Book excerpt:

SAFE member Timothy Heron is an instrument flight instructor and the author of the new book, Instrument Flying: 10 indispensible principles to know and remember. Read this short excerpt below. Learn more about Tim and how you can get his book at his website: (


By Timothy E. Heron, Ed.D., CFII, President, Double i, LLC 

Excerpt from Principle 1

Be Forewarned: Instrument Flying is Unforgiving of Neglect

Instrument flying is demanding. It requires well-honed mental and physical skills, as well as adherence to scores of rules. If non-proficient instrument pilots attempt to fly without reference to the natural horizon, their chances of a successful, non-eventful flight are reduced considerably. Pilots simply cannot afford to let their skills wither through neglect. Doing so not only risks catastrophe, but requires extra financial resources to restore skills that have gone rusty. Numerous writers for Flight Training magazine have noted over the years the wastefulness of spending thousands of dollars to earn an instrument rating only to end up spending more money down the road to retrain yourself because your original skills have atrophied. Unfortunately, there are no objective guidelines that pilots can apply to pinpoint when they are too out of practice to fly under instrument flight rules in IMC conditions. This is a personal decision they must make before executing their pilot-in-command authority.

Some airplane manufacturers, like Cirrus Aircraft, publish guidelines to assist pilots in determining safe flying conditions. The Cirrus “Envelope of Safety” is designed for non-proficient instrument-rated pilots, instrument-proficient pilots, and instrument-proficient pilots who have flown to Category 1 minimums within the previous sixty days.

Note that Cirrus further defines its safety envelope by recommending different ceiling, visibility, and crosswind limitations, depending on the pilot’s total time in the airplane and whether the flight is to be conducted during the day or night.

In my view, Cirrus has performed an extraordinary service for instrument pilots by recommending safety criteria to help ensure a positive outcome to their flights. Implicit in this envelope of safety is the notion that an instrument pilot who either is not proficient or has not flown on instruments within the preceding sixty days reduces his or her margin of safety considerably when the ceiling, visibility, and wind conditions conspire to form the perfect storm.

The United States military is even more prescriptive with its pilots. According to Frank Robinson, IFR magazine contributor, if a United States Air Force pilot has not flown an instrument approach within thirty days, that pilot must fly with an instructor before he or she is authorized to fly instrument for single-pilot operations.

According to Capt. Nate Boyer, a former private pilot and instrument student of mine, who is now an officer in the United States Air Force (USAF), the requirements depend on many factors such as what airplane the pilot is flying and his or her experience level in the aircraft. For example, a newly certified F-16 pilot may have to shoot an instrument approach every thirty days to stay current, but an experienced instructor may have a forty-five-day requirement.

Cirrus and USAF guidelines provide compelling recognition that flying on instruments requires a well-rehearsed pilot at the controls. If too much time lapses between instrument flights, additional practice is needed to regain prior levels of proficiency. As Robinson states, “If you don’t practice it, you’ll likely screw it up.”

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