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How to Become an Instrument-Rated Pilot

Instrument Training Hones Your Skills


Pilots that want to fly in the clouds need to to get an instrument rating added on to their private or commercial pilot certificate. Most professional aviation businesses require pilots to be instrument-rated, anyway, so it's a necessary step for those who might want to become an airline pilot or corporate pilot. The ability to fly solely by reference to instruments in the aircraft means than a pilot isn't limited to good-weather operations. An instrument pilot can legally fly in the clouds, rain and fog, which broadens his or her abilities and keeps them in the air instead of on the ground during inclement weather.

An applicant for an instrument rating needs to be extremely precise and detail-oriented. He or she must be able to follow procedures and multi-task to a higher level than before. Since flying in inclement weather with no visual reference to the ground can be dangerous, instrument training requires a great deal of professionalism and leaves no room for mistakes or carelessness.

If you're trained well and take it seriously, IFR flight can be very rewarding. It will definitely broaden your proficiency as a pilot, and in no time, you'll be flying among airline pilots and other commercial pilots!

1. Know the Eligibility Requirements

Instrument pilot applicants must be able to read, speak, write and understand English, and hold at least a private pilot certificate.

2. Study For and Take the FAA Written Exam

Just like with previous pilot certificates you may have earned, you'll want to get the written exam out of the way early in your instrument training. That way, you'll have the extra knowledge in your head already, and it will also serve as a refresher if you've taken some time off. Once your written exam is completed, you can focus on flying.

3. Invest in Some New Pilot Supplies

You'll need to be more organized than ever in the cockpit, so get a kneeboard that works for you. Many IFR pilots like using iPads or similar devices for task management. You'll also need a binder for your charts, a timer, and "foggles" or fog goggles to simulate IFR flight. If you have the money to spend, you may also want to consider a handheld GPS device as a backup to any onboard equipment your aircraft might have. Handheld units are not IFR-certified, but would definitely come in handy during an emergency or if you happen to lose situational awareness on an actual IFR flight. (Keep in mind that your instructor and check pilot may not allow these during training.)

4. Start Flying!

To obtain an instrument rating under CFR Part 61, you'll need at least 50 hours of pilot-in-command (PIC) cross-country flight time. You'll need 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, including at least one IFR cross-country flight that exceeds 250 nautical miles and involves at least three different kinds of instrument approaches (one at each airport).

5. Learn the Procedures

During your instrument training, you'll be assessed on procedures such as approaches, departures, holding, tracking, and intercepting courses. You'll practice emergencies during IFR conditions and learn the ins and outs of navigational equipment. Most importantly, you'll learn situational awareness at a much higher level than earlier training. Typically, you'll perform a few cross-country flights to get adjusted to the IFR environment.

6. Take the Checkride

Photo © Emilio Labrador

When you've mastered instrument flight and learned all about the privileges and limitations of the instrument rating, your instructor will sign you off for the checkride. Since you've taken checkrides before, you know what to expect: a couple of hours of ground work for the verbal portion of the exam and a flight is all it takes. For the instrument checkride, you'll have to fly at least two nonprecision approaches and at least one precision approach. (Remember- a GPS approach is NONprecision!)

Remember, the examiner is testing your ability to fly safely in low or zero visibility. In addition to knowing all of the procedures and tasks, you'll need to be extremely precise and always know exactly where you are!

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