Ten things I wish I had known before starting my instrument rating

This is a guest post by Matthew Stibbe. Matthew is editor of Golf Hotel Whiskey. He flies a Cirrus SR22 from Denham, England (EGLD) and has a CPL/IR with more than 700 hours total time. He completed his FAA instrument rating in 2004.

  1. The oral exam is tough. It was the hardest part of the test for me. In the UK, we don’t go in for oral exams and rely more on written exams. I didn’t study hard enough and I wasn’t relaxed or confident. When I did my CPL check ride, the story was much better.
  2. Don’t lose your revision notes. I lost all my flash cards two days before the check ride when I left them in a bagel shop. Idiot. Don’t do this. Flash cards are the secret to rote memorisation and rote memorisation is one of the ways you can go into the oral feeling more confident.
  3. Study the things you find difficult. The John and Martha King computer test prep is very chirpy and occasionally annoying but it is a good way to understand where you are weak. I spent too much time re-revising stuff I knew very well and not enough time chewing the gristle.
  4. Know your aircraft. I now know that US examiners like you to have a lot of data about your aircraft memorised. Specs and dimensions – that sort of thing. I breezed in with a detailed checklist and a reasonable knowledge of the SR22 but no data at my fingertips. Big mistake. When I took my CPL, I learned the PA28R specs upside down and back to front. I think it amused my examiner that I wanted to give her more data than she wanted – I had spent so much time learning it that I didn’t want to waste it.
  5. Double and triple check the requirements. It’s essential that you have all the previous flight experience and sign offs etc. I was okay on my IR check ride but I fell short in a few subtle ways on my first CPL check ride. D’oh! It’s much cheaper to check it yourself with your instructor in advance that pay an examiner for a check ride you don’t do.
  6. Give yourself enough time. Every time I have been to Florida for training, I have never given myself enough time. You need a week more than you think you do. It’s horrible taking a check ride the day before you have to go back to work or, in my case, fly back to England.
  7. Paperwork matters. For overseas students in the US, the paperwork is overwhelming. You need multiple forms for the FAA, DHS, immigration, visa and TSA people. It took me well over three days to get everything sorted out and, in particular, you need to book up the visa interview well in advance. Even for US students, you’ll need your instructor’s sign off for the check ride and the written exam as well as the appropriate medical and log book sign offs. Just totalling the hours in your log book can take a few hours.
  8. Develop your own patter. I’m pretty sure that an examiner hates a tense, mute candidate (like me!) who grips the controls and press buttons without a word of explanation. Certainly, when I see professional pilots in the cockpit, they are always telling one another what they are doing. I have had to train myself to ‘patter’ what I’m doing in the same way that an instructor talks through their training. Not only does it show that you know what you’re doing but it can also be good antidote to exam nerves.
  9. Relax. The check ride should be a fair test of skills you already have not a Gestapo interrogation (it just feels like that sometimes). Relax. Try to enjoy it and treat it as a learning experience. Just don’t drink too much coffee, like I did. An IR checkride can be a couple of hours and there’s a lavatory at either end of the flight but not on board, if you know what I mean.
  10. Do more training afterwards. I had flown in Class A airspace and airways precisely once during my training and I had done all my training in the UK and Florida. So I really needed some experience before I started doing long, international flights across Europe. Alas, that didn’t stop me launching myself off to France the moment I got back. The good news is that flying IFR in the real world is a lot easier than your check ride. The bad news is that, at least in Europe, there is quite a lot of local knowledge, such as how to file a flight plan that is acceptable to Eurocontrol or how to get ATC to get you out of controlled airspace at a reasonable place en route back to a VFR airport. My instructor here also recommends that pilots do a few trips on their own to build up confidence and experience before taking passengers. This is so that mere mortals don’t see a pilot look stressed. That would never do, now would it?
For more information, see How to get an FAA Instrument Rating.
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2 thoughts on “Ten things I wish I had known before starting my instrument rating

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Ten things I wish I had known before starting my instrument rating « I Have A Black Belt In Geek. -- Topsy.com

  2. Pingback: Ten things I wish I had known before starting my instrument rating (via I Have A Black Belt In Geek.) « Calgary Recreational and Ultralight Flying Club

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