If you are interested enough to be reading this, and even more so
if you are thinking of stepping up to the challenge. Make no mistake
about it - having an instrument qualification ( IMC as well as the
IR) makes you a safer and more capable VFR pilot. Statistically
this true - and can be checked with AOPA - for example.
Did I really say VFR – what is all that about?
Well yes - If you fly reasonably well, and your aircraft is sound,
VFR flying is a very safe activity. On the other hand, under IFR
(and especially in IMC), imminent danger is the default
position. I’m not being over dramatic when I say,
in IMC, you must actively ward off trouble to get home in one piece!.
Under normal VFR, once you have achieved a certain level of competence,
you have to go out of your way to get into difficulties. In other
words you have to actively engage in bad judgment.
All IFR instructors will teach you how to fly approaches
and holds, and other useful things. You should also be taught to
think and act systematically - using checklists (both mental and
written) for virtually every action, minimizing body movements (to
ward off vertigo), developing your cockpit management and situational
awareness skills. This is all for the day when you are inside cloud,
and it's raining sideways and your inner ear is telling you left
and down - are up, and the instruments seem to be saying something
else!. In such circumstances you need to have a systematic basis
to fall back on. Looking for an approach plate, then setting the
instruments and radios as you see fit, and in no particular order,
is not the way to prepare for an IFR flight.
You need training to understand what is needed, and you
just can’t do that on your own.
IFR Training the
There are a large number of little things to learn when flying IFR.
Despite what people think, it's actually far less than required
under VFR. For example, you should already know aircraft systems,
and something about the failure modes of aircraft instruments. Flying
the aircraft under a screens, or with foggles, isn't that difficult
for most people. It takes practice, but the difficulty in flying
is not to do with hands and feet coordination- It's getting the
right mental picture (spatial & positional orientation),
and thinking systematically. For most people, this usually happens
suddenly, after several lessons fumbling for approach plates, or
in panic after realizing they forgot the timer on the holding leg.
Listening to instructor rebukes, about ‘event planning’
and watching "heights .and .. headings ...". then one
day, after a bit more study it all clicks into place. It’s
at that point I start to feel confident a pilot is close to ready
for the skills test.
Like all forms of aviation training, IFR has to
be seen as a series of building blocks. The right way to get started
is as follows:
Firstly - Fly VFR properly.
If you don't have the experience to:
* Land in a 10-knot crosswind
* Talk to approach controllers (in VFR)
* Transition class D airspace without consternation, then you are
not ready for any IFR training.
If you are a relatively low hours pilot, getting
additional cross-country Radio Navigation experience before jumping
into the flying part of IFR training is really essential. That's
why we recommend our AOPA
Radio Nav certificate as a first step. Rather
than start IFR flying immediately, a better approach is to do all
the ground studies while doing extra hours of cross-country flying.
Ideally, the cross-country flying should include flights to at least
10 different airports of all types, and without relying on your
GPS to do it!.
Secondly - Learn everything you can
about IFR on the ground. Fly using a Flight Simulator
(we will advise you on this). Take the knowledge (or written) test
as soon as you can.
Show up to fly. Learn to fly headings and altitudes precisely
under the hood.
Expect to spend a lot of time with
your instructor ON THE GROUND learning systematic
approaches to flying. I usually ask my students to write a "script"
for their IFR flights, consisting of say a number of approaches.
I ask them to make the script as detailed as possible, and I correct
it so that they really understand what is needed. If you find your
instructor doesn't do this – ask why not? You will also have
the benefit of looking at this script in the future when things
fade from your memory. Such scripts can typically be a many pages
Practice approaches and holds at home on your simulator.
When you get good at this, fly them in a larger aircraft or twice
as fast as usual. Practice approaches and holds in the airplane
with your instructor. Put your life outside of IFR on hold for a
few weeks. If you do not, or can not do this, expect substandard
results. Read up on IFR stuff using a textbook. Practice,
Practice, Practice on the simulator.
Where three degrees was good enough yesterday, one degree is the
target today. When you know the theory, you can concentrate on the
Do the requisite cross-countries - in real IMC - if possible.
IMC is something rather different than being under the hood! Fall
back on your systematic training.
Take a check ride or a practice skills test. The
best compliments I get are reports of how easy the IFR test really
All this may sound a bit heavy going!. Mainly, this is to give a
sense that IFR training is, or should be a serious business. However,
IFR training can also be a lot of fun. In fact, it is my personal
favourite sort of training to provide. One nice thing about this
type of flying (if you can find a willing instructor), is that you
can do it at any time of day, and more or less around your daily
life. Although if you are doing the full IR, expect to get little
other work done during your training.
We hope this gives a realistic, but fair introduction to thinking
about IFR training - don’t forget to contact us if
you are contemplating further training!. We still offer
one of the best value IMC courses in the UK, and in conjunction with Rate One Aviation - Gloucester. Also one of the best schools in the UK for private pilots to undertake instrument training.
From our IR Instructor & IMC Examiner at
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