Is your instrument flying based on a good foundation? Complex procedures require a solid basis in the fundamentals. That means practicing—and not just on clear, calm days. Practice should instill confidence that you can control your aircraft to the standards implied by your rating under the turbulent or gusty conditions you would expect to encounter on a challenging weather flight.
You can’t keep up with the demands of course intercepts, nailing altitudes, and anticipating the next step in an instrument approach procedure if your basics are sloppy, or if the radar controller is wondering whether you are established on the localizer.
Practicing level flight, standard-rate turns, and constant-airspeed climbs and descents—with and without a partial panel—isn’t instantly gratifying like completing an ILS approach or a tricky nonprecision procedure, but it will pay bigger dividends. That is recognized in the practical test standards.
To review from the PTS, “The FAA has stressed that it is imperative for instrument pilots to acquire and maintain adequate instrument skills and that they be capable of performing instrument flight with the use of the backup systems installed in the aircraft. Many light aircraft operated in IMC are not equipped with dual, independent, gyroscopic heading and/or attitude indicators and in many cases are equipped with only a single vacuum source. Technically advanced aircraft may be equipped with backup flight instruments or an additional electronic flight display that is not located directly in front of the pilot.”
The unintended consequences of poor basic instrument flying can be considered distractions, because they rob you of the time you need to keep up with the situation.
Practicing staying undistracted is easier than you think. According to one FAA designated pilot examiner, creating distractions on a checkride is often unnecessary because there are so many real ones.
“During a checkride it’s not unusual for the first distraction to occur soon after taxi out, possibly triggered by the need to retrieve a misplaced chart or pencil,” wrote Bob Schmelzer in the May 2010 Flight Training. “Another could show up soon after takeoff when, for example, an improperly set heading indicator results in a navigational checkpoint that cannot be located. And so the seemingly never-ending flow of distractions continues, allowing the DPE to simply sit back and observe an applicant’s responses to them.”