We won’t sugarcoat it: IFR training is challenging and demanding. Even after training is over and you have earned your IFR certification, you will still need to maintain instrument currency to be a truly safe IFR pilot.
The reward of all this perseverance is gaining a skillset that can get you out of trouble if the weather goes sideways while you are in the air. You will also be free to fly in conditions where VFR pilots are grounded.
You’ve made your decision, chosen your school and signed up for classes. Now, here are 10 tips to help you breeze through IFR training.
1. Come into your training with realistic expectations
Before your first day of class, know what you are getting yourself into. IFR training is hard – very hard – and it requires you to learn and retain loads of information.
This is not a quick process, so don’t get fooled by the seemingly easy-to-obtain 40 instrument hours required prior to taking your checkride.
Know that statistically it will likely take you longer than the 40 legally required hours in order to master the skills. The important thing is skill-mastery regardless of the number of hours it takes to obtain that mastery. Don’t try to cut corners.
2. Study for and pass the written test as soon as possible
Even if you aren’t prone to test anxiety, the written test can be intimidating because failing it means being grounded until you pass a subsequent retest.
Invest in some extra study hours right away. Master the material, ace the test and carry that confidence into the rest of your IFR training.
Read the Rod Machado Instrument Pilot Handbook and study the Instrument Flight Review to help you memorize the information.
3. Learn to think ahead of the aircraft
This is something you should always be doing even with VFR flying, but when you make the jump to IFR, thinking ahead becomes even more important.
4. Practice operating under tighter tolerances
In IFR training, you will be drilled to stick the numbers. Altitude deviations must be no more than 200 feet. Clean up any sloppy habits you may have picked up and fly your VFR flights by the same high standards as you will be training on for IFR.
5. Memorize the basic flow of an IFR flight
No two flights are identical, but they all take you as a pilot through a similar flow of events. Get a head start by memorizing the basic flow of all IFR flights so you are comfortable and able to anticipate what will happen next.
6. Practice delivering approach briefs
Actors memorize their script and rehearse their lines over and over prior to taking the stage. By the time they walk out to perform, they are confident. You can apply the same strategy to your approach briefs.
By spending time practicing the delivery of your approach brief, you take away the potential stress of feeling unsure about the content when you deliver a brief to your instructor.
7. Review and memorize frequently used approach plates
Once you know which approaches you will be using the most, study and memorize those approach plates. A strong familiarity with the plate will make it easier to deliver the approach brief and to ace the approach.
8. Get your first real-world experience with IMC while in training
All the simulations and book knowledge you gain still can’t compare to the real-world experience of that first flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Near the end of your training when you are about to take your checkride, ask your instructor about taking you up on an IMC day.
9. Learn to ask “Why?”
Little kids love the word ‘why,’ and they pester their parents with it incessantly. “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do I have to go to bed before the sun does?” “Why does that strange man smell so bad?”
But consider for a moment why the kids are asking those questions. They are avid little learners and they are asking so that they can understand and learn.
It is the same with you during IFR training. You are now responsible for everything in and around the aircraft. You will be learning about topics like meteorology which you may have zero background in.
To engage in deep learning, you must do more than simply memorize materials. It isn’t always enough to know the answer – it can be just as important to know ‘why.’
When you take your checkride, your designated pilot examiner (DPE) will expect you to demonstrate a knowledge of why you are performing certain tasks. Your oral exam will give you the chance to show that you both know the correct answers and why they are correct.
Prepare yourself to do just that by asking all those ‘why’ questions throughout your training.
10. Remember your why
Finally, speaking of ‘Why,’ it is also important to remember your own personal ‘why.’
IFR training can be harder and more frustrating than you expected. You may be tempted to quit and say that it wasn’t for you or you just couldn’t do it. In those moments, remind yourself of your ‘why.’
Why did you sign up in the first place? What motivated you to take this challenge on and what do you hope to gain at the end of it?
Reminding yourself why you are there can give you the strength and resiliency to continue and achieve your goal.
Earning an IFR rating isn’t easy and there are many who give up along the way. Prepare yourself to be one of the students that succeeds. Set realistic expectations, prepare for training, study, practice, ask questions and remember why you are there. By setting yourself up for success, it won’t be long before you too will be an IFR-rated pilot.