Instrument Flight Rating   Leave a comment

View during a night ILS approach. The pilot may descend to 200 ft above the ground without visual reference. With approach lights in view, the pilot can proceed to 100 ft, whereupon the runway threshold must be visible to continue.

Most non-commercial flying is carried out under visual flight rules (VFR). VFR flight is similar to driving a car or operating a boat: regulations and conventions provide recognized “rules of the road” to guide the pilot’s decisions, but safety is ultimately achieved by looking out the window. When flying under VFR, pilots must “see and avoid” obstacles, whether airborne (other aircraft, skydivers, balloons) or on the ground (towers, mountains).

The alternative to VFR is instrument flight rules, a set of regulations and procedures facilitating flight when the pilot doesn’t have visibility to maintain obstacle clearance, commonly due to weather. The departure and en route phases of IFR flight are governed by air traffic control clearances — route and altitude assignments based on navigation radios or GPS. By coordinating these assignments, air traffic controllers ensure no two airplanes are in the same space. The approach to landing is guided by published “approach plates” unique to each airport. These charts guide the pilot along specific, descending paths which, with any luck, culminate in exiting the clouds just in front of the runway.

As you might imagine based on the complexity of some of these procedures, flying under IFR requires an additional pilot rating and its own written, oral, and in-flight examinations. During the first two years of medical school at Duke, I had started working towards the instrument rating with instructors at Empire Aviation. After a flying hiatus while I was in Oxford, I’ve spent most of this year completing the required instruction with Brett Aviation in Baltimore. I completed the required hours just before departing to Florida for the holidays, and was lucky enough to find FlightGest, a Raleigh-Durham flight school that went above and beyond to schedule an instrument check ride in coordination with the drive back from Key West. The tests went well, and I’m now certificated to fly into the clouds!

Posted 3 Jan 2014 by John McManigle in Flying

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