1. Peace of Mind
Weather happens, no matter where you fly. You will come across situations when clouds roll in, the visibility starts to drop, and you wished you had your instrument rating. It can be very stressful dealing with situations like this, and having your instrument rating will give you peace of mind.
Flying here in San Diego, we have what is called the marine layer. The marine layer is a thin layer of clouds that generally stays over the ocean. During certain times of year it can move inland for days at a time, creating an overcast layer around 1,000 feet above ground. It generally hovers around the coastline and will come onshore (over land) in the evenings and then back offshore (over the ocean) during the day. The marine layer can be very hard to predict making it difficult to plan flights for VFR only pilots.
I know many VFR pilots that are always worried about the marine layer and must always plan their flight around it. They are stuck waiting in the morning for the clouds to burn off and have to make sure to get back early enough before the marine layer moves back in. But sometimes it moves back in quickly and without warning and then you’re stuck landing at a different airport, which can be a huge pain.
An instrument rating here in San Diego just makes sense. With your instrument rating you can take off in the morning and get above the cloud layer and be on your way. Flying the instrument approach back in to Montgomery will get you safely on the ground and right through that pesky marine layer.
Different regions of the country pose different challenges. Having an instrument rating will give you peace of mind that you have the capability of dealing with un-forecasted weather conditions. Things change, visibility gets bad, haze and dust in the air lowers visibility, clouds form unexpectedly. Nothing like the peace of mind to know you can make it back on the ground safely.
Before I was instrument rated, I didn’t feel like a confident pilot. I definitely felt like I was missing the big picture, and in a way left out. After completing my instrument rating, those gaps were filled in. I understood the complete system and finally knew how to use and take advantage of ALL of my available resources.
Knowing that you have options, and knowing how to use your resources gives you so much confidence as a pilot. Confidence to take your friends or family on a trip somewhere, knowing that you will be able to fly in instrument conditions if need be.
After getting my instrument rating I finally felt confident to take my parents on a destination flight. They had been up with me only one other time, so they were both a bit nervous. But the flight went great, and I was able to fly them there and back while utilizing ATC for the tour of the Grand Canyon, and even flew the ILS back to Montgomery because of the marine layer. What a flight! Having my instrument rating really gave me the confidence I needed to have a successful and fun flight with my parents.
Radio communications intimidate a lot of pilots and many people get stage fright. Many are too worried about messing up, and many pilots are just plain scared of air traffic control (ATC), thinking that maybe the Wizard of Oz is on the other side of the curtain.
While working on your instrument rating, you are forced to get good on the radios and you are forced to talk to ATC, A LOT. It’s good for you! They are just people too. They mess up too. Time to get talking! Once you start to get good on the radios, then it becomes fun. You’ll probably even start to get a “radio voice” .
It also teaches you proper radio communications. There is a rhyme and reason for the way things are done. During your instrument training you will form good habits on the radio, and learn to communicate correctly with the proper order in how you make calls and respond to calls. After getting your instrument rating, communicating with a busy control tower or requesting services from ATC will be a breeze.
4. It’s your backup plan
So what if the marine layer moves in? What if you’re above a cloud layer en-route and need to get down for any reason? (I can think of several) What if the weather forecaster was wrong? And what if you’re low on fuel and you’re running out of options and your best option requires an IFR clearance?
I always want to have a plan and an answer to the “What If” when I fly. (This is my life at risk) That is what an instrument rating does for you. It gives you a backup plan when you need it the most. And that’s kind of how I felt when I didn’t have my instrument rating. I didn’t have a backup plan in those scenarios. You could always just “ask ATC for help”, as I hear from many of my students. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the best pilot I can be, and asking ATC for help as my backup plan, wouldn’t make me feel like a confident or competent pilot.
So what if the marine layer moves in? I’ll look up the approach, call up SoCal and request an IFR clearance into the airport. Being an instrument rated pilot gives me the knowledge and experience to be prepared to get below the clouds at any portion of the flight. Situational awareness taught during instrument training gives you the skills necessary to know where you are, what the terrain is, where your nearest airport is and the ability to learn the approach and fly it safely.
Having my instrument rating is my backup plan… and in my opinion much better than asking ATC for help and hoping for the best.
Most importantly, getting your instrument rating will make you a safer pilot. Your instrument rating helps you gain invaluable experience. When you are more experienced, when you understand the entire system, when you can communicate properly and clearly, and when you gain confidence you become a safer pilot.
Having an instrument rating isn’t about taking off into a storm because you can now legally fly into the clouds, but it’s about being prepared and equipped for the flight and knowing when it is safe to fly. Your understanding of weather will be much better after your instrument rating, helping you make smart choices when the weather gets questionable. Knowing your limitations is an essential element of the instrument rating as well, and it will help you assess risk and not take chances.
Being prepared, having a backup plan, gaining more experience, becoming more knowledgeable with an instrument rating, all will make you a safer pilot. As we all know in aviation, SAFETY is really #1.
So what are you waiting for? Get that instrument rating already!