The Instrument rating demystified

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Instrument flying

The Instrument rating demystified

The instrument rating is really a graduate level course that many undergrads quiver at the thought of undergoing. Lets examine it in detail and discover some common mistakes and misconceptions.

What is an instrument rating? We should all understand the basic idea behind being instrument rated, but you might be surprised to know some simple truths about it.

IFR on top

Simple truths of the instrument rating

  • It is as hard to maintain as it is to obtain.
  • It is much more cerebral than your private pilot (or other ratings)
  • The amount of actual IMC you will fly will be less than you think
  • The airspace is becoming more complex not less
  • The airplanes, while more capable, are also more complicated
  • Being proficient is more critical than ever, if you plan to exercise your instrument privileges
  • Like your other ratings, experience makes an enormous difference
  • An autopilot or a second crewmember can be a huge help in a demanding IFR environment, but shouldn’t be a crutch for lack of proficiency
  • It will make you a better, safer pilot

Going for your instrument rating will open up an exciting new chapter in your flying. The challenge should invigorate you and provide a new level of confidence when deploying your aircraft.

Flying in IMCIt should be said that instrument training requires study and a consistent training cadence otherwise you’ll succumb to frustration and quit like many have done before. It is not a rating to peck at part-time with the hope you’ll finish someday.

You should also consider your equipment. If you owe the airplane that you’ll be flying IFR, that is great. But if not or if you plan to fly multiple airplanes like in a flying club, be weary of your proficiency in the airplane you plan to fly in IMC. Subtle differences can be really amplified in the heat of battle and with some airplanes the differences are vast, like an all glass Cirrus vs a legacy Bonanza. Your currency requirements mean you are legal, they don’t mean you are safe.

While on the subject if glass versus steam gauges, the differences are so great that regulators are contemplating what to do about it. I have thousands of hours in corporate jets, but I have the commonsense to know I have no business launching IFR in a Garmin 1000 equipped C-172. It’s not that it is hard to fly a technically advanced aircraft, it’s just very different and due to the level of integration with the airplane you can’t “fake it” and be safe.

Your decision-making will change with an instrument rating in your back pocket; you have more options, but because of that you need to be mindful of all the relevant factors. An instrument rating doesn’t mean you can fly in ALL weather conditions.

I don’t want to paint a negative picture, instrument flying is incredibly useful and rewarding. I highly recommend it, if for nothing else it will make you a better pilot.

The instrument rating is maybe the most important and perishable rating you’ll ever have.

by Brent

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