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

Cumulus clouds
When Storm Clouds Gather…..

I would speculate that many people are concerned when they are boarding an airliner on a dark and stormy day or night. They are possibly asking themselves, Is Instrument Flying Safe?

Flying is sometimes defined as “hours and hours of sheer boredom followed by seconds of sheer terror.”

Is Instrument Flying Safe?

Yes. In the thousands of hours that I spent flying an aircraft solely by instruments in every kind of weather the Rocky Mountains could throw at me, I can assure you that Instrument Flight is absolutely the safest way to fly.

1. What Is Instrument Flying?

Instrument flying is just that. Flying the aircraft solely by reference to the flight instruments.

It isn’t the most difficult thing to learn, and it is very satisfying to take off and never see the ground again until you have reached your destination and you know you can do it without a hitch!

2. Privilege.

No matter what certificate you have from the FAA, up to the ATP, it is all a great privilege to have the use of the World’s airspace. The airspace management system is an extremely safe environment and I say this often, it’s all about safety.  The system requires its users, the controllers, and the pilots to be on the same page for safety to be paramount.

Every aspect of flying is governed by Federal Aviation Regulations and its directives, so this book must be the pilot’s Bible, so pilots must know the regulations. This is because if a pilot doesn’t know them the guys that write the regulations and interpret them will be the ones who will take that privilege away. One cannot claim ignorance if they get caught breaking a rule. 

This is the language of aviation and pilots must know all the rules as well as how to talk to air traffic control on the radio. The instructions of controllers are in place for safety.  They must be followed to the letter.

A pilot has the right to refuse to comply with any clearance that air traffic control gives if it is not safe in the eyes of the pilot or if the aircraft or pilot is not able to comply. The pilot needs to have very good reasons to do so.

Better trained and more qualified pilots make safer flying.

2. What is Attitude Instrument Flying?

Attitude Instrument Flying is the flight of the aircraft by use of the instruments and without the aid of ground reference. This is all about teaching a pilot to see and feel everything about the airplane. You must see everything with just a glance at your instruments and be ahead of the airplane.

You need to ask yourself which way am I going, how high, how far. Knowing what to expect when you change anything in the airplane’s configuration. Power settings for each phase of flight are essential to attitude instrument flying. Knowing these things is essential and could possibly keep you alive.

It is precision flying, feeling what the airplane is doing, and always being one step ahead of it all.

These are the kinds of pilots that make instrument flying safe and they answer the question, Is instrument flying safe? And so it is.

3. Six Instruments And Scan.

No matter if you are flying the newest best glass instruments, the ones essential for coordinated instrument flying are always displayed directly in front of you. The airspeed indicator, altimeter, attitude indicator, (AI), heading indicator, (HI), vertical speed indicator, (VSI), and, the turn coordinator,

These instruments are where your eyes will be on any instrument flight. You will learn to scan these instruments continuously with the engine instruments and the remaining cock pit area being scanned a bit less frequently. This will become so comfortable that you will fly like this even with clear skies.

It’s the safest because any slight trend can be arrested at the early onset with a proper scan. An example would be that a slight change in the VSI will result in a change in pitch to arrest altitude change.

With today’s glass cockpits the safety level went exponential with the added information displays glass allows the pilot. You can use simulated vision and see the ground through the clouds. It is so amazing to see and use.

This will be covered in training and as always you have the decision on the type of training when you choose your flight school.

Most people are indeed fascinated with all the bells, whistles, knobs, and dials on the flight deck when they can peek in, and Yes, the pilots do know and use each and every one of them!

4. Regulations.

I cannot stress the need to read the regulations, (FAR’S), over and over. I know it’s boring but you will know the answers to a lot of questions.

Part 61 and Part 91 are especially important, the Parts 135, and 121 will come later in your career but they should be read as well.

A well-read pilot is a very safe pilot.

5 Weather And Night Flying.

I have seen the question titled, how do pilots see at night? a few times and it makes me chuckle.

Years back I was asked by a woman inquisitive about my occupation of flying and her question to me was “How do you keep from hitting mountains?” I answered,” I guess I am just lucky.”

Flying at night somehow conjures up the imaginary scary blackness of night, but instrument flying at night is glorious and you really can see better at night. You have all the lights on the ground to look at and at 35,000 feet there are lots of lights. Seeing the Northern Lights at any altitude is incredibly beautiful.

The air is cooler and more stable at night which makes the airplane fly smoother and the passengers will feel like they are riding on glass.

And remember instrument flying is safe.


Instrument flying is safe and it is a terrific way to learn to be a safer pilot.

That requires proficiency and that is easy to come by if you are flying regularly. If that is not the case then a flight around the strip with an observer pilot can solve that problem.

Simulators are good practice but unless it’s a full-motion Sim then you are limited. I recommend flying an aircraft over anything else but any practice is good.

If you are like a lot of pilots just starting and have a fear of talking on the radio or are afraid you will screw up a read back from the controller then I recommend getting a handheld radio at your pilot store and listen to live conversations. Youtube has a lot of films on just the radio, and that is free.

This is the step that will get you an airline career.

Related: Why Should You Get An Instrument Rating? (6 Solid IFR Thoughts You Should.)

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