Our guide to IMC & IFR Flying
since 1997

cambrian aero flight IMC RT Newport Cardiff AOPA

Congratulations! If you are interested enough to be reading this, and even more so if you are thinking of stepping up to the challenge. Make no mistake about it - having an instrument qualification ( IMC as well as the IR) makes you a safer and more capable VFR pilot. Statistically this true - and can be checked with AOPA - for example.
Did I really say VFR – what is all that about?

Well yes - If you fly reasonably well, and your aircraft is sound, VFR flying is a very safe activity. On the other hand, under IFR (and especially in IMC), imminent danger is the default position. I’m not being over dramatic when I say, in IMC, you must actively ward off trouble to get home in one piece!. Under normal VFR, once you have achieved a certain level of competence, you have to go out of your way to get into difficulties. In other words you have to actively engage in bad judgment.

All IFR instructors will teach you how to fly approaches and holds, and other useful things. You should also be taught to think and act systematically - using checklists (both mental and written) for virtually every action, minimizing body movements (to ward off vertigo), developing your cockpit management and situational awareness skills. This is all for the day when you are inside cloud, and it's raining sideways and your inner ear is telling you left and down - are up, and the instruments seem to be saying something else!. In such circumstances you need to have a systematic basis to fall back on. Looking for an approach plate, then setting the instruments and radios as you see fit, and in no particular order, is not the way to prepare for an IFR flight.

You need training to understand what is needed, and you just can’t do that on your own.

IFR Training the right way
There are a large number of little things to learn when flying IFR. Despite what people think, it's actually far less than required under VFR. For example, you should already know aircraft systems, and something about the failure modes of aircraft instruments. Flying the aircraft under a screens, or with foggles, isn't that difficult for most people. It takes practice, but the difficulty in flying is not to do with hands and feet coordination- It's getting the right mental picture (spatial & positional orientation), and thinking systematically. For most people, this usually happens suddenly, after several lessons fumbling for approach plates, or in panic after realizing they forgot the timer on the holding leg. Listening to instructor rebukes, about ‘event planning’ and watching "heights .and .. headings ...". then one day, after a bit more study it all clicks into place. It’s at that point I start to feel confident a pilot is close to ready for the skills test.

Like all forms of aviation training, IFR has to be seen as a series of building blocks. The right way to get started is as follows:
Firstly - Fly VFR properly. If you don't have the experience to:
* Land in a 10-knot crosswind
* Talk to approach controllers (in VFR)
* Transition class D airspace without consternation, then you are not ready for any IFR training.

If you are a relatively low hours pilot, getting additional cross-country Radio Navigation experience before jumping into the flying part of IFR training is really essential. That's why we recommend our AOPA Radio Nav certificate as a first step. Rather than start IFR flying immediately, a better approach is to do all the ground studies while doing extra hours of cross-country flying. Ideally, the cross-country flying should include flights to at least 10 different airports of all types, and without relying on your GPS to do it!.

Secondly - Learn everything you can about IFR on the ground. Fly using a Flight Simulator (we will advise you on this). Take the knowledge (or written) test as soon as you can.

Show up to fly. Learn to fly headings and altitudes precisely under the hood.

Expect to spend a lot of time with your instructor ON THE GROUND learning systematic approaches to flying. I usually ask my students to write a "script" for their IFR flights, consisting of say a number of approaches. I ask them to make the script as detailed as possible, and I correct it so that they really understand what is needed. If you find your instructor doesn't do this – ask why not? You will also have the benefit of looking at this script in the future when things fade from your memory. Such scripts can typically be a many pages long!

Practice approaches and holds at home on your simulator. When you get good at this, fly them in a larger aircraft or twice as fast as usual. Practice approaches and holds in the airplane with your instructor. Put your life outside of IFR on hold for a few weeks. If you do not, or can not do this, expect substandard results. Read up on IFR stuff using a textbook. Practice, Practice, Practice on the simulator.
Where three degrees was good enough yesterday, one degree is the target today. When you know the theory, you can concentrate on the flying.

Do the requisite cross-countries - in real IMC - if possible. IMC is something rather different than being under the hood! Fall back on your systematic training.

Take a check ride or a practice skills test. The best compliments I get are reports of how easy the IFR test really was!.

All this may sound a bit heavy going!. Mainly, this is to give a sense that IFR training is, or should be a serious business. However, IFR training can also be a lot of fun. In fact, it is my personal favourite sort of training to provide. One nice thing about this type of flying (if you can find a willing instructor), is that you can do it at any time of day, and more or less around your daily life. Although if you are doing the full IR, expect to get little other work done during your training.

We hope this gives a realistic, but fair introduction to thinking about IFR training - don’t forget to contact us if you are contemplating further training!. We still offer one of the best value IMC courses in the UK, and in conjunction with Rate One Aviation - Gloucester. Also one of the best schools in the UK for private pilots to undertake instrument training.

From our IR Instructor & IMC Examiner at
Cambrian AERO



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