Instrument Training Diary

On February 5th 2003 I passed the FAA examination for an Instrument Rating addition to my Airplane Single Engine Land. In other words I was deemed competent to fly by instruments only. Not only does this mean I can now legally fly into and through the clouds, but it also means I can fly in the USA’s air traffic control system, using the same airways and controllers as the big jets out there. Indeed, during my training there were already plenty of times where an LA controller would talk to me and then to the pilot of a 777.

Instrument training was a lot of fun although the early lessons were at times frustrating as I lacked the finesse of control to gain the accuracy required. Instrument flying can be unforgiven – if you are told to fly at 3000 feet you’d better fly at 3000 feet; there could be a plane above you at 3500 (and what if they are shabby with their altitude too?) or terrain below you at 2500. Apart from flying there are a lot of rules to learn in order to operate safely in the ATC system. Most important are the lost communications procedures – you’re in the clouds and the radios go dead. Now where do you go? How do you get there? And at what altitude?

Rather than spread out my training over several months this time I decided to cram it in as fast as I could. Typically I would try to fly 6-8 lessons a week. Some bad weather and the holiday season intervened but ultimately I got the rating pretty fast. I had been contemplating a 14 day intensive course but I am glad that I didn’t. Some days where I flew 1-3 and 3.15 to 5.15 had me exhausted; I would not have wanted to do that for 14 days in a row.

The basic requirements for taking your Instrument checkride are:

  • pass a written knowledge test
  • 50 hours of pilot in command cross-country flying
  • 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument flight
  • Undertake a long cross-country with one leg of more than 100 miles, incorporating three different
    kinds of approaches

At the start of my training I was pretty close to the 50 hour requirement but far off of the 40 hour one. Therefore pretty much every lesson was ‘under the hood’, wearing the foggles that prevent me from seeing outside the plane. Once again, thanks to Kimberly’s great training I completed the rating very close to the minimums. I had 50.1 hours cross country time and 40.2 hours instrument time. Sadly we were unable to find many clouds during the training so almost all that time was simulated – I am yet to spend any more than a few minutes in instrument conditions, its going to be exciting the first time that I do!

Costs are a little less than for the Private as there is little extra equipment to buy. In my case, I bought an inexpensive kitchen timer for 5 or 6 dollars, and then there are the charts which have to be replaced every 56 days at a cost of $28 (though I could use the government charts for $10 or so).

Because of the pace of my training I didn’t have time or inclination to do a lesson by lesson diary as I
did with my Private. Instead I only offer: