Why Get an Instrument Rating?
Not so long ago, flying by instruments was commonly thought of as a special-purpose skill of little value to the nonprofessional pilot. The private pilot flew for pleasure, usually within a few miles of the local airport. Cross-country flights were short by today's standards, and the pilot flew to a destination airport by visual reference to prominent landmarks. The pilot had to rely on visual contact with the ground because there was no other means available for getting safely from one airport to another.
This was "contact" flying; "blind" flying was to come.
With the evolution of blind flying instruments, the distinction between contact and instrument flying was sharply defined in the flight training curriculum. During contact flying the student pilot learned to control the airplane by responding to changes that were seen, heard, and felt. It was common practice for the flight instructor to cover the instruments in the student's cockpit, thus forcing the beginner to look for changes in aircraft attitude by references outside the cockpit.
Flying by reference to instruments in the early era was considered a "common student error." The pilot controlled airspeed and aircraft attitude by reference to the horizon, by listening for changes in engine RPM, by sensing the sound of the wind through the rigging. The pilot identified a slip or skid in the open-cockpit trainers by changes in the feel of the wind. Steep turns were executed by aligning the aircraft with the horizon and reacting to changes in seat pressure. Even in aircraft equipped with instruments necessary to execute these maneuvers without outside visual reference, the pilot was trained to use the flight instruments as secondary references, if at all. A student of contact flying was taught not to use the flight instruments.
The student learned to use flight instruments as the primary means of aircraft control only in more advanced training. Ironically, in instrument training the student discovered that much of this training apparently contradicted what had been learned previously as a "contact" pilot. The "swivel neck" habits, necessary during visual flight to ensure separation from other aircraft, became pointless under the hood during simulated instrument flight. Instead of reminders from the instructor to "Look around!" and "Clear the area!" the student heard "Check your airspeed!" and "What does your altimeter tell you?" The seat-of-the-pants sensations, the "sight, sound, and feel" that were so essential to contact flying, had to be ignored by the instrument pilot as the visual sense alone was relied on, regardless of other conflicting sensations. Small wonder that "contact" and "instrument" flying were considered as separate and distinct skills.
To the average nonprofessional pilot, flying meant controlling an aircraft by visual reference to the ground. Blind flying? This was something else - meant for professional airline pilots, military pilots, pioneers, and a few unfortunates who tangled with the weather through carelessness or ignorance. The nonprofessional civilian pilot had neither the equipment to fly safely on instruments nor the need or interest to do so. With the advent of faster and safer aircraft, more reliable flight instruments and radio equipment, and more effective radio aids and ground services, the traditional distinction between visual and instrument flying has undergone corresponding changes.
In sharp contrast to earlier training concepts are the following
two quotations from a current military pilot training manual:
The art of instrument flying, long regarded as a skill apart from contact flying, is now considered the prime method of aircraft control, regardless of weather conditions.
Any instrument flight, regardless of the aircraft used or route
flown, is made up of basic maneuvers; the pilot executes these maneuvers
by learning to control his flight path by reference to instruments.
High-speed military aircraft cannot be flown safely and effectively without instruments, and mission accomplishment demands all-weather pilot capability. Although this philosophy, basic to military aviation, is neither literally applicable nor desirable in all phases of civil aviation, it reflects important changes affecting civil instrument flight training.
Contact flying and flight by reference to instruments are not taught as distinct and separate skills in unrelated phases of training. Instrument flying is essentially Precision flying, entirely apart from whether or not the pilot is flying under the hood, in the clouds, or in VFR conditions. As a student pilot, you are flying by reference to instruments when you maintain traffic altitude by reference to the altimeter, when you check the ball of your turn-and-slip indicator to confirm a slip or skid, or when you maintain a predetermined climbing speed by reference to the outside horizon and airspeed indicator.
In terms of precision flying, instrument training begins shortly after your first introduction to the cockpit as a student pilot and continues as long as you maintain an interest in improving your skill.
As your proficiency in the interpretation and use of instruments progresses, you fly visually, "on the gauges," or by a combination of visual, instrument, and "seat-of-the-pants" references depending upon which source of information best suits your purpose.
From the standpoint of training, instrument flying is a logical extension of visual flying. You learn to use the instruments and navigation equipment, not necessarily to become a weather pilot, but to develop the precision impossible to achieve by visual and other sensory references alone. You learn to fully utilize the potential of your airplane.
Many modern, single-engine airplanes have the capability to go farther, faster, and higher than the airliners of a few years ago. Surveys indicate that the majority of new aircraft sold are equipped for instrument training and for at least limited weather flying. Studies also show that many pilots are operating aircraft loaded with expensive flight and navigation instruments, radio equipment, auto-pilots, and other accessories that for lack of training, they fail to use fully.
