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FAQ #2

Getting an Instrument Rating


As I did in the FAQ on Private Pilot training,  I am going to quote a past opinion expressed by AOPA.  This opinion is by Dan Namowitz.  I fully agree with this assessment.  Having an instrument rating makes you better in both VFR and IFR conditions.  Quoting Dan:

"... it’s easier than it once was. Back when marker beacons on an instrument panel were a big techno-thrill—and GPS was globally unheard of—you had to meet a 125-hour total-time requirement (including student hours) to be eligible for an instrument rating-airplane checkride. That rule’s gone.

Once you were rated, flying to maintain IFR currency was based on an hours-plus-approaches requirement. Now it’s approaches and procedures that count, not costly hours.

Many pilots considering the IFR project say, “I don’t plan to fly in the clouds. I just know it would make me safer to be instrument-rated, and it might come in handy someday.”

Well, I doubt that anybody plans to fly in clouds as a life’s goal, but instrument training will make you safer. When you read accounts of VFR pilots who blundered into deteriorating weather, it’s comforting to know that an instrument rating would provide some protection—not insurance—against accidents caused by loss of control and controlled flight into terrain.

Instrument training makes you safer by making you an ace navigator, communicator, and workload manager. IFR flying is all about different ways to navigate; flying on an IFR clearance is demanding of altitude and course control. 

It makes you a better communicator because from the get-go you copy and comply with clearances, working with air traffic control, speaking the terse, standardized ATC language that’s foreign to the VFR set. Rapid-fire bursts of instructions that overwhelm the novice won’t faze you because you will be listening for specifics: the frequency to tune in for a handoff to the next controller, the altitude and heading to fly to intercept an approach course, missed-approach instructions after a practice approach.

When planning flights, sharp weather-assessment skills will become more crucial than ever, because it’s no longer a simple calculation: “Is the weather good enough for me to go?” Now you’ll ask yourself, “How much bad weather should I take on?” Just as before, however, you’ll examine your limits and evaluate your aircraft’s navigational and performance capabilities.

Practically speaking, if you plan to pursue advanced pilot certification, an instrument rating becomes your means to that end, in most cases.

And, as previously noted, having an instrument rating might come in handy some day when the weather is up to no good.


The instrument rating requirements, as specified in 14 CFR 61.65, are summarized here. The underlined sections are those related to the instruction from a  CFII:

A person who applies for an instrument rating must:

  • 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. 

  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. 

You must have logged the following:

  • At least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command. At least 10 of these hours must be in airplanes for an instrument-airplane rating. 

  • A total of 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time on the areas of operation listed in 61.65(c)

  • At least 15 hours of instrument flight training from an authorized instructor in the aircraft category for the instrument rating sought. 

For instrument-airplane rating, instrument training on cross-country flight procedures that includes at least one cross-country flight in an airplane that is performed under instrument flight rules. This flight must consist of:

  • A distance of at least 250 nm along airways or ATC-directed routing. 

  • An instrument approach at each airport. 

  • Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems (Example: ILS, VOR, GPS, etc). 

  • At least 3 hours of instrument training that is appropriate to the instrument rating sought from an authorized instructor in preparation for the checkride within two calendar months before the examination date. 


Again, I am going to rely on another source to answer that question.  My source is this story, The 13 Hardest Parts of Getting Your Instrument Rating, by the pilots at Boldmethod.  Follow the link to read the full story.  In summary, here are their 13:

  • Learning IFR Navigation Equipment Limitations

  • Learning Aircraft Instruments

  • Perfecting Your Clearance Readbacks

  • When Can You Descend?

  • Learning to Read IFR Charts

  • Standardizing Your Approach Briefings

  • In-Flight Illusions

  • Landing Illusions

  • MEA (Lost Comms: Altitude Clearance)

  • AVE-F (Lost Comms: Route Clearance)

  • When Can You Go Below Minimums on an Instrument Approach?

  • Visualizing Holding Entries

  • IFR Regulations

Quite frankly, that is a pretty good summary of an instrument training curriculum subjects.  To their list, I would add:

  • Advanced Weather Theory

  • Forecast Interpretation and Limitations

  • Risk Management and Aeronautical Decision Making in IFR 

  • How do I get safely out of an IFR airfield?

  • Cockpit Task Management

  • Diversion Does and Don'ts 


All the syllabi are generally the same in terms of the activities they cover. Here is a link to the Gleim syllabus for instrument training.  

As a quick summary, here is what is included in their suggested order:

  1. Basic instrument flying procedures and techniques (primary/supporting & control and performance).

  2. Instrument proficiency maneuvers.

  3. Instrument approach practice (VOR, ILS, LDA, SDF, LOC, ADF, GPS, etc.)

  4. Partial Panel training

  5. Holding Procedures

  6. Planning/Flying Cross Country

  7. Flight Evaluation Preparation

This Gleim training is 40 hours of Instrument Flight Training.  However, that is not a hard and fast figure.  The guiding rules to my mind are 1) demonstrate proficiency at various maneuvers and procedure/regulations knowledge and 2) meet the minimum requirements of the FARs noted above. In addition, the syllabus should be viewed as a guideline and not a map.  By that I mean that the training will occur as conditions and circumstances demand.  For example, a pilot might get holding training much earlier in the training flow if ATC puts the airplane into holding!

Another note should be made about the syllabus.  It does not necessarily need a CFII for all the activities.  There is nothing wrong with an non-instrument rated pilot flying with a safety pilot in VFR conditions while performing practice approaches to gain proficiency.  This means the CFII cost can be limited to the minimum dictated by the FARs.  

FAQ #2, Instrument: FAQ
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