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The 13 Hardest Parts Of Getting Your Instrument Rating

Getting your instrument rating makes you a much safer pilot, and it takes a lot of work. Here are some of the hardest parts of training.

13) Learning IFR Navigation Equipment Limitations

Whether it's a VOR or Localizer, there are quite a few systems limitations for IFR Navaids. You'll have to learn them during your IFR training.

12) Learning Aircraft Instruments

A major part of instrument training is learning how each of your instruments works, in-depth. You'll learn each instrument's unique characteristics, errors, and limitations.

11) Perfecting Your Clearance Readbacks

Use the "CRAFT" acronym to help read back IFR clearances:

  • Clearance Limit
  • Route
  • Altitudes
  • Frequencies
  • Transponder Setting

10) When Can You Descend?

Whether you're flying an approach or STAR, understanding when and where you've been cleared to descend is something that takes practice.

9) Learning To Read IFR Charts

There are hundreds of symbols found on multiple types of IFR charts. It may feel like reading hieroglyphics at first, but after some studying and practice, you'll master them in no time. Quiz yourself with a study partner by following the route of a "mock IFR flight."

8) Standardizing Your Approach Briefings

We've all flown with pilots that take either 10 minutes or 10 seconds to brief an approach. Both extremes make it difficult to remember the most important details. Perfecting the right balance of information during an approach briefing should be one of your top priorities during instrument training.

JL Johnson /

7) In-Flight Illusions

Disorientation is a lead killer of instrument pilots. Avoid these illusions by relying on your instruments!

  • Inversion (Climb to straight and level = Tumbling backwards feeling)
  • Coriolis (Head movements in prolonged turns)
  • Elevator (Updraft/Downdraft causes a pilot to pitch up or down)
  • False Horizons (Sloping clouds, terrain, etc)
  • Leans (Banking illusion that occurs by relying on physical sensations rather than instrumentation)
  • Autokinesis (Stationary lights appear to move)
  • Graveyard Spiral (Constant rate turn downwards)
  • Graveyard Spin (Pilot recovers from spin but senses they are in a new spin, so re-enter that spin)
  • Somatogravic (Caused by rapid acceleration or deceleration that results in a pitch up or down)

6) Landing Illusions

Shooting an approach to minimums aggravates these landing illusions, especially at night.

  • Ground Lighting
  • Atmospheric Illusions
  • Runway Width
  • Runway/Terrain Sloping
  • Featureless Terrain

5) MEA (Lost Comms: Altitude Clearance)

If you lose your radios and can't divert under VFR, SQUAWK 7600 and fly the highest altitude of:

  • Minimum IFR Altitude (Often Charted)
  • Expected Altitude
  • Assigned Altitude

4) AVE-F (Lost Comms: Route Clearance)

Fly your route based on the following order unless VMC conditions allow for a diversion under VFR:

  • Assigned
  • Vectored
  • Expected
  • Filed

3) When Can You Go Below Minimums On An Instrument Approach?

When it comes to instrument approaches, you can go all the way down to the published minimums, without seeing a thing. But what do you need to go below minimums and land?

FAR 91.175(c) outlines three requirements:

  • You must always be able to make a descent to landing on the intended runway using normal maneuvers and a normal descent rate,
  • The flight visibility (that you observe) must meet or exceed the minimums published for the approach, and
  • You must be able to distinctly identify one of the approved visual references for the runway (often called the "runway environment")

2) Visualizing Holding Entries

Determining which type of holding entry to perform takes practice. It all depends on your inbound course in comparison to the hold itself. Take this quiz to test your knowledge.

Live from the Flight Deck

1) IFR Regulations

There's a whole new set of regulations you need to learn for IFR flights. Test your knowledge with this quiz.

What else is hard about instrument training? Tell us 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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