What is Instrument Flight Training?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2019
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Instrument flight training is aviation training which helps pilots obtain an instrument rating, a certification which indicates that they can navigate using flight instruments alone, without needing to look outside the cockpit. The amount of training required to get an instrument rating varies, depending on the regulations set forth by aviation authorities in the nation where a pilot wishes to become licensed. In the United States, it takes around 100 hours of instrument flight training in aircraft and with simulators to obtain an instrument rating.

With an instrument rating, pilots have the option of flying under instrument flight rules (IFR), meaning that local aviation authorities have decided that conditions are hazardous enough that pilots will need to be able to use aviation instruments to navigate safely. By contrast, without an instrument rating, pilots can only fly under visual flight rules (VFR), when the visibility is good enough to fly without instruments. Typically, pilots must also hold an instrument rating to fly above a certain height. Having instrument flight training provides pilots with more flexibility.


During instrument flight training, pilots are familiarized with the instruments used in aviation, such as the altimeter, heading indicator, vertical speed indicator, artificial horizon, and airspeed indicator. Pilots learn about what each instrument does, how to read each instrument properly, and how to identify common errors with aviation instruments. Then, they are taken up into actual or simulated instrument meteorological conditions in which pilots would be expected to navigate with instruments, giving them an opportunity to put their training to use.

In order to receive instrument flight training, a pilot needs to hold a pilot's license, and instructors often prefer to work with students who have flight experience so that they are familiar with the operation of aircraft under VFR. There are a number of training options, including instructors who will travel to pilots to provide instruction or flight schools which pilots can enroll in for intensive training. Training will provide the pilot with the hours required by law, along with the skills needed to pass tests administered by authorities in order to determine whether or not a pilot should receive an instrument rating.

Instrument flight training is designed to ensure that pilots are comfortable and competent when they fly under IFR. Even after training, pilots can become disoriented in poor weather conditions, and they can still make bad choices. Mistakes are especially common are among pilots who are just learning or just certified, with experience gradually exposing pilots to a wide variety of situations and conditions which make them more skilled and confident in flight.


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