A pilot who is instrument rated is able to fly their aircraft by reference to their instruments only. This means that they can fly in conditions where it’s impossible to see the ground and other aircraft.
Normally, pilots rely on visual information to navigate and control the plane. This could be referencing landmarks on the ground for navigation or checking altitude by looking out the window.
Being instrument rated is a valuable endorsement to have as a pilot. It is crucial if you plan on becoming an airline pilot as the big passenger jets fly above the clouds.
Instrument rating is also a requirement for flight instructors. It makes logical sense, after all how can you train someone to be instrument rated if you aren’t!
Even if you want to remain a private pilot, being instrument rated is a good idea. Passing the instrument training will give you skills that could save you in a tricky situation. You might not plan on flying above the clouds or during adverse weather conditions, but you never know what you’re going to face.
Despite the fact that instrument rating is so useful to pilots, only half of all pilots complete instrument training and receive the rating.
This figure has been increasing over recent years. As of 2019, the figure is estimated at 68%. This is a nearly 10% increase compared to 2003.
Figuring out how many pilots stay current is much more difficult. Some estimates put the figure as low as 15%.
How Do You Get Instrument Rated?
To earn your instrument rating, you need to hold a private pilot license or be applying for your private pilot license at the same time.
You’ll need to complete ground training with an instructor or complete an accredited home study course. The ground training course covers the theoretical knowledge required to complete your instrument training.
Following your ground training you’ll need to be endorsed by an instructor. This means that your ground instructor clears you to take the knowledge test.
The ground course covers the following areas of knowledge. All will be tested in the final knowledge test.
- Flight planning and filing
- Systems related to instrument flight rules (IFR)
- Air traffic control procedures
- Instrument approach procedures
- Emergency operations related to IFR
- Weather information
You also need to fly and log the required flight hours. The flight hours you need to log are as follows:
- Cross-country PIC – 50 hours
- Instrument time – 40 hours
- Flight time from authorized instructor – 15 hours
Your instrument time can be simulated or actual. What’s the difference you ask?
Actual instrument time is when you fly in real life conditions that require IFR. Of course, this is not always possible because you can’t control the weather!
Enter simulated instrument time. This is when you use devices known as view limiting devices to restrict the pilot’s view. These devices are generally visors or goggles that prevent the pilot from seeing outside the cockpit.
While wearing a VLD the pilot must use their instruments to fly and navigate the aircraft. In essence, the device simulates the conditions that would require a pilot to use their instruments.
Once you achieve your instrument rating, you’ll need to keep it up to date or ‘current’ by earning currency.
In practice, this means you need to complete 6 instrument approaches, a hold, and intercepting and tracking courses.
These currency flights can be actual or simulated instrument flights. If you are conducting a simulated instrument flight, you’ll need a safety pilot to come along with you. They will be responsible for looking out for aircraft and hazards will you fly ‘under the hood.’
Your safety pilot can be any pilot who holds a private pilot license and is rated for the plane you will be flying. They’ll also need to have a valid medical certificate because they are classed as a required crew member.
Can All Pilots Be Instrument Rated?
We’ve already spoken about the requirements for instrument rating. You need to pass the tests, log the flight hours, and hold or apply for your private pilot license.
This last requirement is crucial because it excludes a few different pilots.
Sport pilots and recreational pilots are not able to complete the instrument rating training unless they are pursuing their private pilot license.
Sport and recreational pilot licenses don’t require medical certificates and require significantly less flight hours to achieve.