Preparation for the instrument rating will better enable you to use the equipment to go when and where you want. Instrument proficiency will aid you in getting in and out of places that are inaccessible to pilots flying by visual flight rules (VFR) and using limited equipment. With or without the rating, as a precision pilot you will fly by reference to instruments. However, without an instrument rating you cannot fly under instrument conditions, as defined by regulations, except in violation of the limitations of your pilot certificate. If you intend to become a career pilot, you cannot advance far professionally without it, except in certain highly specialized commercial operations.
Perhaps you want an instrument rating for the same basic reason you learned to fly in the first place - because you like flying. Maintaining and extending your proficiency, once you have the rating, means less reliance on chance, more on skill and knowledge. Earn the rating, not because you might need it sometime, but because it represents achievement and provides training you will use continually and build upon as long as you fly. But most important, it means greater safety in flying.
Requirements for the Instrument Rating
How much flight time do you need before beginning instrument training? How much total time is required, in flight and on the ground? How much of this time requires direct supervision by a licensed instructor? What assurance do you have that you are getting competent instruction? How do you go about getting training to fly on instruments? Is attendance at an instrument school necessary? What are the advantages of attending an approved school? Can you spread the necessary training over an extended period to fit your spare time from business or other occupations? These are important considerations that should be faced before you begin an extensive and expensive training program. The answers may seem confusing and be misleading unless you take a thorough look at the problems ahead of you.
First, what are the requirements for the issuance of the FAA instrument rating? You will need to carefully review the aeronautical knowledge and experience requirements for the instrument rating as outlined in FAR 61. After completing the instrument rating written test, you are eligible to take the flight test when all experience requirements have been satisfied. It is important to note that the regulations specify minimum total and pilot-in-command time requirements. This minimum applies to all applicants, regardless of ability or previous aviation experience. No regulation can be written to specify experience requirements for a particular individual.
The amount of instructional time needed is determined not by regulation, but by the individual's ability to achieve a satisfactory level of proficiency. A professional pilot with diversified flying experience may easily attain a satisfactory level of proficiency in the minimum time required by regulation for the issuance of an additional type rating. Your own time requirements will depend upon a variety of factors, including previous flying experience, rate of learning, basic ability, frequency of flight training, type of aircraft flown, quality of ground school training, and quality of flight instruction, to name a few. The total instructional time that you will need, and in general the scheduling of such time, is up to the individual most qualified to judge your proficiency, the instructor who supervises your progress and endorses your record of flight training.
Before you decide to acquire instrument flight training, you should ponder the following comments by the chief instructor of an accredited and successful school of aviation:
Any instrument training program should allow sufficient calendar time for the student to assimilate the material involved in preparing for the instrument rating. ... Emphasis should be placed on acquiring the education rather than acquiring the rating. ... It is possible to obtain an instrument rating without acquiring an instrument education. A student who acquires the education need have no fear of failing to obtain the rating, however.
These sentiments are shared by many reputable aviation schools
offering instrument training, whatever their differences in other respects.
You can memorize a prodigious amount of information in a short time, but
you will store away very little of it for future use unless you allow time
enough to understand it, relate it to what you already know, and apply
it with sufficient repetition.
As your flying experience progresses, you will learn increasingly through your own initiative, with or without the benefit of normal training. It is essential, however, that you lay the right foundation. You can do this by attending an instrument training school selected after careful investigation of its curriculum and reputation, or by joining a flying club which has invested in the necessary equipment and utilizes a competent instructor.
You can accelerate and enrich much of your training by informal study. An increasing number of visual aids and programmed instrument courses are available to the applicant who cannot attend a formal instrument training course. The best course is obviously one that includes a well-integrated flight and ground school curriculum. The importance of close coordination between these two aspects of your education should be apparent from your previous flight experience. The sequential nature of flying requires that each element of knowledge and skill be learned and applied in the right manner at the right time. You can learn volumes of isolated information about flight procedures, basic instrument maneuvers, radio navigation, communications, and Federal Aviation Regulations, yet still have difficulty keeping an airplane right side up.
Until you can plan an orderly instrument flight and have had sufficient dual practice, you can be very easily overwhelmed, not only by the routine revisions of your planning, but by unexpected interruptions that require quick judgement and action. You can learn much of this information while making good use of your VFR time. As a VFR pilot making full use of your equipment and the facilities afforded all flights in controlled airspace, you can polish up communication and navigation techniques so essential to competent instrument flying.
