More About The Instrument Rating

Basic Requirements

Here are just a few of the basic requirements for the Instrument Rating. We'll discuss what's entailed in each of these requirements later in this section.

You must be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English Language
You must be able to obtain a 3rd class medical certificate
You must be 17 years of age
You must hold at least a private pilot license in the category and class of aircraft for which the rating is sought
You must have recieved and logged the appropriate ground and flight training for the Instrument Rating
You must have 50 hours of cross country flight time as pilot in command
You must have 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument flight time
You must pass the FAA Instrument Rating written exam
You must pass the Instrument Rating Oral and Practical Exam


The training for the instrument rating consists of several distinct phases of training. Each level builds on the knowledge and skills learned in the previous level. The first phase is called basic attitudes. This is where you learn basic instrument maneuvers such as turns, climbs, and descents at a constant rate of airspeed, rate of vertical speed, or rate of turn. This helps you develop your "scan", which is the ability to look at the many instruments and quickly make adjustments to maintain the desired heading, altitude, and speed.

After developing your basic scan its time to move onto holding patterns. Holding patterns are racetrack shaped patterns flown over a navigation fix. Holding is required due to delays in the Air Traffic Control system due to weather or other situations. For example lets say your destination has several runways but only one runway has the equipment required to allow landing in poor weather. When poor weather conditions exist the airport now has a decreased capacity for takeoffs and landings. So in order to slow the flow of takeoff and landings air traffic controllers put airplanes in the these holding patterns. Holding patterns require skill to correct for winds aloft to keep the aircraft flying over the navigation fix in the right direction and to keep the length of holding pattern the same.

Once you've mastered holds it time for instrument approaches. Instrument approaches are used to facilitate landing under instrument weather conditions. Approaches are accomplished by tracking a ground based navigation aid, flying at predetermined speeds, and descending to specified altitudes at predetermined distances or time from a navigation fix. All of this turning and descending at just the right speed makes it possible to find the airport or runway threshold in low visibility and low ceilings.

After approaches you are in the home stretch! Next comes instrument cross-country training. Now you have to use all the skills you've learned so far to get you from point A to point B without having to look outside. You learn to interact with the air traffic control system on a broader scale. Until now the majority of your training probably has been within your local airport area. You could probably shoot your local instrument approaches from memory. Now its time to go someplace you've never been, shoot some approaches and land at an airport that you don't have all the radio frequencies memorized. Go see the world!

After cross country its on to training for emergencies that you can encounter under IFR, examples are radio or instrument failures. You learn the ins and outs of flying partial panel (simulated loss of one or more instruments) including holds and approaches. In addition you learn procedures for lost communications with ATC.

That's about all there is to the flying side of things. Now its time to polish up any weak areas and sign you up for the check ride. Good luck!


The FAA Written

The written test for the Instrument Rating like all other licenses and ratings is an 80 question computerized test. The questions consist primarily of IFR regulations, weather, and navigation systems.

The FAA Oral Exam

The oral exam will consist of various question related to IFR operations, most importantly weather and cross country planning. The examiner will most likely have you plan an instrument cross-country and then discuss your flight planning and give you some scenarios to evaluate your thought process.  Once the examiner is satisfied then it's on to the flight portion.

The FAA Practical Exam

The practical exam should be a summary of your instrument training. You will usually warm up with some basic attitudes. Then at some point you have to fly at least one hold followed by several approaches. One of these approaches will be partial panel. After successfully demonstrating your  instrument flying skills you will then be issued a new pilot license with an instrument rating.


Costs for the instrument rating like other licenses and ratings can vary. You can save a lot of money by doing some of your training in a FAA approved flight-training device. These are basically a generic instrument panel and controls hooked up to a computer to allow the practice of instruments skill with the ability to stop, pause, and discuss your actions in addition to seeing your movements plotted on a computer screen. This is a luxury you don't have in the airplane. Most larger flight schools have these FTD's and it's usually cheaper than flying in the airplane. Most schools have a training program that entails a mixture of flight time in both aircraft and FTD's. Again as always check with your local FBO to determine the exact costs in your area.

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