About the Instrument Rating
An instrument rating allows a pilot to operate under instrument flight rules (IFR), which increases the utility of small airplane travel. As an instrument-rated pilot, you may fly in weather conditions that are below the minimums for visual flight rules (VFR). This means you can fly in clouds and in low-visibility conditions (haze, mist, precipitation, etc.) using only the flight instruments for reference, without being able to see anything outside the aircraft except during takeoff and landing.
An instrument-rated pilot relies on a combination of the flight instruments, electronic navigation equipment, and air traffic control make a safe flight.
Instrument-rated pilots enjoy the safety benefits of operating on an IFR flight plan and fully utilizing the air traffic control system. Being on an IFR flight plan means you’ll have an “extra set of eyes” monitoring your flight.
Because instrument flying skills can deteriorate over time if not exercised, the FAA requires you to have regular practice. You must have logged at least six instrument approaches, holding procedures, and intercepting and tracking courses within the past six months in order to fly an IFR flight. If you aren’t instrument current, the FAA allows a six-month grace period in which to regain currency. If the grace period expires, you need to take an instrument proficiency check (IPC) with an instructor or FAA representative in order to regain currency.
Instrument Rating Ground Training
You may accomplish the ground training requirements for the instrument rating through one-on-one ground instruction, a home study course, a ground school class, or a combination of the above.
You are not required to complete ground training prior to starting flight training. You can work on ground training and flight training concurrently.
Instrument Rating Flight Training
Instrument training is generally divided into four stages: basic attitude instrument flying, instrument procedures, cross-country flying, and test preparation. Training may be divided between time in an airplane and a flight simulator.
First, you’ll learn to control the aircraft solely by reference to instruments. It takes time and practice to develop a good instrument scan, to interpret the instruments quickly, to make correct control inputs, and to learn to “believe what you see, not what you feel.” You’ll practice both full-panel and partial-panel instrument flying. To simulate instrument weather conditions, you’ll wear a view-limiting device such as special glasses called Foggles in order to block your view outside the airplane.
After you have a good handle on basic attitude instrument flying, you’ll learn to use navigation sytems to perform procedures specific to IFR flight. These procedures include instrument approaches, missed approaches, holding patterns, and DME arcs.
Everything you’ve learned so far will come together on IFR cross-country training flights. In the cross-country phase, you’ll learn to critically analyze the weather and plan IFR trips, including planning for alternate airports. You’ll file IFR flight plans and obtain IFR clearances. You’ll practice navigation and communication skills, and you’ll fly instrument approaches to airports away from home.
You’ll spend a few hours reviewing everything you’ve learned in preparation for the practical test (checkride).
Instrument rating training requirements are outlined in Part 61 of the FAA regulations.
Eligibility for an Instrument Rating:
To be eligible for an instrument rating (airplane), you must:
- Hold at least a current private pilot certificate, or be concurrently applying for a private pilot certificate, with an airplane rating
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. If you are unable to meet any of these requirements due to a medical condition, the FAA may place such operating limitations on your pilot certificate as are necessary for the safe operation of the aircraft
- Receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor or accomplish a home-study course of training on the aeronautical knowledge areas required
- Receive a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that you are prepared to take the required knowledge test
- Receive and log training on the required areas of operation from an authorized instructor in an airplane, flight simulator, or flight training device that represents an airplane
- Receive a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that you are prepared to take the required practical test (checkride)
- Pass the required knowledge test on the required aeronautical knowledge areas; however, you are not required to take another knowledge test when you already hold an instrument rating (i.e. you already have an instrument rating for a different aircraft category, such as rotorcraft)
- Pass the required practical test (checkride)
Required Aeronautical Knowledge:
You must receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor or accomplish a home-study course on the following aeronautical knowledge areas:
- Federal Aviation Regulations of this chapter that apply to flight operations under IFR
- Appropriate information that applies to flight operations under IFR in the “Aeronautical Information Manual”
- Air traffic control system and procedures for instrument flight operations
- IFR navigation and approaches by use of navigation systems
- Use of IFR en route and instrument approach procedure charts
- Procurement and use of aviation weather reports and forecasts and the elements of forecasting weather trends based on that information and personal observation of weather conditions
- Safe and efficient operation of aircraft under instrument flight rules and conditions
- Recognition of critical weather situations and windshear avoidance
- Aeronautical decision making and judgment
- Crew resource management, including crew communication and coordination
Required Flight Proficiency:
You must receive and log training from an authorized instructor in an airplane, or in a flight simulator or flight training device, that includes the following areas of operation:
- Preflight preparation
- Preflight procedures
- Air traffic control clearances and procedures
- Flight by reference to instruments
- Navigation systems
- Instrument approach procedures
- Emergency operations
- Postflight procedures
Required Aeronautical Experience:
You must log:
- 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, of which 10 hours must have been in an airplane (except if you are applying for a combined private pilot certificate and instrument rating at the same time, you may credit up to 45 hours of cross-country time performing the duties of pilot-in-command with an authorized instructor)
- 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time in the required areas of operation, of which 15 hours must have been received from an authorized instructor who holds an instrument-airplane rating, and the instrument time includes:
a. Three hours of instrument flight training from an authorized instructor in an airplane that is appropriate to the instrument-airplane rating within 2 calendar months before the date of the practical test
b. Instrument flight training on cross country flight procedures, including one cross country flight in an airplane with an authorized instructor, that is performed under instrument flight rules, when a flight plan has been filed with an air traffic control facility, and that involves-
i. A flight of 250 nautical miles along airways or by directed routing from an air traffic control facility
ii. An instrument approach at each airport
iii. Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems.
Completion time varies based on how often you train, how quickly you learn, how well you study at home, etc. We recommend you schedule at least one session per week, with two or three being more ideal for making steady progress and completing the program in fewer hours.