About the Instrument Rating
An instrument rating allows a pilot to operate under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), which increases the utility of air travel 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, fog, 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 to 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 to remain proficient. 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 there of.
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.
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 61.65 of the FAA FAR/AIM regulations.
§61.65 Instrument rating requirements.
(a) General. A person who applies for an instrument rating must:
(1) Hold at least a current private pilot certificate, or be concurrently applying for a private pilot certificate, with an airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift rating appropriate to the instrument rating sought;
(2) Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. If the applicant is unable to meet any of these requirements due to a medical condition, the Administrator may place such operating limitations on the applicant’s pilot certificate as are necessary for the safe operation of the aircraft;
(3) Receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor or accomplish a home-study course of training on the aeronautical knowledge areas of paragraph (b) of this section that apply to the instrument rating sought;
(4) Receive a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that the person is prepared to take the required knowledge test;
(5) Receive and log training on the areas of operation of paragraph (c) of this section from an authorized instructor in an aircraft, full flight simulator, or flight training device that represents an airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift appropriate to the instrument rating sought;
(6) Receive a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that the person is prepared to take the required practical test;
(7) Pass the required knowledge test on the aeronautical knowledge areas of paragraph (b) of this section; however, an applicant is not required to take another knowledge test when that person already holds an instrument rating; and
(8) Pass the required practical test on the areas of operation in paragraph (c) of this section in—
(i) An airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift appropriate to the rating sought; or
(ii) A full flight simulator or a flight training device appropriate to the rating sought for the specific maneuver or instrument approach procedure performed. If an approved flight training device is used for the practical test, the instrument approach procedures conducted in that flight training device are limited to one precision and one nonprecision approach, provided the flight training device is approved for the procedure performed.
(b) Aeronautical knowledge. A person who applies for an instrument rating must have received and logged ground training from an authorized instructor or accomplished a home-study course on the following aeronautical knowledge areas that apply to the instrument rating sought:
(1) Federal Aviation Regulations of this chapter that apply to flight operations under IFR;
(2) Appropriate information that applies to flight operations under IFR in the “Aeronautical Information Manual;”
(3) Air traffic control system and procedures for instrument flight operations;
(4) IFR navigation and approaches by use of navigation systems;
(5) Use of IFR en route and instrument approach procedure charts;
(6) 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;
(7) Safe and efficient operation of aircraft under instrument flight rules and conditions;
(8) Recognition of critical weather situations and windshear avoidance;
(9) Aeronautical decision making and judgment; and
(10) Crew resource management, including crew communication and coordination.
(c) Flight proficiency. A person who applies for an instrument rating must receive and log training from an authorized instructor in an aircraft, or in a full flight simulator or flight training device, in accordance with paragraph (g) of this section, that includes the following areas of operation:
(1) Preflight preparation;
(2) Preflight procedures;
(3) Air traffic control clearances and procedures;
(4) Flight by reference to instruments;
(5) Navigation systems;
(6) Instrument approach procedures;
(7) Emergency operations; and
(8) Postflight procedures.
(d) Aeronautical experience for the instrument–airplane rating. A person who applies for an instrument–airplane rating must have logged:
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (g) of this section, 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, of which 10 hours must have been in an airplane; and
(2) Forty hours of actual or simulated instrument time in the areas of operation listed in paragraph (c) of this section, of which 15 hours must have been received from an authorized instructor who holds an instrument–airplane rating, and the instrument time includes:
(i) 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; and
(ii) 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—
(A) A flight of 250 nautical miles along airways or by directed routing from an air traffic control facility;
(B) An instrument approach at each airport; and
(C) Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems.