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Today’s Flight Plan

Today we talk about how to setup a simulator to get the ultimate IFR experience. Learn what you need from weather, aircraft, equipment, communications, software, and your mental attitude. Using a simulator to practice IFR skills is very helpful, especially if you have your own.

Then we will talk about the 7 Healthy IFR Mindsets. Learn why you should take your time with instrument training and do it right, what it takes to be a proficient IFR pilot, and so much more.

Useful Links

ActiveSky (Weather Program)
REX Weather and Textures



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Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.

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View transcript

Cleared for the ILS, this is AviatorCast episode 47!

Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff! Here’s your host, Chris Palmer!

Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators. You’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. I’m an aviation lover. From blogs, pictures, movies and simulation, real flight, hanging out at the airport, airplane spotting, window seats, you name it all, I probably love it. I’d imagine you’re much the same way and that is why you are here. I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility, and a commitment to excellence. Show notes, transcript, community discussion and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.

So welcome to this, the 47th episode of AviatorCast. I have some thoughts lined out for you guys today that I hope you will enjoy but before we get to the lesson content for today or the podcast content if you will, we have a review which we always share with you. This one comes from Robin Surland. She says “I really look forward to listening to this show every week. I especially enjoy the hangar talk and interviews and I’m always learning something new. I think it’s such a cool idea to blend the real piloting with flight simulation so everyone can get involved regardless of actual life circumstances. I’m not a pilot in real life, but the way Chris approaches it makes me feel like I’m still part of the aviation community. Thanks so much and keep up the good work.”

You are very welcome Robin. Thank you so much for the review and you are exactly right. You are part of this aviation community. All you have to have is a passion for it. So anyone that has a passion for aviation and for becoming better aviators whether that be in real life or virtual, we invite you to be part of our show each and every week. So welcome and thank you for that review. If you want to leave a review, you can do so on iTunes, pretty easy to go there and do that.

Alright, so it is winter time in the northern hemisphere. I realize that in the southern hemisphere you guys are now experiencing what we up here would call summer conditions. So now that it’s winter time, we are basically getting in this time where IFR and IMC and clouds and bad weather is getting a little thicker to where IFR is a little more common kind of regardless of where you are. That’s the typical weather pattern for the winter time in the northern hemisphere. Obviously some places are worse than others and there will be some seasons that are different than others so that’s not a blanket thing that accounts for everywhere but for the most part, us up here in the northern latitudes, we are experiencing worse weather.

So today we are going to talk about a couple of topics. First, we are going to get into our flight simulation topic and there we will talk about the ultimate simulated instrument flight. So what you need to do the best simulated instrument flight you can possibly do with a simulator whether that be at home or whether that be one down the street at your FBO or your flight school, I give you all of the things I think you need in order to fully simulate instrument flight.

And then we get into the flight training topic where I give you seven healthy IFR mindsets. So these are things that as a real pilot or you getting in instrument rating, you should have about getting your instrument ticket and going into that new realm. These are the things that I think you should watch out for and the things you should keep in mind. They’re more mindset things but there will be some tips in there too, but I think this is the most important perspective or important way, it’s kind of a puny thing to say, but approach your instrument training with. So you want to start out with the right mindset and we will get into that.

Alright, so I’m excited about this show, I hope you guys enjoy it. Let’s first get into the flight simulation topic.

And now, the flight simulation segment…

Chris: Okay, so as all of you know, I am a huge proponent of flight simulators as a training device as something that you can use not only at your flight school but I absolutely believe that it is something that is incredibly helpful for real-world pilots to have at home. There is so much great software and hardware these days that you can get to fully simulate a flight in basically any type of airplane that you fly. You can get into a simulator at home and you can realistically practice the procedures that you would go out and do in the real world. And so with that said, you can have so much time right there at home that can help you build your ability to be a better pilot. So that is not only something that is appealing to real world pilots and even people that are currently instrument-rated, but it’s also very compelling to those that are looking to get their instrument rating, those that are looking to get back into it and also those that do not have the opportunity to fly or are not pilots yet that want to learn this stuff ahead of time or just want to learn this stuff and be what we can a virtual aviator.

So there was a time when you would go to a flight school and you would basically tell an instructor that you had a lot of simulator time, that you a flight simulator at home that you would play with it, that you would learn from it, and maybe it’s still this way, I would guess that it probably is, but I think it’s getting a little better. Generally, the flight instructor that you would tell this to would roll their eyes and it would throw a lot of red flags. Now, there are very good reasons why it would throw some red flags. Obviously some people just use a simulator to mess around, kind of throwing the throttle forward and making loops and barrel rolls and all sorts of stuff, but then there are the type of people that actually use it for a learning platform to learn about aviation and so when they get in a real cockpit, it’s not the first time seeing those instruments and doing those things. So there are these two camps and generally, the flight instructors think that you have just used a simulator to mess around, you don’t know anything and apart from that, there is the very realistic aspect that you have learned some bad habits from using a flight simulator and that is very possible.

