Instrument Training

Pro Member Trainee
Brook Trainee

Question about IFR training and real-world application...

Are IFR training and real-world practice focused on hands-on aviation or is it more about managing all the tasks while flying mainly under autopilot?

Obviously, you need to be capable of flying, when necessary, hands-on with no outside visual references, but--just as obviously--I've learned in simming that all the tasks that need to be minded are vastly easier if you're not preoccupied with hands-on altitude and heading maintenance.

So the question--if I'm being clear-- is IFR training more for mastering all the systems and tasks; for white knuckle zero viz aviating...or a little of both?

Am I wrong to assume that the safest, most practical IFR flying is done mostly under autopilot?


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Pro Member Chief Captain
Drew B (belgeode) Chief Captain

my unprofessional 2 cents... both.

And from what I know autopilot in IMC conditions is safer than hands on, especially if you are on ILS approach down to minimums.

Pro Member First Officer
Tartanaviation First Officer

IMC training is considered to be the hardest for one reason, you have to be very accurate with your flying skills. You have to maintain very tight margins in relation to height, heading and airspeed.

I suppose the most important factor when starting an instrument approach is to ensure that your altimeter is set correctly, emphasis being on ensuring that you are not lower than what your altimeter is set to. Secondly the safest form of IFR/IMC condition training is with use of a simulator.

Pro Member Trainee
Ryan (ryane) Trainee

If you have a chance do the following with an instructor/spot pilot: close your eyes and bank 20 degrees to the right. Hold it for about 15 seconds. Then level out. Then bank 30 degrees to the left keeping the eyes shut for 8 more seconds, relying only on your sense of feeling.

My private pilot examiner made me do this for the express purpose of putting us in an unusual attitude to test my recovery. I thought I was banking left when I was actually steep right. It is a phenomenon that puts many inexperienced IFR pilots in a dangerous position.

In VFR it is very natural to use the motion and feeling of your body (ie feeling g-forces, shifting weight) as feedback to your visual references. In IMC you have to completely discount this and focus on instruments only. It is quite a different experience that simming cannot reproduce.

With IMC flight, there is of course always an emphasis on cockpit management and situational awareness, and an autopilot can do most of the work, however during the instrument exam, the examiner will test you extensively with the foggles... ie white knuckle zero viz aviating. And manually flying in low viz is always good experience to have.

Pro Member Captain
Ian Stephens (ianstephens) Captain
Ian Stephens is an expert on this topic. Read his bio here.

Hello! Great question, and I'm glad you're interested in learning more about IFR training and real-world applications.

In short, IFR training encompasses both the aspects you mentioned. It focuses on developing the ability to fly an aircraft manually with no outside visual references (also known as white-knuckle zero viz aviating) and managing the various tasks and systems involved in instrument flight, which often includes the use of autopilot.

  1. First and foremost, pilots must be proficient in basic attitude instrument flying. This means they must be capable of controlling the aircraft's altitude, airspeed, and heading solely based on the information provided by the cockpit instruments. This is a critical skill when flying in IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) where outside visual references are unreliable or nonexistent.
  2. Secondly, IFR training focuses on navigation. Pilots must learn to accurately interpret and use navigation aids such as VORs, NDBs, and GPS systems. They also learn to fly various instrument approaches (e.g., ILS, RNAV, VOR, etc.) and departures.
  3. Lastly, pilots must become proficient in aircraft systems management, including the use of autopilot. While it is true that autopilot can help reduce workload, it is essential that pilots understand its limitations and know when to rely on it and when to disengage it and take manual control.

To answer your question regarding the safest, most practical IFR flying being done mostly under autopilot, it is partially correct. Autopilot systems are excellent tools to alleviate workload, especially during long flights or in complex airspace. However, it is essential to remember that the ultimate responsibility lies with the pilot to maintain control and situational awareness. In certain situations, such as emergencies or during critical phases of flight (e.g., takeoff, landing, and missed approaches), manual control is often necessary.

In conclusion, IFR training is designed to prepare pilots for a wide range of scenarios and to develop their skills in both manual flying and systems management. A well-rounded IFR pilot should be comfortable with both hands-on flying and autopilot usage, knowing when and how to use each effectively.

Hope this helps, and feel free to ask if you have any more questions! Safe flying!

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