set the microSD card up for you. When that finishes take the MicroSD card out of your computer and plug it into the Pi

Here is a video walking you through all the programming stuff detailed below.

Basic Configuration

Plug your Pi into an HDMI cable plugged into you TV.  Plug in a wired keyboard into one of the Pi’s USB ports, and plug it into power using the power adapter that came with the Pi.

When the Pi boots up it will automatically start trying to run the Live Sectional Script.  You’ll see it say “Rainbow Animations” which is where it would light up all of your LED’s if they were connected.  It then runs the scripts to pull the weather for the airports listed in the airports file.

Let this all run until it stops on a line that says…

pi@LiveSectional:~ $

If this doesn’t show up, try hitting the return key on your keyboard.

This is the command prompt.  It is where you can start entering commands to the Pi.  I have set up the image you are using to automatically log you into the pi.

Let’s start with getting your PI connected to your wifi and changing the login passwords for the pi (Not required). 

Type in the following command…

sudo raspi-config

Press the return key.

This will bring up a graphical configuration window.  You’ll need to use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate this window.  

To change the login password make sure “Change User Password” is highlighted as shown below, and  hit return on your keyboard.

This will return you back to the command prompt and it will tell you to type in a new password.  

Type in your new password and hit the return key on your keyboard.

It will ask you to retype the password to confirm it.

Type in your new password again and then hit the return key on your keyboard.

Now to get your Pi connected to your wifi network.

Use your arrow keys to go down to “Network Options” and hit return on your keyboard.

Use the down arrow to highlight “Wi-fi” and then hit the return key on your keyboard.

It will then ask for your wifi network name known as a SSID.  Type in your network name and hit return on your keyboard.

Next it asks for your wifi password.  Type that in and hit return on your keyboard.

If you are putting your map at work, or at your hangar, or in a pilot lounge you’ll need to repeat these steps to add in that wifi network so your Pi will be able to connect and get weather when you get it hung up in its permanent location.

Then hit the right arrow on your keyboard which should drop you down to the bottom line highlighting the word “Select” use your right arrow one more time to go over to choose “Finish” then click return on your keyboard.

Now it’s time to shutdown your Pi

Type the following to shutdown the pi….

sudo shutdown -h now

Hit the return key on your keyboard

Wiring the hardware up.  This video shows the entire process detailed out below.

Next grab your

    • Breadboard
    • jumper wires
    • LED string
    • Diode
    • 5V power supply
  • Keyboard

Wire everything up using this wiring diagram. Notice that the Data wire on your LED string is actually the middle wire.

If using a Pi 3B+ you’ll not use the red power wire from the Pi.  Still use the ground from pin 6, but use a separate power supply for the pi.

Modified from source



Don’t plug the power in until we are done wiring everything up.  Start with the power plug end. Take a red jumper wire and leave the male pin end of the wire in tact.  Strip off the other end to expose the wire. Put that into the positive port on the power plug and screw it down tight.  I tried to get the wire in deep enough to get the plastic wire cover in so no bare wire was exposed.

Do the same thing with a dark colored jumper wire.

Plug the dark wire into the breadboard into one of the outer edge holes labeled as ground.

Plug the red wire into one of the inner lateral rows.

Take your 1N4001G Diode and plug the non white strip end into the same lateral row as your red jumper wire.  Plug the other end into a different lateral row.

The LED string has a beginning end and a ending end.  Power can be applied to either end of of the string, but the data must be plugged into the beginning end.  Some LED strings have an arrow on the microchip inside the LED housing that points towards the light. The wires that go in on that side of the microchip would be the in or beginning wires.  For the LEDs in the shopping list above you’ll want to use the end that allows a male jumper cable to be plugged into the female end of the string.

So take a red male to male jumper wire and connect the red wire from the LEDs by plugging the male end into the end of the connector, just be sure its lining up with the red wire.  Plug the other male end into the breadboard into the same row as the white stripe end of the diode.

Do the same thing with a dark colored jumper wire for the ground and plug that into the same edge row as your ground power jumper.

Now take a female to male jumper wire and plug the male end into the middle (data) wire on the LED connector.  The other end plugs into pin number 12 on the pi. This is the outermost row of pins on the pi. Count from right to left and plug it on to the 6th pin on the outer row this is pin number 12 if you are counting both the inner and outer rows.

The next step does not apply to the Pi 3B+

Now take a male to female jumper wire and plug pin number 4 (second from the right outer row pin) and plug that into the same inner row on the breadboard inline with the red wire from the power cord and the non white strip end of the diode.

Take another male to female jumper wire and plug that into the 6th (third from the right outer edge of pins) and plug that into the ground outer row on the breadboard inline with the ground for the power cord jumper wire and the LED string ground jumper wire.

