Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stretching Your Wings

Advanced training is the ticket to taking your flying to the next level

Requirements for an instrument rating include 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time.
One of the most popular phrases in general aviation is “license to learn.” Anybody who has considered learning to fly has heard that phrase. The idea, of course, is that earning your private pilot certificate isn’t so much a “graduation” as it is the passage of an “entrance exam” to a world of further learning. A pilot never stops learning; becoming a private pilot is merely one small stop on a long road of training and skill acquisition.

One of my favorite instructors insists that all pilots do two things after earning the private ticket: get an instrument rating and learn aerobatics. His reasoning is that the instrument rating will teach pilots to be accurate in their flying, and will act (continuing the education analogy) as a “research paper” in the nuances of professional flying. Likewise, learning aerobatics, he feels, is something that will teach pilots how to control the airplane in all attitudes and all conditions. He has found that it instills a sense of confidence and teaches aerial discipline.

Advanced ratings are within every pilot’s grasp. They just take a little work and time, ranging from a couple of days to a few weeks. But whether you go after a seaplane rating, the ATP certificate or anything in between, you’ll be rewarded with a whole new set of skills, greater confidence and a whole lot of fun.

An instrument and commercial rating are prerequisites to earning a CFI rating. CFI candidates must also get ground instruction and pass a knowledge test with a score of 70% or better.
Instrument Rating

The most difficult but most rewarding rating you’ll ever get is the instrument rating. Earning the instrument rating gives you flexibility, and it’s what takes general aviation from fun and recreational to a truly dependable form of transportation. In essence, the rating is an add-on to your private certificate that gives you the ability to fly in “nonvisual” weather conditions that would ground VFR pilots. All pilots flying above 18,000 feet are required to have an instrument rating. It’s not an easy rating to earn, but it’s within the grasp of anybody who holds a current private pilot certificate. The instrument rating also is the main prerequisite for a nonrestricted commercial pilot certificate.

Prior to 1986, the FAA required pilots to have 200 hours of flight time to be eligible for an instrument rating. The NTSB discovered, however, that pilots with less than 300 hours were having more weather-related accidents than others, mostly while building hours toward instrument eligibility. This discovery led the FAA to get rid of minimum flight hour requirements for the instrument rating altogether. As of August 2009, an FAA notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) even presented the idea of allowing primary students to apply for both the private certificate and the instrument rating at the same time.

To get started with the instrument rating, you only need a private certificate. FAR 61.65 lists the detailed requirements to obtain the rating, but the basics specify 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, 15 hours of which must be in an airplane with a certified instructor. Twenty hours can be in an approved simulator with a CFII. You’ll need a total of 50 hours of cross-country time as pilot in command, and you’ll need to make one 250-mile, three-leg cross-country “in the system,” under IFR, ending with three different types of IFR approaches. Part 141 programs have lower requirements in both the total time and cross-country areas. Of course, you must pass a written knowledge test and a checkride.


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