This chapter presents information on instrument flight rule (IFR) helicopter operations in the National Airspace System (NAS). Although helicopter instrument flight is relatively new when compared to airplane instrument flight, the global positioning system (GPS) and the developing Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) are bringing approach procedures to heliports around the country. As of February 2006 there were approximately 45 public “Copter” instrument flight procedures, including 23 instrument landing system (ILS), 5 RNAV (GPS) point-in-space (PinS), 6 non-directional beacon (NDB), 8 VHF Omni-directional Range (VOR), and 227 private RNAV (GPS) “Specials” either to runways or PinS approaches to heliports. This does not include approach procedures that are located five miles or more from shore in the Gulf of Mexico and other locations.

The ability to operate helicopters under IFR increases their utility and safety. Helicopter IFR operators have an excellent safety record due to the investment in IFR equipped helicopters, development of instrument approach procedures, and IFR trained flight crews. The safety record of IFR operations in the Gulf of Mexico is equivalent to the safety record of the best-rated airlines. Manufacturers are working to increase IFR all-weather capabilities of helicopters by providing slower minimum instrument airspeeds (VMINI), faster cruising speeds, and better autopilots and flight management systems (FMS). As a result, in October 2005, the first civil helicopter in the United States was certified for flight into known icing conditions.


It is very important that pilots be familiar with the IFR requirements for their particular helicopter. Within the same make, model and series of helicopter, variations in the installed avionics may change the required equipment or the level of augmentation for a particular operation. The Automatic Flight Control System/Autopilot/Flight Director (AFCS/AP/FD) equipment installed in IFR helicopters can be very complex. For some helicopters, the AFCS/AP/FD complexity will require formal training in order for the pilot(s) to obtain and maintain a high level of knowledge of system operation, limitations, failure indications and reversionary modes. For a helicopter to be certified to conduct operations in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), it must meet the design and installation requirements of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 27, Appendix B (Normal Category) and Part 29, Appendix B (Transport Category), which are in addition to the visual flight rule (VFR) requirements.

These requirements are broken down into the following categories: flight and navigation equipment, miscellaneous requirements, stability, helicopter flight manual limitations, operations specifications, and minimum equipment list (MEL).


The basic installed flight and navigation equipment for helicopter IFR operations is listed under Part 29.1303, with amendments and additions in Appendix B of Parts 27 and 29 under which they are certified. The list includes:

  • Clock.
  • Airspeed indicator.
  • Sensitive altimeter adjustable for barometric pressure1.
  • Magnetic direction indicator.
  • Free-air temperature indicator.
  • Rate-of-climb (vertical speed) indicator.
  • Magnetic gyroscopic direction indicator.
  • Standby bank and pitch (attitude) indicator.
  • Non-tumbling gyroscopic bank and pitch (attitude)indicator.
  • Speed warning device (if required by Part 29).