Now, with all of that said, again flight simulators are awesome and they can be very useful and really it is what you make it. So you’re not going to get the perfect simulated flight but you can definitely take it to new levels based on your mindset, based on how you approach this simulator and how you treat it as a training aid. Sure, you can get in, you can do loops, you can do barrel rolls, you can mess around and kind of do dumb stuff, or you can treat it as if it is a real airplane and you have to do those things and those procedures that you would do in the real airplane to basically live to see another day right? So that’s what kind of what we’re looking at here. We want to take a simulator, say that again it’s down the street at your flight school or it is right there at home and we want to simulate the ultimate instrument flight in your simulator.

So I’m going to give you guys several areas. We’re going to talk about some different areas of the simulation that will need to be high quality for simulated instrument flight, and you can go out and you can look for these tools that I’m going to give you. You can think about these thoughts and ideas and then kind of come up with a game plan on how you are going to use a simulator to best prepare yourself, best stay sharp and best get your instrument training or whatever it is, whatever you want to use this section for. I do believe it will be useful if you simulate the ultimate realism. And I want to emphasize that because again, this is what you make it. It’s not going to be something fantastic if you don’t approach it with respect and treat it as if it is real.

Alright, so the first area to talk about is obviously with instrument flight. You are flying in what we call IMC or instrument meteorological conditions. These are conditions where essentially you cannot see outside the airplane or you’re flying in thick clouds, something like that. That is the ultimate in instrument flight when you are approaching an airport, you can’t see the airport, you’re in the clouds, and you break out at 200-foot minimums, whatever the minimums are, and the runway is right there and then you had to transition to landing. Obviously, being in the precise position where you’re able to actually make a landing and you navigate with confidence that you aren’t just flying in this kind of empty space with no visual references, it takes a lot of confidence to know and a lot precision and a lot of practice to know that you are in a position where you are not going to run into something and you are obeying the rules and that your airplane is in fact in the position that you think it is in.

So there’s a lot of going on here and obviously a lot danger if you will if you cannot see outside the airplane. Now, I mentioned danger because it’s dangerous if you are a VFR pilot and you aren’t used to flying on instruments and you fly into instrument conditions. You as a VFR pilot, you would be used to looking outside the airplane using visual references and flying that way. Now, when you fly in instruments, you absolutely trust your instruments. Your body itself will like you. It will tell you that you’re turning when really you’re not or that you’re descending when really you’re not, all sorts of weird things that are going on with your inner ears and with your body that tell you that something else is happening than what is actually happening. So you may feel like you were tumbling backwards in the airplane when really you look at the instruments and they tell you that you’re doing just fine, you’re in a climb or something like that.

So those are things to keep in mind. First and foremost, the weather that you are in, this condition where cannot see outside and you need to trust your instruments. So obviously we want to be able to not only trust those instruments and we will talk about the realistic aircraft later and things like that, but you also want to have this realistic environment in which you fly. So obviously, you want to have realistic weather. Now there are programs out there that can give you great weather depiction within the simulator. A couple of them I should mention are from Active Sky and you can find them at HiFisim.com. Another one is REX Studios. REX has their own weather engine connected to some of the textures that they have.

So there are some things that I believe you need from a weather program or from weather programs that work together. First is you need real world live weather depiction. You want to be to load up at your local airport. Say that it’s terrible weather outside, you want to be able to load up at that local airport and you want to be able to fly in the conditions that are currently outside. That is completely possible with today’s technology and you can do that through programs like Active Sky and REX. Both are very good and they are worth checking out. You can find those links in the show notes that we can send you to where you can find those what we call weather engines. And these are engines that take all of the METAR data, the TAF data, all the data from the weather system and they depict the weather realistically at all levels from your airport elevation where you’re getting the local conditions down to the perfect temperature and pressure and all of those things, and then you’re getting up into the flight levels where the winds aloft and the temperatures and everything are correct up there too. So it’s really an amazing depiction of weather and that’s what you would basically want in a weather program and those were just a few weather programs that I would look out for.

