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Training and Safety Tip: The downside of training in actual IMC

Students and instrument flight instructors often put a lot of emphasis on experiencing instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) during training for the instrument rating, but is that an effective use of time?

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Flying through precipitation and clouds is precisely what instrument students are training to do, and some instructors stress the importance of “getting their students’ feet wet” by flying in these conditions so the student will have experienced what it feels like to fly in actual clouds.

But, the instrument training syllabus is jam-packed with instrument procedures, including maneuvers, approaches, and emergency operations sequenced in a specific order in lesson plans designed to have the most effective impact on learning. Almost any time a student is out flying to get training in actual IMC with an instrument-qualified flight instructor, they usually fly practice-instrument approaches and leave the syllabus far behind.

Setting aside the syllabus requirements to get some cloud time is fun and has some value as a training event. Still, it can prolong training—and add cost–and can throw a student entirely off-track regarding the syllabus and study plans.

That said, the cross-country phase of instrument training provides an excellent opportunity to experience flying in actual instrument conditions. A few lessons involving instrument approaches might fit with flying in actual IMC while training. Despite that advantage, these lessons often involve flying a variety of practice-instrument approaches that may not be available from air traffic control during real IFR conditions as controllers may be limited in the practice approaches they can offer.

However, there are some great and efficient ways to practice flying in IMC. Aside from using a flight simulator to train in IMC, another comparatively inexpensive way to get this experience comes after the checkride, when a newly rated instrument pilot can ask their trusty instructor for some dual practice in instrument weather flying when the opportunity arises.

Such actual IFR flights, conducted after the checkride, are valuable because the pressure is off. With the instrument rating in hand, the pilot can focus on gaining real-world experience to maintain the skills of an all-weather pilot.

Kevin Garrison

Kevin Garrison is a retired 777 captain with more than 22,000 accident-free hours flown. He has been a flight instructor for more than 45 years and holds an airline transport pilot certificate, along with a commercial certificate with land and seaplane ratings, and a flight instructor certificate. He has been an airline pilot examiner and is rated on the Boeing 727, 757, 767, 777, DC-9, and MD-88. Kevin has over 5,000 general aviation hours that include everything from banner towing to flying night cargo in Twin Beeches.
Topics: Flight School, Training and Safety, Student
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