Now that you have your Private Pilot certificate, you might be wondering what to do next. You've probably flown with your family or friends to different destinations, grabbed a few $200 (yes, inflation is real!) burgers, etc. But, after a little while, you realize you want your next challenge. Admit it... You do!
The instrument rating is a good rating to get. Not only does it allow you to fly in instrument conditions, but it also makes you a safer pilot.
What do I mean by "safer pilot"? When you practice for your instrument rating, you will learn to fly the aircraft to very tight tolerances (within 100 feet and 5 degrees of heading). You learn how to judge the weather, and determine acceptable risk. Finally, if you fly into airports at night or in low visibility conditions, you can use approach and departure procedures to safely keep you out of terrain.
The requirements to earn your instrument rating are given in 14 CFR 61.65. The key requirements are:
- 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot-in-command.
- 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, including at least 15 hours of training from an authorized instructor, which includes the following:
- One cross country flight, under instrument flight rules, of at least 250nm with an instrument approach at each airport and three different approaches.
- At least 3 hours in the 2 calendar months prior to the practical test in preparation for the practical test.
You will spend all your time during training operating the aircraft under real or simulated instrument conditions, while your instructor operates as your safety pilot.
During your initial training, you will learn how to operate the aircraft solely by reference to instruments and learn a technique commonly called "the scan". You will learn how to cross-check and interpret your instrument readings, and to use them to fly straight and level, turn, and climb and descend.
Once you have gained some command over controlling the aircraft, you will start to fly instrument approaches into your neighboring airports. Instrument approaches are specific sets of flight paths, and altitudes that you will fly to take you safely from the enroute structure to the airport of arrival.
Somewhere in all this, your instructor and you will fly one or more cross-country flights where you will file an instrument flight plan and navigate solely by reference to instruments. At least one of these flights will be in completion of the requirements mentioned above. Depending on the airports to which you fly, these flights might include combinations of standard departure procedures, arrival procedures and instrument approaches.
Finally, you will appear for the practical test (the checkride).
Instrument training is difficult, but mastery of instrument flight is a huge step forward in your airmanship. If you are interested in pursuing your instrument rating, contact your nearest instrument flight instructor, often called a CFII.