The Instrument Rating
Like the private pilot, instrument training is divided into two parts. On one hand, the theoretical (ground school) part ends with a written exam. On the other hand, the practical training ends with the flight test (Checkride).
The “Written Exam” is a multiple-choice exam consisting of 60 questions which come from a question bank of about 900 questions. All questions and answers are published, and can be studied with a “Written Exam Study Guide”. Study Guides are offered by Gleim, ASA, and Jeppesen.
The “Written Exam” can be taken next door at the Naples Pilot Shop. After passing this first obstacle, you can fully concentrate on the practical flight training.
The first step for instrument flight training is flying the aircraft without looking outside. Every pilot must still takeoff and land visually. The instrument rating allows you to enter the clouds after takeoff, and not require any outside visual reference until just before landing at your destination airport.
Basic Attitude Instrument flying aka. BAI (flying the aircraft only by reference to instruments), is the first step of instrument training. As a student you will learn how to fly the private pilot maneuvers, climbs, descents, radio navigation, and precision control of airspeed during climbs and descents; all without requiring you to look outside.
BAI is the foundation of the instrument training. The rest of the instrument flying relies on a solid foundation of being able to precisely control the aircraft by instrument reference only.
Once you’ve mastered basic instrument flying, the training goes onto the next phase: “Holding Procedures”.
A hold is basically a parking lot in the sky, and can be considered a place to wait for the weather to improve if an airport is saturated with instrument arrivals.
Certainly, An airplane cannot just “pull over” to wait. Instead pilots “Hold” at a certain Waypoint, VOR, NDB or otherwise defined point. One flies circles over the defined point, until it’s time to “leave the hold,” and proceed on course.
Actually these are not circles per se, rather ovals, which are specifically defined. The difficult thing about a hold is that they must be flown exactly as defined.
That means a lot of practice until you can fly into a Hold correctly and stay there. Merely staying in the exact range of airspace is not enough; you must also fly at the correct speed, at the correct altitude, and fly individual sections of the hold in a precise time-frame.
Once you master “Holding Procedures”, and holding entries are second nature, your training enters a crucial phase; flying instrument approaches. Here you learn to fly from a defined point following a certain path, in order to break out of the clouds, exactly over the runway and land.
You will utilize different types of NAVAIDS, such as the VOR, NDB, localizer and the modern satellite based GPS System.
If vertical glide path information is added to the horizontal flight path information, it is then called a precision approach: ILS (Instrument Landing System).
All approach path information is contained on an approach plate, and it us up to the pilot to identify the course accordingly, and navigate using the radio equipment installed in the airplane. During the training all possible approaches are flown. All approaches are conveniently available in the vicinity of Naples.
The Fun begins – IFR Enroute
Towards the end, all of your training comes together through a few IFR cross-country flights with your flight instructor. One of the cross country flights is prescribed in the FAA training guidelines, and must consist of a flight at least 250 nautical miles total distance, and at least three different types of approaches at three different airports.
The fascinating thing here is that you fly for hours around Florida, navigating exclusively by instruments, and suddenly find yourself lined up on a runway (hopefully the correct one …). An unforgettable experience!
Checkride Time Again
After the last cross-country flight, refinements to the instrument flight skills are made. Once this checkride prep is complete, the student meets with an FAA Examiner for an oral exam followed by the flight test. Again it is the Examiner’s job to observe the student demonstrate that he/she meets required knowledge and skills, required by the FAA, for the issuance of an instrument rating.
As long as everything goes well, you are then an instrument pilot!