Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Any pilot who has been flying for a while has experienced flights delays due to weather conditions, and without having an instrument rating, those delays can stretch into hours or even into days. These delays can cause many pilots to make go no-go decisions that are not so good. So the benefit of a pilot having an instrument rating is that it increases the number of good choices available to him or her. Although most pilots eventually earn an instrument rating, a smaller number of them maintain instrument currency, so when a student is contemplating IFR flight training, it is best to know in advance what kind of instrument pilot he or she intends to be. If the goal is to be an instrument pilot in name only, then all the IFR flight training needs is to accomplish is passing the check ride. However, if the student wants to be an active instrument pilot rather than a victim of the risks, it is necessary to progress well beyond the basic IFR flight training requirements. Instrument flying is demanding and it requires active thinking, because when a pilot earns an instrument rating he or she is authorized to evaluate weather, dispatch the flight, and then fly the airplane within the same air traffic control system and weather systems that the two-crew turbine aircraft are using.

In essence, weather and VFR flying is a relatively simple and straight-forward [black and white] process which involves flying visually while avoiding the clouds and areas of poor visibility. However, weather for IFR flying enters into a more gray area which involves actually flying in the weather rather than flying to avoid the weather. This makes knowledge about the weather that much more significant. It is critical that students learn as much about the weather as they do about the elements or mechanics of instrument flying. Those pilots who believe that they can be fed weather data for IFR flights by an FSS are the pilots who typically find themselves in trouble due to unanticipated or deteriorating weather conditions. Passing the FAA’s knowledge test does not provide a pilot with sufficient [theoretical] knowledge on weather, which is why it is imperative that students find a flight instructor who is willing to fly in actual conditions on training flights. This will help to acquire the practical experience that will allow student pilots to understand the correlation between the information provided by a weather briefing and the actual weather conditions.

One means of examining the potential value of an instrument rating is to fly hypothetical flights by checking the weather to see if a trip could be flown in VFR conditions. If the answer is “no,” then examine the weather for a hypothetical IRF flight between the two points. There are several elements of weather than impact IFR flights: clouds, ice, turbulence, precipitation, convection, fog, low ceilings, low visibilities, and winds aloft so that only through study and actual practical experience can students learn to weigh each of these elements that could affect their flying. The FAA allows pilots to earn an instrument rating with 125 hours of flight time, which might be sufficient for full-time students who are pursuing positions as airline first officers. But for pilots who want to be able to fly single-pilot IFR in light airplanes, those FAA requirements tend to be inadequate.

Summary of the FAA requirements for an IFR Rating

Pre-Flight Review: Review all information and goals associated with the upcoming flight as well as how to achieve them whether in actual or simulated IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions), such as WFKART: weather, fuel requirements, know ATC delays, alternates, runway lengths, and takeoff and landing distances. If the flight planning includes shooting some approaches, it becomes necessary to brief those approaches and the missed approaches several times before the flight.

Ground School: This is the most cost-effective environment in which to ask questions of the flight instructor which can assume multiple formats, such as one-on-one dialogues, group classes, videos, or interactive DVDs or a combination thereof. To maximize learning within the shortest period of time, it is important to combine the ground school [theoretical] concurrently with the [practical] flight training.

Hood Work: Provides practical experience when no clouds are available. Hoods assume many shapes and sizes, and they are a regular part of the instrument training to block the students’ view of the horizon which only allows them to see the instruments on the flight deck. The purpose of the hood is to expose students to the forces of flight which can lead to various types of disorientation so that the experience teaches students to deny their body sensations and only trust the instruments on the flight deck.

Instrument Cross-Country: Most of the IFR flight training will typically occur near the students’ home airport, but the cross-country phase of the training will take the students out of the familiar which is when flight planning really begins to pay off. The pre-flight review allows the students to remain ahead of the airplane and enjoy the arrival at the pre-determined destination without having looked out the window. Attempting this in a vehicle is not recommended….

Check Ride Preparation: Once all of the ground school and flight time requirements have been met, the flight instructor will provide the students with a ground review which is when the students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the instruments and how they function as well as how they fail. The students must also demonstrate a familiarity with the FAA IFR regulations and how the system functions which is followed by a simulated check ride with the instructor. During this lesson, the students must adequately perform all flight procedures, maneuvers, and a number of instrument approaches to progress onto the next step of the process.

Instrument Rating Practical Test: This exam encompasses all the aeronautical information that the students have learned up to this point, and the students have the option to ride with a Designated Pilot Examiner or an FAA Inspector.

Once the students have passed the check ride, they are issued an instrument rating and are now allowed to file and fly in IMC. This allows the pilot to have a greater degree of freedom and feeling of self-confidence.

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Featured Image by Ryan Blanding

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