By filing VFR Flight Plans, you can acquire increasing competence in careful flight planning, making enroute estimates, revisions, and position reports in coordination with flight control personnel. You can visit FAA Control Towers, Flight Service Stations, and Air Traffic Control Centers to gain a clearer picture of the problems and processes involved in controlling traffic safely under Instrument Flight Rules. Finally, you should clarify some possible misconceptions about what an instrument rating involves.
Holding the instrument rating doesn't necessarily make you a competent weather pilot. The rating certifies only that you have complied with the minimum experience requirements, that you can plan and execute a flight under Instrument Flight Rules via Federal Airways, that you can execute basic instrument maneuvers, and that you have shown acceptable skill and judgment in performing these activities. Your instrument rating permits you to fly into instrument weather conditions with no previous instrument weather experience.
Your instrument rating is issued on the assumption that you have
the good judgment to avoid situations beyond your capabilities. The instrument
training program that you undertake should help you not only to develop
essential flying skills, but also help you develop the judgment necessary
to use the skills within your limitations. An instrument course can provide
you with experienced instruction and up-to-date information. However, the
program that offers tempting shortcuts may help you get the rating, but
may leave important gaps in your flight education that could result in
serious problems later on.
A clearer picture of your instrument training requirements can be gained by a study of the training curricula of some reputable aviation schools where successful professionals have made it their business to train pilots to a competent level with minimum expenditure of time and money. A representative ground and flight training curriculum is given later in this chapter.
Training for the Instrument Rating
The lack of uniformity existing among the instrument courses available to the prospective student complicates the problem of selecting a training program. For ground school training, you can choose anything from an intensive rote-memory course taking to 5 days (with a "guarantee" to pass the required examinations) to a college-level course scheduling nearly 100 classroom hours over a 32-week period.
Flight training courses likewise vary, ranging from the minimum hours of dual required by regulation to the course offering more than the required hours of flight instruction supplemented by varying amounts of time in procedure trainers. Other courses offer proficiency programs tailored to the pilot's needs, guaranteeing nothing but experienced and reputable instruction - as much or as little as is necessary to achieve and maintain instrument proficiency. If all of these courses prepare the pilot for an instrument rating, why spend 8 months to acquire what allegedly can be accomplished in less than a week? Obviously, there must some serious basic differences of opinion as to how much you should learn and how long it will take you to learn it.
At one extreme is the argument expressed more or less like this: If holding an instrument rating requires only that you demonstrate proficiency under simulated instrument conditions, you still have weather flying to learn after you have the certificate. Accordingly, why not get the certificate in the cheapest and quickest way possible, with a minimum of ground school and simulated time? Then go out and learn where it really counts - under actual weather conditions.
Many pilots acquire weather proficiency as copilots serving with experienced captains. However, an increasing number of nonprofessional pilots become instrument rated without the opportunity for transitioning to weather flying under experienced guidance. If you are one of this group, learning by experience (by yourself) is going to present many difficulties that you can avoid by adequate training.
In contrast to the course offering only the minimum training necessary for the instrument rating is the format training provided by most flying schools and universities. Such schools base their curricula on a realistic appraisal of the instrument flying environment and its demands on pilot proficiency. More pilots are becoming instrument rated to fly light aircraft in increasingly congested airspace. This is not a "practice" environment, under instrument weather conditions. Air traffic controllers make no distinction between the novice instrument pilot and the veteran, as far as proficiency is concerned.
Unlike the solo VFR pilot who may learn from a constant succession of errors without necessarily becoming involved in a dangerous situation, the instrument pilot (beginner and veteran alike) becomes a serious traffic hazard when uncorrected errors accumulate. The most competent pilot, thoroughly proficient in the best equipment available, can become involved in situations where everything gets complicated at once. At such a time, the pilot must rely on past experience and training. For example, a pilot may fly a light twin for hundreds of hours without an engine malfunction or without making an ADF approach. In terms of actual use of single engine procedures and training on ADF approaches, time and money have been wasted - except as insurance.
It takes only one harrowing experience to clarify the distinction between minimum practical knowledge and eventual useful information. When an emergency happens, it is too late to wonder why somebody forgot to instruct you as to what to do about it; and it's no consolation whatever that you didn't expect it to happen to you. Your instrument training is never complete; it is adequate when you have absorbed every foreseeable possible detail of knowledge and skill to insure a solution if and when you need it.
The following outline of ground school, procedures trainer, and flight training subjects represents an average of the instrument courses offered by several excellent aviation schools, amplified to include subject material of increasing importance to the instrument pilot. Syllabus organization and points of emphasis differ among schools for various reasons. However, the graduating student should have a sound understanding of the subjects listed, effectively integrated to present a clear operational picture of the following 10 basic components involved in instrument flight under Air Traffic Control:
Rules and Procedures
Air Traffic Control.