Once it is wired up, plug in the power supply to the little power plug end you used in the wiring. (If using a Pi3B+ also plug in its power supply)  It takes about 30 seconds or so for the Pi to boot up. You should see your LED’s all turn on for about 30-45 seconds.  Then they should all go blank and refresh with the colors of the Metars. (Green, Blue, Red, Pink, and White)

Once it has booted up and your LED’s are all working use the keyboard to type the following to shut your Pi down.

sudo shutdown -h now

Hit the return key on your keyboard

Your test of the hardware is now done and you can continue with the build and programing detailed out below.

Step 2: Getting the Map On the Board and Board Preparation

You’ll need to get a hold of a sectional of the area you want to display.  I had to splice two sectionals (which I downloaded from the FAA database linked above) together using photoshop.  It was a little tricky as I had to rotate one of them to line up correctly since I am printing on a flat map. I then printed the map out on a large format (poster type) printer that uses a roll of paper.  You can bring the file to your local kinkos or similar shop to have them print it for you.

Stop by your hardware / lumber store and get a piece of ¾” particle board big enough for your map to fit on it with some room around the edge for your frame to nail to.

Also pick up a can of 3M Spray Glue, and a pack of ⅜” grommets (optional).

I used masking or blue painters tape to hold down half of the map while I rolled back the other half to apply the glue.  You need to spay this on both the map back and on the board, then let it sit open for about a minute then lay down that half of the map onto the board.  I used a piece of PVC pipe to roll out the air bubbles from the middle to the edges. Then tape down the edges of the side you’ve just glued down and repeat the process on the other half of the map.  I let this sit overnight to get good and dry.

Next I used a leather hole punch (that had a smaller diameter than the grommets flange I was planning to use) to cut out a circle around each airport I was planning on using in the project.  This made a clean cut and allowed me to peel out the little circles of the map exposing the wood below. You can use a knife point or a finishing nail, tweezers ,etc to get the edge to start to peel. Then just just grab it with your fingers and they come up pretty easily.

Now you can take punch or nail and make a dent in the center of each one to help the drill bit stay centered.  Follow that up by drilling holes all the way through the board using a drill bit. I used one just smaller than ⅜” so that the flange of the grommet would overlap the hole, but I found one that allowed the grommet to fit snugly in the hole.

Finally install the grommets.  I spray painted the brass ones I found at the hardware store with silver spray paint.  I thought that looked better. After they dry, push them into the holes. I had to use a piece of cardboard and a wood block and a hammer to punch them into place. The piece of cardboard helped protect the painted finish.

Use the 1×2 pine boards with some wood glue to frame in the back of the board.  This creates space for the LED’s, the PI, and the Breadboard to be glued to the back of the board and the framing will rest against the wall instead of on the lights and the pi.  The picture below of the back of my board shows this.

You will need to cut a notch in one edge for the power cord to pass through to an outlet, unless you can wire an outlet in the wall behind where your map will be hung.


The LED’s come coated in a rubber material that makes them waterproof.  I wasn’t concerned about liquid and was more concerned about having a smaller diameter that would allow me to use a single sized hole in the wood.  I used a utility knife to slit down the edge and peel the rubber off the LED. This made them a smaller diameter which was just a bit smaller than the inset portion of the grommet.

The LED’s have three wires, a hot, a ground, and a data wire.  The LED’s I have linked above make it pretty clear with the color of the wires.

The string of LED’s also have a beginning and and end.  You want to start on the end that has the female connector on it.  The first light is light number 0. So the string of 50 is actually lights 0 – 49.  This is important when you get the programming portion of things.

Each light can be cut off the string and wired back together, so you have a couple of options.  You could cut all the lights apart, glue them in the holes and the wire them all back together. The other option (which I did) is to keep them in the string and then just skip over lights as needed to make the gap between holes.  

I ended up needing two strings of lights to get all of the holes covered since I had to skip so many making the span across the back of the board.  You can see this in the picture below. The lights that aren’t in use are not lit up and are just layed out on the back of the board. The ones in use are hot glued into the holes.

I laid the board on a table and then pushed the LED’s into the hole until they wouldn’t go any further pushing up against the table under the board.  Then I used a hot glue gun to secure them into place.

Finally I used a sharpe and labeled on the back of the board next to each light with the airport identifier and the number LED it was in the string.  This helps out in the programming in the next step.

Step 3: Configuring the Scripts for your Airports

Here are some things we need to know to get started.

    1. How many lights are you using all together, count both ones that will be represented by airports as well as ones that will be behind the board and not in use because of hole spacing.  Basically how many LED’s total are there in your strings.
  1. Are you going to have a map legend like I have in my live sectional?  If so we need to know what number LED’s those are in the string. Remember the first LED is number 0.

Here is a video walking you through all the programming stuff detailed below.

