IFR Fix: Real or imagined?

February 24, 2012

IFR fix: Real or imagined?

How are things in the real world today?

That’s where we’re headed, so let’s find out.

Give flight service a call. Tell the briefer we need weather for a trip from here to the real world and back. In the remarks section, please be sure to note when you file that this is a training flight with a focus on IFR flying under real-world conditions.

As a realm distinct from the so-called training environment, the instructional concept of the real world has made huge inroads, suggesting a tough and unforgiving milieu where pilots must fend for themselves, and everything is for keeps. Run a website search on “real world.” Pages of hits appear: Real world VFR. Real world IFR. Diverting in the real world. Welcome to the real world. Real world lessons.

Reality check: The real world isn’t always a rougher neighborhood than the training environment, and the easy living to be found there could come back to bite. A pilot trains for the instrument rating in a well-worn aircraft with basic—even crude—equipment, hand-flying everything from holding patterns to procedures turns and missed approaches. Sit beside the same pilot two years hence, and enjoy a smooth ride in a comfy, automated ship with a towering nav stack and double the range of the old trainer. ATC still recognizes the familiar voices on the frequency, and asks whether we want a full approach or vectors to the final.

“We’ll take vectors.” Just like they do in guess where.

ATC, still in thrall of the good old days, calls again: “How will this approach terminate?”

“Full stop.” After all…

Nice. But when we told you that you were being trained to operate in the real world, that’s not what we were talking about.

Sometimes you’ll be stuck in a motel, trying to figure out whether it is safe to fly out for home in the morning before that warm front with the big embedded thunderstorm gets here. Your job doesn’t afford you time off for finishing cross-countries, and they need you on the home front. When you landed, a radio was acting up, and the aircraft’s owner hates using unfamiliar repair shops. He wants you to please just fly it home because look, you’re not in training anymore, this is the real world.

It’s your call. What will you do?

Earning an instrument rating is guaranteed to be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and fun projects a pilot takes on during a lifetime in aviation. Each week, this series looks at the IFR experience from a new perspective. Catch up on what you may have missed in the IFR Fix archive.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.