Now, obviously seeing is also believing so I believe that the weather should look realistic as well. A lot of the older simulators, especially those that were FAA-approved, you basically fly into instrument conditions and it’s a complete white-out. That’s kind of all that happens. It’s just completely white outside which isn’t necessarily an issue if you’re planning on just flying the instruments but again, I believe that seeing is believing and so I believe that your weather program should also look very realistic. You should have great textures for your weather that make it look believable and realistic and that should match also with the weather engine. Now, REX studies, I mentioned them as well, they have a weather engine. They have a fantastic set of texture to put into your simulator. They have it for all forms of simulator, from X-Plane, FS-2004, FSX and Prepar3D. So all of the common flight simulators out there, you can get these great weather textures for your simulator and make it just look absolutely fantastic.

So that’s kind of the program that you would need to depict weather realistically within the simulator but there are also some mindsets in which you want to approach weather realistically. One of the things I keep in mind when I’m flying in the simulator is that you want to treat your weather minimums realistically. You want to basically use the simulator as this experience to say “Okay, I just broke out of the clouds and I can’t see the runway.” In the real world, you would be putting yourself in danger by continuing the approach. You would be breaking rules if endangering your life wasn’t enough, and you’re probably not going to live long if you have that attitude toward flying where you basically ignore all the rules and all the data that is there to keep you safe as a pilot, as an instrument pilot especially.

So when you approach weather in a simulator, we should approach it very realistically. If we get down to minimums, then it sounds like we’re going to be practicing simulating a missed approach. I think this is one thing that as simulator pilots and as people using simulators, we say “Well, we can’t harm anything by going below minimums, why don’t we just continue? We’re not going to ball anything up.” You know, sure, do that for fun every now and again but don’t forget that things that happen after you approach and land at the airport are also very important because there will be a day where you face a misapproach in real life and you face a diversion in real life and you have to go through those things. It’s not very likely that you will ever have much practice doing that so that is the perfect time in a simulator to practice those things that are not the things you normally do in an airplane so pay attention to your minimums.

Essentially what I’m getting at here as a core thing that would connect to a lot of these different things that we’re going to talk about is that you need to approach everything with a discipline. You do the same things every single time whether you are in a simulator or whether you are in an airplane. You make those things habitual. You make checklist usage habitual. You make your gouges habitual. You make the adherence to your minimums and the regulations habitual regardless of where you are. So that is something that I would watch out for as well in weather is paying absolute attention to your weather minimums, and we will talk a little bit about minimums later bu that is more of the mindset thing that we’ll talk about later.

And kind of going along with that, just to wrap up the weather subject, you need to treat it all as if it is real. So this kind of goes beyond minimums because obviously we want to treat the minimums as if they are real but what about icing? What about loading up your simulator, looking at the current charts, and figuring out that you are going to have icing problems on this flight? You can go through this thought process by yourself and be very clear with yourself that “Okay, I see out there that there are icing conditions. I know in the real world I would not do this flight.” Or force yourself in a situation that says again treat it as if it’s realistic but approach this to say “Okay, if this was real world, I would not do this flight.”

And really test yourself on that. Say “What if I had somewhere to be? What if I really have this business meeting that I have to be to or my father died and I had to be to his funeral or my daughter is graduating and I need to be there to see her graduate.” There are all sorts of different scenarios that can push us into situations that we normally wouldn’t be comfortable with and really test yourself and say “In one of those situations, would I go out and do this?” And again, treat it as if it’s real. Come up with those scenarios in your head and really push yourself to do it realistically, to make those decisions realistically. At the end of the day, that’s largely what instrument training is all about. It’s not so much about all of the training you get to fly the instruments or to know the system, it’s about the decisions you make as a pilot to go out and fly in the conditions or not fly in the conditions or wait for a few hours or leave the next day, whatever it is, there are a lot of decisions that go into instrument flight. And I’m kind of assuming that those decisions are already there and I’m just teaching you guys kind of the things or the ways to approach a simulator.

Alright, so that is the weather component. Again, having a great program that does real world weather, you can fly today’s weather basically in that simulator. Some of them even do historical weather so you can load up weather that maybe a few days ago you know it was bad weather in your area, you could load up that weather and that program also should look realistic. Your simulator should look realistic, not just this white-out on the screen. Also, paying attention to your minimums and treating the weather as if it is real.

Alright, so now what about the aircraft? Obviously we want to have a realistic aircraft to fly in instrument conditions. We want to be able to simulate instrument flight in the type of airplane that we are going to go out and use in the real world and we need to do that with a high quality simulation. There are many companies out there that make fantastic software packages that plug right into your current simulator and will essentially make a fantastic 172 or a 182 or a Cherokee or really almost any aircraft you can think of. If it is semi-popular or even just known to people, there is a high likelihood that it is out there and you can use it for your simulator, so that’s just a matter of going out and searching for what’s available. If you ever have questions on what’s available out there, just email us at me@aviatorcast.com and I can point you in the right direction on some of the aircraft out there. So if you write me and say “I want a 172” then I’m going to write you back and say “Check out these guys, they’re great.” So you can always do that.

