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IFR Fix: Should you get an instrument rating?

(Here's a hint: Yes)

There are so many reasons to get your instrument rating, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

And 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.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: IFR, Training and Safety

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