how to get instrument rating - this is an instrument low altitude chart

What are the requirements for an Instrument Rating?

picture of a pilot performing an instrument approach on a foggy day

Getting your wings is a fantastic feeling.  The moment the checkride examiner says “congratulations, you’ve passed!” is likely etched in the minds of all private pilots.  On that day you are able to truly fly; to take your family and friends on new adventures and see new sights.

A lot of pilots continue in pursuit of an instrument rating after obtaining the private pilot’s certificate.  Instrument flying is truly freeing.  You don’t have to be grounded in bad weather, you don’t have to plan crazy routes around marginal weather, and you can feel more confident in the cockpit of your plane.

It turns out that earning your instrument rating is much more straightforward than most people think.  With a little studying and instruction, you can learn the ins and outs of the air traffic control system and go cloud surfing!

Additionally, if you are going to be pursuing a commercial rating, it makes a lot of sense to get instrument rated first as you’ll be able to travel more than 50nm on for-hire flights and also be able to conduct for-hire flights at night.  Without an instrument rating you are limited to 50nm from your airport and are not able to fly at night.

What are the requirements for an instrument rating?

Per 14 CFR 61.65, there are just a few requirements that you have to meet in order to be a private pilot with an instrument rating.  The requirements are specifically listed in section (d) of the regulation.

In order to go up for your instrument checkride, you need:

  • 50 hours of cross country flight as the Pilot in Command (PIC)
    • Cross country here is defined as flying 50nm or more away from the airport of departure.  Per 14 CFR 61.1(b)(3)(ii), the 50nm is the straight-line distance from point A to point B.
    • Have some fun with this; find some fun places to fly and knock them off of your bucket list!
  • 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time in the skill areas defined in 14 CFR 61.65(c)
    • This is actually an interesting rule.  You are required to have 15 hours with an instructor but the other 25 hours can be done with a “safety pilot”; someone who is at least a private pilot, meets the currency requirements, and is checked out in your aircraft.
    • Having a safety pilot can save you money on your pilot training as you won’t have to pay for an instructor and also gets you used to flying with someone else.
  • In this block of 40 hours, you need to fit in a long cross country flight that is at least 250nm round trip and it needs to include 3 different types of approaches.
    • For my long XC I did an ILS at the destination airport, a VOR approach and a Localizer approach at my return airport.
    • This can be a super fun flight.  Pick an exciting destination and go for it!

You also of course need to pass the FAA Instrument Written test with a 70% or better and pass your instrument checkride (another post for another day!).  You also become a better pilot almost as soon as you start your instrument training as you learn a heck of a lot about en route air traffic, airspace, navigation, radio aids, cockpit management, workload management, and so on.

The benefits of flying with a pilot’s license are numerous.  Earning your instrument rating is something you can do to become a safer pilot, learn more about airplane systems and navigation, and help you fly in all types of weather.  So what’re you waiting for, go out there and get started!

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