You need a realistic aircraft. I mean, I think that’s clear. You could use one of the default aircraft in the simulator but generally the default aircraft aren’t that high of quality. You want someone that has spent a lot of time making sure that the airplane you fly, say again it’s a 172, is a realistic 172. It controls like a 172. It has fuel burn like a 172, all those things. That generally only happens with people that spend more time, focused time on creating just a simulation for one aircraft if that makes sense. Alright, so you need to start with a good software package for your aircraft.

Now, we can also get into this argument with the aircraft here that we’re not just talking about what is on the screen in the simulation but we’re also talking about what is on your desk. Along those lines, I think it’s very important that we all make sure that we have high quality hardware. By hardware, I mean something like a yoke, a throttle quadrant or throttle rudder pedals. There are a lot of packages out there that will give you actual instruments that sit on your desk. You can actually buy full mock-ups of a 172 cockpit and even full mock-ups of a G-1000. Now you’re getting to expensive territory there but it is definitely possible. You have all these possibilities with the equipment that you actually have on your desk. At a bare minimum, you definitely need throttle control, your prop mixture and throttle, and you also need a yoke and you need rudder pedals. That’s the bare minimum, and a lot of people don’t even have rudder pedals but again, I believe you need to them. There are rudder pedals in an airplane. You need them. So those are things that you should have with you as well, things that you should consider.

If you are approaching this from an actual real life flight scenario, it becomes more important because you need to ask yourself how realistic you want to make this and how much benefit you want from your simulator to be able to take that over to your actual aircraft. And when you are actually reaching out with your actual hands and fingers and you are manipulating the controls and turning dials and knobs, you get a lot more muscle memory built in to your instrument proficiency with something that is there and tangible rather than just using a mouse to click certain things on the screen. Now again, those instruments and all that stuff isn’t necessarily required but it is required that you have at least in my mind throttle quadrant, yoke, rudder and let’s leave it that.

So again, with the aircraft, you want something realistic and you want to be to have the hardware that you use and if you are flying with an iPad or something like that, I would encourage you to get a program that will connect up to your simulator where you are actually simulating the use of your iPad in the cockpit and this is what I call workflow. You are going to get into a workflow as a pilot whether that be VFR or IFR and if your iPad is in your cockpit and you are using that in real flight, you should definitely be using it on your simulator too because it should be part of your workflow. That’s how I believe it should be done. You should have a methodology for everything you do and again going back to what I talked about with discipline, you should be doing the same things everytime whether it’s done in the simulator or in real life. Alright, so that’s aircraft.

Now, we get to an all too important area of IFR or instrument ratings which is communications. Now, as an instrument pilot, communications are definitely more prevalent. So as VFR pilot, you can go out and you can generally fly in the open expanse of space and not have to talk to anyone for a good majority of the time. As an instrument pilot, you are under the watchful eye of air traffic control almost all the time. You are in communication with them at almost all times. Unless you’re taking off from an airport where you got a previous clearance from air traffic control to then do IFR or whatever’s turning up, VFR, whatever, there is very little time that you won’t be in communication with a controller. As part of that, you obviously need to learn how to communicate effectively in instrument conditions with a controller. It adds this whole different level of complexity to a flight when you are juggling all of the busy things you have to do as an instrument pilot, getting ready for the approach, briefing the approach, doing all that stuff, staying ahead of the airplane. And then adding on top of that, deviations or changes in what you thought was going to happen in the flight.

Say that air traffic control wants you to do a different approach than you had planned or something like that. It adds a whole different level of complexity and another layer of distraction I guess if you will or something else that you have to tract that should definitely be learned. Now, there are actually very very compelling ways of doing this in a simulator even one that you have at home, and a few of them are absolutely fantastic, and I’m just going to mention two today.

The first, if you are totally serious about getting the best IFR communications, you can possibly get and really practicing those procedures with professional controls, you want to get what is called PilotEdge. PilotEdge is a monthly subscription to a service that essentially allows you to go out and in a certain airspace, at Southern California where they generally are and I think that even extends into Vegas, you go into this area and you are guaranteed air traffic control during certain times of the day. So this is an area where you say “Okay, I have some time today at 2 p.m. I’m going to get on the airport. I’m going to get on there and I’m going to fly in instrument conditions and learn some things and do some approaches.” And you know that when you do that, that when you key that radio, when you key that mic, and call up for a clearance or you call up for a taxi or you call up for a takeoff, or you call up center or whatever it is, that you are going to get an actual air traffic controller or someone on the network. They may not be an actual controller yet. They may still be in training or something like that but they will be a professional hired control that will be there. Now, that is kind of the surefire way of making sure that you learn communications. Again, if you are serious about learning communications and you want to be able to do that, PilotEdge is a fantastic network that you can jump on to. And we’ve actually done an AviatorCast episode with them before. You guys can go back and look at that and it will give you a big idea of some of the things that they are doing because it does go actually far beyond just communications. These controllers can actually fail things on you at least in X-Plane and do some different things to give you an even more immersive experience.

