Why IFR Flight Training Should Come After Your License

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

What to Expect When Earning Your Airplane Instrument Rating

John Peltier

Congratulations, you just got your private pilot airplane license. You want to use this newfound freedom to fly to the family cabin in the next state, but there won’t be any VFR weather between here and there for the next week. Grounded. But what if you had your airplane instrument rating?

Reasons for Getting Your Airplane Instrument Rating

Of course, being able to legally fly in IFR conditions isn’t the only reason for getting your airplane instrument rating. It shouldn’t even really be “the reason” for you to get your instrument rating. You always want to better yourself as a pilot, right? This is a great way of doing it.

There may come a day when you find yourself facing inevitable flight into IMC – the clouds close in around you and there’s nowhere else to go. Having your instrument rating will prepare you for inadvertent flight into IMC and give you the tools you need to safely recover from that dangerous situation.

Even if you don’t accidentally find yourself in IMC, your instrument rating will teach you an effective instrument scan, leading to better control of the airplane. You’ll be better able to hold altitude, airspeed, and heading. And guess what – these are things that potential employers will want out of you as well.

And speaking of employment. If you ever have any desire to fly commercially, most employers won’t even give you the time of day if you don’t have your airplane instrument rating along with your commercial license.

Airplane Instrument Rating Requirements

Getting your airplane instrument rating isn’t as hard as you might think. You may look at the regulations and say to yourself, “wow, that’s a lot, I’ll never get it.” Sure you will! It just looks like a lot on paper.

Summary of Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61, Subpart B, 61.65:

  • At least a private pilot certificate in airplanes, or are currently in the process of getting it.
  • Take a written test (knowledge test) and an oral & flight test with an examiner in either an airplane or FAA-approved simulator (practical test). Your logbook will need endorsements from an instructor stating that you’re ready for both of these.
  • The flight experience you’ll need for the airplane instrument rating is:
    • Forty hours of simulated or actual instrument flying, 15 of which must be with an authorized instrument-airplane instructor.
    • Fifty hours of cross-country flight as pilot-in-command. Ten of these hours must be in airplanes (you can credit helicopter time if you have it).
    • A 250-mile cross-country flight in an airplane, with an instructor, flown under instrument flight rules. You must complete at least three different kinds of instrument approaches and fly an instrument approach at each airport along your routing.
    • Three hours of flight training in an airplane within 2 calendar months from the date of your practical test.
  • The FAA now allows pilots to get their instrument ratings concurrently with the private pilot license. This will speed things up though you won’t have the 50 hours of pilot-in-command cross-country time. The FAA will allow you to credit up to 45 hours of you performing the duties of pilot-in-command (as you do when you’re a student pilot) in lieu of this.
  • If you’re using a simulator, as you most likely will, you can only credit up to 20 hours of instrument time towards your rating – you’ll have to fly the other 20 in an actual aircraft. If you’re getting your simulator time in a structured Part 142 school, you can credit up to 30 hours.
What to Expect

Ground Training: You’ll need a good understanding of academia for your knowledge and practical tests. The amount you spend in academics will vary but it typically runs around twenty hours in the classroom. You’ll learn even more about the national airspace system, regulations, instrumentation, and bringing it all together to fly under instrument flight rules. You’ll also become a near expert at reading the weather and planning cross-country flights. Paying attention in ground school will set you up to do very well during the practical test, which is taken at designated FAA testing centers around the country.

Simulator Training: You don’t have to use the simulator – you can complete your entire instrument rating in an actual airplane, but this will significantly drive the costs up. The other advantage to using the simulator is efficiency of training. Your instructor can replicate conditions in the simulator that you wouldn’t be able to call for in the air. It allows you more room to make mistakes and learn from them, and “start from scratch” if needed. The simulator is where you’ll learn a good scan, preflight instrument checks, communications, and instrument procedures. Exposure to these in the simulator will make them easier once you get to the airplane.

Flight Training: And this is where the real fun begins! You’ll sit in the right seat with a view-limiting device, affectionately known as “foggles”, restricting what you can see to only the instrument panel. You’ll put these on after takeoff and remove them prior to landing. But you’ll wear them for everything in between. Your instructor will have you do some very basic maneuvers like changing altitude, and some more complex ones like recovering from unusual attitudes. You’ll get exposure to different local airports, flying all of the possible instrument procedures that are compatible with your aircraft navigation equipment.

The Practical Test: This is where it all comes together! You and your instructor will go over your logbook to make sure all of your requirements are met and set up an appointment with the dedicated pilot examiner (DPE). The DPE will have you plan a cross-country flight under instrument flight rules, and it may or may not be what you actually fly. But the DPE will want to make sure that you can complete one of these without error. The day will start with an oral exam, and everything you’ve learned up to this point is fair game. The oral exam will vary in length depending on the examiner, but once they’re satisfied you’ll head on out to the airplane! The actual flight itself will be a lot like your instrument training flights. You’ll take off, put on the foggles, and fly under instrument flight rules. You’ll have to recover from an unusual attitude and have another emergency procedure thrown in the mix. After flying a few instrument approaches, you’ll take off the foggles and the exam is over!

Costs of Getting an Airplane Instrument Rating

It’s hard to nail down an actual cost of receiving your airplane instrument rating. There are many different variables to take into consideration – the equipment used, flight time needed, location, fuel prices, extra training required, etc.

A “standard” instrument rating, using a C172 with twenty hours of simulator time will run somewhere in the ballpark of $8,000. If you need extra cross-country time as pilot-in-command, expect these costs to go up.

A good way of reducing overall costs of getting to your goal of being a commercial pilot would be to combine your instrument rating with other requirements of commercial employment. You can satisfy the cross-country time required for your commercial license by taking an instructor or safety observer and flying with the foggles on these cross-country flights, logging this time for both instrument and commercial. You may also want to consider doing some of these flights in a complex aircraft, turbine, or multi-engine.

After Getting Your Airplane Instrument Rating

You can consider your airplane instrument rating as something that dies unless it’s used! You’ll need to stay current in order to legally fly under instrument flight rules. Staying current involves completing six instrument approaches, holding procedures, and instrument navigation within a six-month period. You can complete this in either an airplane or simulator, but you cannot fly under IFR unless these requirements are met.

But these are the minimum requirements to keep your rating current. In order to be a proficient IFR pilot, you actually need to fly in IMC. You need to use your instruments every time you fly, even in VMC. If you’re coming back to the airport on a perfect VFR day, dial in the localizer and shoot the instrument approach back home. It may save your life some day!

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.