Take your Pi and plug it back into your TV or Monitor with an HDMI port. Also plug in your keyboard and then plug it into power.

Next let’s get your airports into the script.  Type the following into the command line…

sudo nano /NeoSectional/airports

Hit return on your keyboard.

A list of airports and NULL will show up on your screen.

You need to use the arrow keys to move around in this file.  Use the down arrow to get to the bottom of the list and then delete all of the airports and Nulls.

When you get to the top of the list it’s time to start listing the airports you’ll be using.  Make sure you use the full FAA airport identifier. Ie. Duluth airport in Minnesota should be KDLH not just DLH.  If you are doing Alaska airports be sure to use the PA format like PAOR or PAFA, PAVD. I have noticed this script sometimes has troubles with airports like 4R5 and have now figured out what the issue is.  For airports like 4R5 you need to put them in as K4R5. Not sure what’s up with that. Anyway look at the back of your board with the glued in LED’s that are numbered for you and start typing them in the file like follows.











Important make sure your list of airports doesn’t end in a NULL this will cause the script to fail.  This was pointed out by Mark who was kind enough to provide me with this important feedback.

Just for reference KORB would be light 0 or the first light on my string.  It is followed by light 2 glued into KCQM. That is followed by two lights not being used, and then light number 5 which would be glued into KELO.

Fill out the entire list with the lights and nulls as necessary.

If you are using a map legend type those lights in with Green, Blue, Red, Pink, and White.  You just need to know what numbers each of these are for another part of the script.

When you get all the airports and nulls listed out hit the following keys on your keyboard.

control and x (this tells the pi to close the file)

Then type y and hit the return key on your keyboard. (This tells it to save the file)

Next let’s make sure the script is set up correctly for you.

In the command line type the following…

sudo nano /NeoSectional/

Using the arrow keys again go and change the LED count to the number of LED’s you are using in your entire project both the null LED’s and the ones representing airports.

If you are not using a map legend type the following.  If you are skip this part for now.

control x

Type y then hit the return key.

If you are using a map legend use the arrow keys to go to the bottom of the file and remove the # from the lines of code depicted below.  Update the numbers to correspond with the LED’s you have specified to resemble VFR, MVFR, IFR, LIFR and Not reporting.

It should look something like this only the numbers by the arrows should represent the LED’s that are in your legend.

Once you have done this save the file by typing the following….

control x

Type y then hit the return key.

This is optional… Someone asked if there was a way to change the refresh rate.  You can do this by using the following command. One thing I need to test out is to see if the FAA has a refresh threshold.  I was working on this script at work one day a couple weeks ago and all of a sudden nothing was working. I think I may have been blocked by the FAA weather server.  I had to wait a day before it would start working again off of my work IP address. I was able to access it if I used my phones hotspot. I’ll see if I can figure out what their magic time is.

sudo crontab -e

Once you have done this save the file by typing the following….

control x

Type y then hit the return key.

You can now shut down your PI by typing the following…

sudo shutdown -h now

It is now safe to unplug the power cord, keyboard, and hdmi cable from the pi and bring it back over to your map board.

Step 4: Wiring Everything Up

Follow the same wiring steps provided earlier when you attach your Raspberry Pi and your Breadboard to the back of your map.

Use your hot glue gun again to glue down the breadboard, the pi, and the little end of the power cord.

Once that sets up you are done!!!

Plug in the power and watch it boot up.

It will start out by turning all of the lights a white or rainbow color as it pulls down the weather for all of your airports.  It will then refresh them all displaying the correct colors for the current weather at each airport.

To turn off the “rainbow” colors during refresh you can do so by editing the file.

nano /NeoSectional/

put a # in front of the sudo python /NeoSectional/

This turns of the test portion and just runs the weather script.

The script is set up to refresh every 15 minutes.  Often time the first time it boots up it refreshes a few minutes after the first display of weather colors.  Then falls into its 15 min refresh cycle.

Finally frame in the front of the board to finish the project.  


If you feel like throwing a couple dollars my way I wouldn’t be opposed. 🙂






7 thoughts on “Live Sectional HowTo”

  1. This is a great project and very helpful walkthrough. I did a huge 8×4 map based on this with 101 LEDs. Works pretty well, however I have a few airports that are not reporting on here, but they report on foreflight and other aviation apps. My home airport is one in particular (KAPS). Any insight?? Again awesome tutorial and explanation.

  2. I like to concept and have been building one myself but the code you provided is having issues with my Raspberry Pi. I would like to discuss with you some of the challenges and see what type of hardware you used. Please contact me at Thank you, Brett.

  3. Hello,

    I’m following through your instructions, but etcher is telling me that the image file is 15.52GB. You mentioned above that it now supports 8GB SD cards. Any ideas what a solution to this might be?

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