So the other network or the other way of getting ATC communications is with VATSIM or Virtual Air Traffic Simulation. This is a network much like PilotEdge in the way that you kind of load it up and start but it is a volunteer network and a non-profit network. It is this network where if you load up at your local airport or even say Southern California which is almost always covered by PilotEdge, you are not guaranteed to get air traffic control. You may sit on the ground, you may fly around and not hear or see a soul in an area like that which is not very realistic. Now, there are some advantages to VATSIM with the fact that it is simulated across the entire globe, not just Southern California, and so there are times where if you get on at the right time, you can get controllers in any part of the world. I mean, you can get controllers in Istanbul, we can get them in the UK, you can them in Moscow, you can get them in China, you can get them in Australia, you can get them all over the world regardless of where you are.

I’ve had experiences on VATSIM, really cool experience, flying into Moscow and having a hard time communicating with the controller there because our accents were so diverse. And also the same kind of experience flying into Sao Paulo, Brazil. So along those lines, it’s very immersive. It’s a cool network to fly on but that is a little bit worldwide, a little less reliable so you just kind of have to play around with that and see if it will work for you. And so that is communications. Again, I would check out if you were interested in that and you should be if you are looking to do simulated instrument flight. Check out PilotEdge and VATSIM.

The last part we’re going to come to here as part of our ultimate simulated instrument flight is mindset. And I think this is one of the biggest thing and perhaps we should have started out with it, is mindset, how you approach the simulator. And I know I talked about it a little bit in the beginning, but this is where you really want to make sure that this is a tool that is going to be used right. I kind of already mentioned most of these but the first one is you want to approach this as if it is absolutely real. You want to feel like there are consequences for your flight ending terribly. You want to obey those minimums. You want to do all your checklist. You want to fly the correct procedures, you want to have the correct charts. You want to do everything as if you would do it in a real airplane. And I know you’re not going to be able to do absolutely everything in a simulation but at least try. Try to make this as real as possible and approach it with that kind respect. If you do that, again it is all about your mindset, it is about what you make it, it will come all the way through through your training and this will be very effective time that you spend in a simulator.

Now, imagine if you will, just kind of in the flipside of this. Obviously, you can approach a simulator and you can approach it with disrespect and you can use it just as a toy kind of like what we mentioned earlier but you know, you could also do that with a real airplane. And I’m not advocating that or anything but if you think about it, no one is truly stopping you from say that you have your private pilot license. No one is truly stopping you from going out and doing something stupid in an airplane. I mean, obviously we all have pretty good self-preservation and we don’t want to go out and just end up in a piling heap land art somewhere, but you should just consider that, that mindset regardless if it’s in a real airplane or a simulator, is something that is very very important all the time. It’s just in a real airplane, it’s a little more prevalent because we know that there is no reset button and we know that things can go wrong and that we shouldn’t mess around. Why not take that over to the simulator? Just something to think about.

Your decisions will be more effective in the real airplane. Again, going back to what I said about discipline, you just always need to do the same things the same time every time. That’s not saying you can’t learn new things and do new things, but you should have a methodology to what you do with checklist and your decisions and all that stuff.

And then another thing is minimums. You want to again, going back to what we talked about weather minimums, but this goes beyond just weather minimums in what am I actually going to do as an instrument pilot and how am I going to act? What are the things I won’t do. When will I say I will not go? Those sort of things. We’re going to talk about that in the next flight training topic but just keep all that in mind.

So kind of summing up all of these ultimate simulator flight stuff, we can approach our simulators in a way that allows us to get the most out of them. It is truly up to us to get the most out of them. Obviously, by having tools like a great weather program, a great aircraft, use of aircraft software, good hardware, good controls basically, a good communications program and things like that, they all help. But at the end of the day, it is completely up to you to approach your simulator with the respect as if it was real and as if your decisions are real and as if your minimums were real. So I challenge you guys to approach it in that way or at least go out and experience it. Go into your simulator and tell yourself “I’m going to do everything realistically this time. I’m not going mess around. I want this to be the absolute most realistic flight possible.” And see what it does for you and see how you feel about it. So maybe that’s an idea. Just start small, go and try a really realistic simulated flight just on your own. Maybe with some of these tips and pieces of software added in there, whatever you decide to do, but again approach it with the ultimate realism. And I know if you do that, you will become a much better virtual aviator. You will be a fantastic real aviator. You will take this into your actual airplane and you will be safer as a result and that is what we all want at the end of the day.

