The Instrument Rating
For a long time now, you’ve sat on the ground and watched other pilots take off into weather that kept you haunting the airport office at Podunk Greater International Airport or other such well-known places. You squeaked in by the skin of your teeth (the airport went well below VFR minimums shortly after you got in and has been that way for days), and the bitter part is that the tops are running only 3,000 or 4,000 feet. It’s CAVU (Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited) above, and the weather at your destination is very fine VFR — and there you sit. That pilot over there on the computer is filing IFR and is going and doesn’t appear to have any more on the ball than you have. After a few occasions of this nature, you’ve decided to get that instrument rating. Or maybe your decision came about because one time you were a “gray-faced, pinheaded holeseeker” (Figure 1-1). Looking back at it, you’ll have to confess that you were pinheaded to get in such a predicament, and while you couldn’t see your face, it sure felt gray from your side of it. If that hole hadn’t showed up when it did, well, that could have put you between a rock and a hard place.
Figure 1-1. The gray-faced pinheaded holeseeker has an exciting but often brief career.
The instrument-rated pilot is still held in some awe by the nonrated people at the airport. The pilots with this rating don’t always try to dispel the awe, but that’s only human. Generally speaking, the two extreme schools of thought by those considering the instrument rating are: (1) It is a license to fly anywhere, anytime, and weather will no longer be an important consideration; or (2) it will be used only as an emergency method of getting down and may never be needed.
If you belong to the first group, give up any idea of getting an instrument rating. You’ll be a menace to the rest of us clear thinkers and very likely have an exciting but extremely brief career. And you might take someone else with you.
If you are in group 2, you could be wasting your time and money by getting an instrument rating for use only in an emergency — you may never use it. However, it is good training and would help the other areas of your flying, even if you never actually use the rating.
Of course, you don’t fall into either of the extremes. You know that there will be times after getting the rating that you’ll still be sitting on the ground because of the weather. But you will be able to get out more often than is the case now.
One thing you’ll notice as you work on the rating is that all your flying will become more precise. You’ll be much more aware of altitude and heading and how power and airspeed combinations affect performance.
The Requirements for the Instrument Rating — Airplane
If you are getting the instrument rating “on your own” and not going through a formal program, you’ll have to think about a means of simulating instrument conditions in the airplane. One method is the hooded visor, which, when worn, cuts the vision to that of straight ahead only. It is the most simple and inexpensive arrangement, being worn like a cap, but it restricts side vision to the extent of requiring a great deal of head turning to adjust power, set radios, and check engine instruments. Such quick head turning tends to invite vertigo, a condition in which you know (well, you think you know) that the airplane is not doing what the instruments indicate.
While we’re on the subject, some think that they can grab a hood and go out and practice instruments solo. Not only would that be a bad situation, it’s in violation of 14 CFR Part 91, which basically says no person may operate a civil aircraft in simulated instrument flight unless (1) an appropriately rated pilot occupies the other control seat as safety pilot, (2) the safety pilot has adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft or (3) a competent observer in the aircraft adequately supplements the vision of the safety pilot.
If you are using a single-engine airplane for your instrument instruction and the instructor or safety pilot determines that the flight can be conducted safely (and you have a private certificate with appropriate category and class ratings), a single throwover control wheel may be used. In earlier times, dual control wheels were required for all types of instruction.
Try to work it so that once you start on the rating you can go on with it. Don’t stretch the program over too long a period. Stretching it out may make it necessary to use a part of each flight as a review. It’s also best to be flying as you study for the knowledge test — one area helps the other. But get the knowledge test out of the way before you have those last few hours of brush-up time prior to the flight test.
During the training period, when you’re out flying cross-country VFR, fly airways as much as feasible. Borrow or download a low-altitude IFR en route chart and fly as if you were on an IFR flight plan. Of course, if you are flying VFR, you actually will be flying some altitude plus 500 and will be looking out for other airplanes all the time. Also, you’ll do no hooded work unless you have an “appropriately rated pilot” in the right seat, but you can sharpen your navigation skills even while flying VFR.
Get as much as possible of your dual instruction in the later stages on actual instruments, filing a flight plan, and flying in the clouds (with an appropriately rated instructor, of course). It’s a more realistic situation than practicing with the hood, and your confidence will be increased. This doesn’t mean that you and the instructor will go out and crack through the worst squall line you can find or fly into the worst icing conditions seen in your area for 29 years, but that you will choose the type of weather to “practice” in. The regulations are such that you don’t have to have any actual instrument experience in that 40 hours required for the rating; but if you do have some, you’ll enjoy that first flight on actual instruments more and sweat a lot less.
You might talk to some of the approved schools in your area. (They are certificated under 14 CFR Part 141 and require less time.) Also, if you plan on getting a commercial certificate, not having an instrument rating can limit you severely, so that’s another reason to get cracking on this rating.
After you get the rating, don’t go busting into IFR with a vengeance. Take it easy and set yourself comparatively high minimum weather conditions. As your experience increases and you get better equipment, you can gradually lower your minimums to those as published on the approach charts. You always have to keep up your proficiency to a safe level; if you get rusty, you have to ease back into it again.
The synopsis below is a general look at the requirements as of this printing; get the latest issuances of 14 CFR §61.65 to be sure.
The three most important rules of flying that apply to all levels of flight experience from student to airline transport pilot are, in order of importance:
1. Aviate (Fly The Airplane First).
Synopsis of 14 CFR §61.65
The pilot holding an instrument rating is able to operate an aircraft (with ATC clearance) under instrument flight rules (IFR) and in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). To acquire the rating, you must hold at least a private pilot’s certificate (airplane) and be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language.
You’ll receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor or accomplish a home study course in the required aeronautical knowledge areas. You must receive an endorsement that you are ready for the knowledge test.
Aeronautical knowledge will cover FAR and AIM inf...