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12 Steps For The Perfect Instrument Cockpit Check, Every Time You Fly IFR

Forgetting to crosscheck instruments on the ground could lead to serious consequences in the air when flying under IFR. As you taxi to the runway, remember to follow these 12 steps.

1) An Instrument Cockpit Check Begins Before You Turn On The Engine.

On the ground, you should thoroughly check aircraft maintenance logbooks. It's your job as PIC to ensure the aircraft is airworthy for IFR flight. That means required instrument system inspections must be completed, including pilot-completed VOR checks. If flying a glass cockpit equipped aircraft, check databases for currency.

Swayne Martin

2) Altimeter Settings Should Match.

Look to all altimeters in the cockpit to ensure each has the same, updated, altimeter setting. Forgetting to reset an altimeter could leave you hundreds of feet off -altitude.

3) Altimeters Should Read Within 75 Feet Of Field Elevation.

All altimeters in the cockpit should read within 75 feet of field elevation. If something doesn't match, verify the altimeter setting is correct before calling maintenance.


4) Your Vertical Speed Should Read Zero.

Check your VSI indications for a reading of "zero." If for some reason it does not read zero, you may still be able to fly if you note the indicated vertical speed. Our advice? Just call for maintenance!

5) Indicated Airspeed Should Read Zero.

Unless you're taxiing into a strong headwind, all airspeed indicators should read zero on the ground.

6) The Attitude Indicator Should Be Erect And Stable.

Check attitude indicators to ensure the gyros have spooled up and hold attitude steady. If you notice abnormal attitude dips greater than 5 degrees during turns on the ground, call for maintenance.

Christopher Neugebauer / Flickr

7) The Magnetic Compass Moves Freely And Has No Abnormal Bubbles.

If your aircraft has a traditional style magnetic compass, it's a required item for IFR flight. Make sure it's indicating a known heading and that the fluid reservoir is full.

Swayne Martin

8) The Heading Indicator Closely Matches The Magnetic Compass.

As you taxi, check the heading indicator to ensure it matched with magnetic compass readouts.

Corey Komarec

9) As You Taxi, The Turn Coordinator Indicates In The Direction Of The Turn.

Your turn coordinator should dip in the direction of turns you make on the ground.

10) The "Ball" Moves Freely Towards The Outside Of The Turn.

The "ball" should swing in the opposite direction of the turn coordinator during turns on the ground.

D. Miller

11) Your IFR-Required Clock Is Functioning With A Second-Hand Ticking.

Before you depart, make sure you have a functioning, approved clock for IFR flight. The second hand or counter should be fully functioning.

Swayne Martin

12) Complete With A "Circle Check"

Once your instrument checks are done, complete your scan with a "circle check." It's a way to ensure you double check instruments again, and reminds you to set your clearance requirements into the avionics.

This is the perfect time to make sure you're in takeoff mode, have the correct heading bugged, your top altitude set, and that the most updated altimeter setting is entered. The circle check is best used with glass cockpits, but its principles apply to every airplane.


Have you ever found errors during an instrument cockpit check? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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