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Cloud-based Exercise: Keeping Your Instrument Form in Shape

Source:, by James Williams

There you are, fresh from your checkride with a newly issued instrument rating. After completing all of that training and passing the practical test, now what?

New Privileges, New Responsibilities

Now that you have that new rating on your pilot certificate, you’ve gained an array of new privileges. But with that new rating comes a new set of responsibilities. First is a change to your preflight duties. A new level of thoroughness is required for both the aircraft and its documents. Some questions to ask are have the VORs been checked lately and are there any squawks that might compromise your flight?

Another item to consider is the need to maintain instrument currency and, more importantly, instrument proficiency. You can think of the relationship between currency and proficiency as the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law. There’s a clear metric for currency, explained in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 61.57(c): Six approaches, holding, and intercepting and tracking courses, all within the previous six months. Proficiency, however, is not so easily defined. What it really means is: Are you really prepared to take this flight?

How Do I Keep My Skills Up to Speed?

I decided to ask a few experienced instrument pilots here at the FAA what they recommend to help keep a new IFR pilot up to speed. This is their advice.

Jim Viola — Flight Standards General Aviation Division Manager and Aircraft Owner

“I rehearse my IFR procedures on a BATD (basic aviation training device) for the airport I’m flying to when I expect to have to fly an IMC approach on arrival. It gives me good familiarization of waypoints and altitudes to expect.

“Also a recent Bonanza accident showed the importance of en route ceilings. The accident aircraft appeared to have an engine issue while IFR at 5000 feet. The pilot established a nice stabilized decent, but ceilings were under 800 feet. That means there was not enough time to maneuver once out of the clouds. As a result, the aircraft hit a house, killing all on board. Choosing an IFR/IMC route that has weather and ceilings for emergencies is something to consider. I fly as high as I can (weather and airspace considered) to be as best prepared as I can be for an engine issue.”

Mike Schwartz — Aviation Safety Inspector and Active CFI

“The best advice I can give pilots is to know the automation in their aircraft and practice with it regularly. The worst thing that can happen is to be flying in the system and have something occur which leads to the inevitable question: ‘Why did it do that?’ The second piece of advice is to establish and maintain high minimums. A typical GA pilot might use 500 foot minimums when deciding whether or not to fly. New pilots might maintain 1,000 foot minimums until they get some practical operational experience in the system. The published minimums are for pilots who routinely operate under IFR and maintain proficiency to the level required to safely descend to minimums. Most GA pilots do not fly enough to maintain that level of proficiency.”

Tom McKnight — Aviation Safety Inspector and Aircraft Owner

“First, just because your checkride is over doesn’t mean you’re through learning. Ask your instructor about getting some ‘advanced’ instrument training in actual conditions. Try to file every chance you get so you can get comfortable with the system. Try to find a good safety pilot so you can practice regularly. Volunteer to be a safety pilot for other instrument pilots — it helps them stay current and you might learn a thing or two as well. Find the nearest ATD (aviation training device) so you can stay proficient if renting is too expensive or inconvenient. Finally, get a yearly Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC). It is not required if you meet your currency requirements, but it’s a good check of your skills.”

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