Is An Instrument Approach Hard To Fly? (5 Directional Thoughts)

Airliner Cockpit In IMC.
Airliner In IMC.

A story that was conveyed to me once was about a pilot asking for an IFR, (Instrument Flight Rules), clearance and asking ATC if they could keep him out of the clouds!

Is An Instrument Approach Hard To Fly?

Instrument Approaches and Instrument flight, once mastered is the easiest, most rewarding flying that a pilot will ever do.

Is An Instrument Approach Hard To Fly?

1. The Instrument Approach

Flying a precision Instrument Approach has been the most challenging flying that I have ever done. Not to mention a lot of fun.

Once you master this part of instrument flying,(the approach), you will discover as I did that all other instrument flying is boring!

Everything outside is gray so there is not any scenery to watch go by. It’s a good time to work on your scan and prepare for the approach.

The Instrument Approach only has one purpose and that is to safely get an airplane back on the ground.

It can be a non-precision approach, an approach procedure that has vertical guidance, or a precision approach.

All of these procedures seem ominous to the new instrument pilot but they are very easy to learn and very easy to fly.

Approaches are broken into 5 segments

  a. Arrival.

This is the en-route stage of the approach that routes you to the final approach segment. This would be considered the feeder route or terminal route to the initial approach fix.

  b. Initial.

The initial approach fix is the segment that begins at the initial approach fix, (IAF) and ends at the intermediate fix.

  c. Intermediate.

The intermediate fix begins at the intermediate fix and ends at the final approach fix.

  d. Final.

The Final approach fix begins at the final approach point and ends at the missed approach point.

  e. Missed.

The missed approach point is the point at which the aircraft may continue the approach or fly the published missed approach procedure. The published missed approach procedure will protect the aircraft from obstacles throughout the maneuver.

Keep in mind that some approaches will not have all of these segments.

2. Instrument Flight

Instrument flying is far less work and is much easier but at times harder than VFR flying. It’s not rare to fly a trip that is all in the clouds with low ceilings and visibility at each end.

I flew many nights like that over the years flying U.S. Mail or feeder flights for cargo carriers and I will tell you most of those flights were extremely peaceful. Smooth air and the song of turbine engines for  company. I miss that peace.

3. Scan

Scan is the most important part of the art of instrument flight. It is the “key.”

Learning that skill takes a bit of practice and patience, but if you simply concentrate on the “six-pack” you will catch on very quickly.

This scan should be a constant journey for your eyes and if the aircraft is trimmed properly the airplane will fly very well all by itself.

This allows time for a scan of the remainder of the cockpit.

Engine instruments, circuit breakers. the overhead panel, if applicable, and secondary flight instruments including the right seat instruments.

Right-seat instruments are scanned for agreement with left-seat instruments.

The FAA Instrument Procedures Handbook is a great tool to use. Review it here.

4. Altitude

Holding altitude was always the most difficult part of teaching instrument flight. Only because of a slow or improper scan.

Many times fixation on another instrument was the culprit.

Believe me, I was just as ill-accomplished and guilty of altitude infractions while learning to scan. That made it easier to teach.

I was teaching pilots who already had an instrument rating but had little real experience.

It did not take very long for pilots to catch on and see that scanning was not very hard.

5. Flying The Approach.

One cardinal rule of flying is to be ahead of the airplane at all times. It takes away surprises.

There is plenty of time en route to prepare for arrival. That would be a great time to brief the approach.

Briefing the approach is not difficult to do, alone or not.

When there is a two-pilot crew the pilot not flying will brief the approach.

The briefing will consist of all the pertinent information on the approach plate. This consists of verification that the correct airport is chosen and the correct approach is chosen.

The briefing covers verifications of frequencies, the approach course, glide slope intercept, decision height, the airport elevation at touchdown, the missed approach procedure, and all other necessary information.

It does not matter if the weather is good or bad, an approach briefing is a necessary tool.

Plus it is a great habit to have even as a Private Pilot since it gives you time to familiarize yourself with your arrival airport.

Flying the ILS or ANY approach needs to be simplified to alleviate the stress. That is done by breaking it down to each step of the approach.

It is something that requires practice and no one expects any pilot to be perfect without practicing. So go fly with a safety pilot and fly approaches.

The beginning of the ILS will likely be a vector to the Initial Approach Fix, (IAF) or (IAP). If it is not a vector it will be a feeder or transition route to the fix. Or a procedure turn.

Then you join the localizer for guidance to the runway and intercept the glide slope from beneath for vertical guidance to the missed approach point or the touchdown zone.

Once inbound set power for your desired descent rate and maintain vertical descent and horizontal direction to the final approach fix, (FAP).

Now it is time for gear down and the landing checklist.

Don’t forget to look for the runway!

Instrument Approaches are not hard to fly.

Final Thoughts:

I love flying. I always have. And I love flying instrument approaches.

Yes, I  was intimidated and thought that flying instrument approaches were hard.

I discovered that I was good at it and I guess the company thought so too because I became the Training Captain and the Company Check Airman.

a. It is very true that if you want to learn to do something well, teach it.

b. Don’t ever doubt yourself and your flying skills.

c. You will never be perfect but you can always strive to be.

d. You will find that there is nothing hard about flying instrument approaches.

e. You will always be a student of aviation.

Keep flying and be safe. 

Related: Is Instrument Flying Safe? (5 Whats? About Instrument Pilots)


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