So I hope you guys enjoyed this flight simulation topic. Now we are going to get over to the flight training topic.

And now, the flight training segment…

Chris: Alright, so now that we’ve talked about how to get the ultimate realism out of a simulator for instrument flight, we are going to talk about actual instrument flight or actual instrument training. So I’m going to give you guys a few tips and kind of my thoughts and ideas on 7 Healthy IFR Mindsets, how we should approach IFR, how we should prepare for IFR, how we should stay proficient, how we should get our training, all sorts of things that I think you guys can take away and learn something from whether you are just a private pilot, whether you are a student pilot, whether you are getting your instrument training currently, whether you are looking to get current, whether you want to remain current, whatever it is, this is kind of for everybody.

So bear with me as I go through these but I will try to make them short and to the point so you guys can kind of see a little bit of where I’m coming from and some thoughts and ideas to take with you, because I think that there are some very powerful lessons in here. The reason why, I’ll just be completely honest, I started out my instrument training and I failed my first instrument checkride. So I was ill-prepared to take the lesson or the checkride. I had gone through a lot of training, I had met all the requirements, but I still didn’t really truly know what was going on and just didn’t have enough time in the airplane in order to do that and I had a lot more time than some people do. My mindset has kind of been changed by that experience and then a later experience of actually getting my instrument training or getting my instrument ticket when I was better prepared and having spent more time preparing and things like that. I hoep that from those experiences, I can share with you some thoughts and ideas I’ve had from my journey as an instrument pilot.

Instrument flying is my favorite type of flying. It’s beautiful. It’s challenging. It’s all of these things. It’s something that I definitely want a lot of people to experience and I want them to enjoy. I don’t want people to avoid the clouds because they’re afraid of all the accident reports that they hear. There are ways to fly in instrument conditions that are safe and just as there are in a clear sky. So anyway, we’re going to go through some of these and you’ll get some of my thoughts, maybe not all my thoughts but I hope you get something from it.

So the first is this instrument training, it’s not just a step. Some trouble that a lot people go through is they go and they’re going to be an airline pilot. They go and get their private pilot, their instrument, their commercial, and CFI and they get all these things, multi, somewhere in there. They get all of these things and they just breeze over a lot of the information. Now, the instrument step in my eyes is not just another step. This is one that you have to take very seriously and ask yourself how much you are actually going to be using instrument flying, and to be completely honest, you are going to be using it a lot. It is something you will use throughout your entire career just as you would with your initial training and it is of the utmost importance. So instrument training and instrument flying is essentially flying to much more precision and with much more knowledge. You have to know a lot more about flying not only the airplane but you have to know a lot more about the aviation system and the air traffic network and weather and all sorts of things. You have to know whole heck of a lot more in order to do all that.

So I would first say in this first one that you need to not treat it just as another step. You need to take it very seriously and know that it will make you a better pilot if you spend the time here to really get things right.

Number two. It can be done safely. There are a lot of accidents out there, right? You hear them all the time. There is a private pilot that flew from VMC into IMC or in other words, in clear weather into clouds and then somehow this guy got confused and turned around upside down and all messed up and there was an accident that happened. This is still the number one cause of accidents out there, fatal accidents, and it is very unfortunate because for the most part can be prevented.

Now, who is the killer here? Who is the true killer? Is it really the clouds that are the killers or really the IMC that is the problem? Or is it the pilot’s preparation prior to going into those clouds? Really, I would argue that the clouds are not the killer here. The clouds are usually just fine unless they have icing in them or there’s an embedded thunderstorm, something like that. Obviously there are situations where the clouds can cause issues but that goes back to knowing weather. But for the most part, clouds are not the issue. The issue is ill-prepared and ill-practiced pilots that fly into these conditions and pilots that really haven’t even had the training to fly into these conditions. Instrument flying, if you know how to do it and you’ve had the training to do it and you’ve had some experience under your belt, you will really enjoy it and you will be flying through these cloudscapes that you just can’t even imagine and you will dream of these situations for the rest of your life.

I can tell you that having experienced it myself. I can close my eyes and just dream of the clouds that I’ve flown through. I remember beautiful times when I would request from ATC a very specific altitude, say 4,400 feet and I would just skim right at the cloud tops at sunset and those were some of the most magical times of flying and I think those moments will continue to be special. So instrument flying is great, it can be done safely and you don’t have to fear all of this VMC into IMC mess. Basically what that is is people that aren’t rated to do it, people that aren’t prepared to do it, people that aren’t practiced to do it. So yes, it can be done safely so that’s number two.

