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How To Get Your Instrument Rating, And Why You Should

Do you want the flexibility of flying through clouds or the satisfaction of flying an instrument approach to 200 feet above the runway before landing? Here's how to get your instrument rating.

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What Can An Instrument Rating Do For You?

Have you ever had a perfect day to fly ruined by low clouds? If you want to take your aviation knowledge to the next level, give yourself the most flexibility to fly where/when you want, and become a safer pilot in the process, get your instrument rating. Plus, who doesn't want to do a little cloud surfing?

Visual Meteorological Conditions aren't easily found in every part of the country, and you've probably been weather-canceled more than a few times as a private pilot. The best part of being a pilot is having the flexibility to travel where and when you want, beyond rigid airline schedules and lengthy TSA lines. If you don't hold an instrument rating, cloudy weather and frontal systems could ruin your plans and make safely accomplishing a flight nearly impossible.

Swayne Martin

To Get Your Rating, Here's What You'll Need

There are a few things you'll need to do to obtain an instrument rating. We'll break down some specifics in the following sections within this article. According to 14 CFR 61.65, these are the basic requirements (summarized):

  • Hold at least a private pilot certificate
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.
  • Take a ground school training course or receive ground training from an authorized instructor
  • Receive a logbook endorsement certifying that you are prepared for the FAA knowledge test
  • Pass the required FAA knowledge test
  • Receive flight instruction on the areas of operation necessary for an instrument rating (FAR 61.65)
  • Pass the required practical test (ACS - Airman Certification Standards)

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Part 61 vs. Part 141 Training Requirements

Now, on to the fun stuff. We love instrument flying and there's almost nothing more satisfying than flying a perfect ILS approach to minimums on a foggy day. While you have a lot to learn, you already know how to fly an airplane. All you have to do now is apply instrument knowledge to your flight skills, which most pilots enjoy during training.

Compared to Part 61 flight training (through individually certified flight instructors), Part 141 certified schools have a strict curriculum certified by the FAA. Because of that, some of the flight time requirements are reduced or waived for Part 141 students. This can be a way to save money and time, although you may not find the flexibility of training on your schedule or in an airplane you personally own. If you need help picking a flight school, follow this guide.

Below, you'll find a list of basic training requirements as a comparison between the two methods of getting your rating. There are plenty of specific training events and requirements found within the regulations and training course outlines beyond just raw "flight time" figures.

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Part 61 Training Requirements (FAR 61.65):

  • 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, of which 10 hours must have been in an airplane (this includes time logged prior to your instrument rating)
  • 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time in the areas of operation listed in paragraph (c) of this section, of which 15 hours must have been received from an authorized instructor who holds an instrument-airplane rating

Part 141 Training Requirements (Appendix C To Part 141):

  • No specific cross-country flight time requirements
  • 35 hours of instrument training if the course is for an initial instrument rating

BOTH: Whether you train under Part 61 or Part 141, you'll have to complete a "long cross-country" flight, which:

  • Has a distance of at least 250 nautical miles along airways or ATC-directed routing
  • One segment of the flight consists of at least a straight-line distance of 100 nautical miles between airports (Part 141 Only)
  • Involves an instrument approach at each airport
  • Involves three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems.

Keep in mind, in Part 141 training you'll likely have a series of stage checks, which examine your progress before a final checkride. If you train under Part 61, you'll just have one checkride for the rating at the end of your training.

Knowledge Areas Covered (Ground + Flight Training)

Instrument training can be intimidating at first because looking at your first approach plate might look more like hieroglyphics than logic. If you want to kick-start your training, start reading the FAA's Instrument Procedures Handbook (free), read our articles (free), or take our quizzes (free)!

These are the aeronautical knowledge areas you'll cover during ground training according to FAR 61.56:

  • Federal Aviation Regulations of this chapter that apply to flight operations under IFR
  • Appropriate information that applies to flight operations under IFR in the Aeronautical Information Manual
  • Air traffic control system and procedures for instrument flight operations
  • IFR navigation and approaches by use of navigation systems
  • Use of IFR en route and instrument approach procedure charts
  • Procurement and use of aviation weather reports and forecasts and the elements of forecasting weather trends based on that information and personal observation of weather conditions
  • Safe and efficient operation of aircraft under instrument flight rules and conditions
  • Recognition of critical weather situations and windshear avoidance
  • Aeronautical decision making and judgment
  • Crew resource management, including crew communication and coordination

These are the flight proficiency areas you'll cover during training according to FAR 61.65:

  • Preflight preparation
  • Preflight procedures
  • Air traffic control clearances and procedures
  • Flight by reference to instruments
  • Navigation systems
  • Instrument approach procedures
  • Emergency operations
  • Postflight procedures

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Flight Simulator Lessons Will Save You $$$

Whether you attend a Part 61 or Part 141 school, you should be able to use a flight simulator to reduce the cost of your training and build simulated instrument experience. From FAR 61.51(g-4), "A person may use time in a full flight simulator, flight training device, or aviation training device for acquiring instrument aeronautical experience for a pilot certificate or rating provided an authorized instructor is present to observe that time and signs the person's logbook or training record to verify the time and the content of the training session."

There are different types of simulators available for FAA certification, and these are the limits of instruction for each type (contact your flight school to see which simulator options are available):

Full Flight Simulator and Flight Training Device

  • Part 142 (Flight Center Schools): A maximum of 30 hours can be logged in a Full Flight Simulator or Flight Training Device if the instrument time is completed
  • Part 142 (Flight Center Schools): A maximum of 20 hours can be logged in a Full Flight Simulator or Flight Training Device if the instrument time is not completed
  • Part 141 (Appendix C): Credit for training in a Full Flight Simulator cannot exceed 50 percent of the total flight training hour requirements of the course or of this section (whichever is less) and credit for training in a Flight Training Device (or a combination of a Flight Training Device and an Aviation Training Device) cannot exceed 40 percent of the total flight training hour requirements of the course or of this section (whichever is less)

Advanced Aviation Training Device

  • Part 61.65(i): A maximum of 20 hours of instrument time can be received in an Advanced Aviation Training Device
  • Part 141 (Appendix C): credit for training in an Advanced Aviation Training Device (or a combination of an Advanced Aviation Training Device and Flight Training Device) cannot exceed 40 percent of the total flight training hour requirements of the course or of this section (whichever is less)

Basic Aviation Training Device

  • Part 61.65(i): A maximum of 10 hours of instrument time can be received in a Basic Aviation Training Device
  • Part 141 (Appendix C): Credit for training in a Basic Aviation Training Device cannot exceed 25 percent of the total training hour requirements permitted under the paragraph

University of North Dakota

Testing Requirements

Just like most ratings and certificates, there's a knowledge (written) test and a practical (flight) test to complete for your instrument rating. For both, you'll first need a signed endorsement.

The Instrument Rating Airman Certification Standards (ACS) establishes the criteria for what you'll be examined on during your instrument rating checkride, and what counts as satisfactory. Take a look at the standards early in your training. By the time you get signed off for your checkride, you've been exceeding standards according to your instructor.

How Long Will The Training Take And How Much Will It Cost?

It can take anywhere from 1 month to 6 months to for you to finish your instrument rating, determined by your experience level, the frequency of training, and the structure of your training curriculum. Don't rush. If you need extra time to learn something, let your instructor know you think you need a little extra practice and take the time to learn these procedures thoroughly.

As of 2021, it costs anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 for most people to obtain their instrument rating. Again, this is determined by your progress, flight school costs, and the availability of flight simulators. Here are 8 ways to keep your flight training costs under control.

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What else do you want to learn 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 swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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