Three is practice makes better but certainly not perfect. So you can go out there and you can practice all you want but one thing you need to do as an aviator, as an instrument aviator, is you need to approach instrument conditions and instrument flight as something that you will always be perfecting, something that you will always be working on, and you will have always have something to learn. This is a very complex system of approaches, of air space, of airports, of all sorts of different things and there are so many different scenarios that you could practice to remain a great instrument flyer, to remain proficient, to learn new things about the system. There is always new knowledge out there. Practice, again it makes better but not perfect.

You can never be too proficient and that is pretty profound. That you can always be learning more, that you can
always be sharpening your kills, that you can better and more precise than you’ve ever been before by continually, continually practicing. Again, you’re not going to reach that perfection level but you can be very, very proficient and you can never be too proficient.

And last here, practice is big with a simulator. I think everyone, I think every instrument pilot should have a simulator in his or her home. It is an invaluable tool when it comes to instrument conditions. With VFR stuff where you’re having to rely on visual maneuvers, it’s arguable whether or not a simulator is that useful. Some people could make that argument. I still make the argument that it’s great. But for instrument flying where you’re actually focusing on the instruments themselves, a simulator at home where you can just use it as much as you want in these winter months or whenever it is, you can sit down and you can keep your scan up, you can keep your proficiency up with reading charts, doing approaches, doing all those things. All of those things you can do very, very well in a simulator. That is invaluable to have and it will save you a lot of time and headache and you will be a safer aviator as a result of having a simulator in your home and all of that goes back to having the time to practice it. And again, practice makes better but not perfect. So that’s number three.

Number four, get your rating to proficiency. This is one thing I see a lot and I know that there are some challenges with money and time and things like that, but with an instrument rating, this not just one you can breeze through and try to pass off. Again, I mentioned at the beginning of this segment that I failed my first checkride, and I was not proficient and I was not ready to take my checkride. Unfortunately I failed. That was a lesson. Now I see it as a huge positive for where I was because I realized this specific thing that I am not going to get any rating. I don’t want any rating. I don’t want the FAA to pass me off unless I am absolutely proficient. I want to be the best I can absolutely be and ready for that checkride, be ready to answer all those things with confidence rather than just handing me a ticket. I don’t want a ticket. In other words, I don’t want just a rating from the FAA. I want to know that I can go out in those actual conditions and I can use this license that I have, this license to fly in instruments. It’s all too common these days for many instrument pilots to go out there and get their instrument training and the very next breath after they’ve finished their instrument paperwork or whatever with the FAA that allows them to fly an instrument, they’ll basically say “I’m not going to use this rating because I don’t want to fly in instrument conditions I don’t trust. I’ve never flown in instrument conditions.” I’m a huge believer that we should be getting this instrument rating when we are ready and when we are confident not just to get another ticket and move on because I think that the instrument stuff is just so, so important and it makes us better pilots.

So again, I know that this takes more time and money but it is a mindset that you can plan for and then you can actually go out in those conditions and you can use your instrument ticket rather than being overly nervous about it. I know there is going to be a little bit of mental stress and a little bit of anxiety and excitement about going in flying and instrument conditions on your own for the first time but that will kind of never go away but you don’t have to be scared in that situation thinking “Oh man, I’ve never flown in instrument conditions. I know I have my instrument rating but this is making me nervous.” It may take more time and money but it’s going to be worth it in the end because you will just feel better about it, you’ll feel more confident, you won’t be too scared, things like that.

A large part of this and kind of following the story of me if you will just indulge me for a second, going from failing my checkride to where later on and not immediately but later on, I got my instrument rating. What I did and even in my initial training is I flew in instrument conditions with my instructors a lot. We actually went out in the clouds and we experienced real instrument conditions. I know a lot of flight schools don’t allow that, some people don’t allow you to do it in their rented airplanes, things of that nature, but you should be getting your instrument rating, at least partially as much as you can in actual instrument conditions. If you are dealing with an instructor that is not confident in instrument conditions, has not had a lot of instrument time themselves, you need to ask yourself if you have the right instructor.

Personally, I think you should have an instructor that has flown in instrument conditions before or is at least confident in their skills to fly in instrument conditions rather than having some kid off the street that just finished things up and doesn’t really know. If you are actually planning to use your instrument ticket, you need to learn from someone that has used their instrument ticket, let’s put it that way. So you should be going out and you should be flying in real instrument conditions. So that’s number four. Rating to proficiency. Get your rating when you are proficient and ready.

Number five. Know your minimums. Now, we aren’t just talking about the minimums of an actual approach chart or your MEA or any of those minimum altitudes. We’re not just talking about minimums there. We are talking about what you are willing to do and what you aren’t willing to do. If you are going to be using this instrument ticket for your own pleasure or business or anything like that, you are going to be under a lot of pressure and you will be continually tested to push your limits and to even push your limits to what the minimums are for the FAA. You need to have your own set of what are called personal minimums for you. They are just for you. They are from no one else. Of course, you could borrow them from other guys and kind of get their thoughts on this subject, it’s always worth talking to people about, but you should have your own personal minimums and you should stick to them.

Say that you have five years of great instrument proficiency, you’re one or whatever, maybe you go back and you reevaluate your minimums and say “Okay, I’ve had this as much experience. I’m confident with my own minimums of 700-foot ceilings now” or whatever it is. So having your own personal minimums and sticking to them is very important because as I mentioned earlier, there is going to come a time where your daughter is graduating or a parent just passed away or you need to be to very important business meeting where you are pressured to go into a situation that you are not familiar with and so you need to know your minimums and know what you are willing to do and what you aren’t willing to do and you also need to know certain no-go’s.

So I know that some people, they don’t want to fly at night in instrument conditions and then some people won’t fly at night in instrument conditions over mountains or something like that. So there are different things, you need to ask yourself different scenarios. You need to think about “Okay, I’m not going to fly now” or “I’m just going to get a hotel for the night” or whatever it is. You need to be thinking about your no-go situations. Say if there is any trace of icing out there, is that a no-go situation? Are there any embedded thunderstorms out there? Is that a no-go situation? Are the winds at your destination 40 knots which is pretty high for landing. Is that a no-go situation? So you just have to ask yourself what your no-go situations and have that as part of your personal minimums. So that is number five, know your minimums.

Number six, if you have a PPL or are looking to get a PPL, plan on getting your instrument as well. As we learned from one of our episodes with Dr. Paul Craig who wrote “The Killing Zone,” is the biggest thing a pilot can do for his own safety to kind of break himself out of the trend of aviation accidents so to set himself at a higher standard, to statistically set himself apart as a safer pilot, if you continue your training from private pilot on to instrument and so on, in other words if you continue your training with someone that is a professional and you can continue to learn, you will be statistically a better, safer pilot. That is a fact and I will stand by that.

By what I would like to see and this is something that is a little more common these days is that if you were planning to get your PPL, you should definitely plan on getting your instrument. It is a lot more work and you will take a lot more time doing it but you will be a better pilot, you’ll be a safer pilot, you’ll be able to do more things, you will be able to go out when there are clouds and things like that, and say that you are just a VFR kind of flyer anyway but you have that instrument ticket, you’re less likely to get in a situation where you are turned upside down in the clouds, something like that. You should plan on getting your instrument if you plan on getting a PPL. I know that’s a bold statement but I stand by it. I think it is a fantastic thing to do and you will be a better pilot.

Now I would start that immediately after getting your private pilot certificate. So whether it’s once a week or once a month or whatever it is, start your instrument training right away. Obviously, if you could dive right in and just get right into it full force, that’s the best possible thing you could do. I know that not everyone can do that but start immediately somehow in some way. I mean heck, even if you are doing one flight a week or one flight a month and supplementing that with a lot of your personal simulator flying, that would even be a fantastic way to go. So think about that. Think about doing your instrument as a private pilot and just connecting that to your private pilot as almost a requirement.

Alright, and number seven and this kind of ties in our flight simulation subject to where we are, is flight simulation is for everyone. It is for every single pilot whether you are a student pilot, whether you are private pilot, an instrument pilot, a commercial pilot, a multipilot, a turbine pilot, a jet pilot, it is for absolutely everybody and it is something that is fantastic. You get unlimited practice out of simulator. You aren’t charged per hour if you have a simulator right there at home. You can just use it as much as you possibly want and in the winter months when the weather can get a little bad, too bad to actually go up in the actual conditions, then you can use your simulator at home to stay sharp and stay proficient. Absolutely great, great thing to do. You can quickly work on things in a simulator that you’re struggling with. Say you’re struggling with holding patterns or say that you’re struggling with landings or checklist usage or landing in a specific airport and navigating through a mountain pass to get to an airport for example. All of these things you can practice in a simulator and the nice thing is is you can save those scenarios and you can load them right up.

So say that you’re practicing your approach and your schedule of landing gear and power settings and flap settings and all that to kind of get your flows down. And even talking about instrument approach, just an instrument approach, doing an ILS takes a lot of methodical work to get that to work correctly and say you’re just doing that. You can do it over and over and over again. It’s not like in the real airplane where you would have to approach the airport and do a missed approach or whatever and come back around the entire approach corridor. With a simulator, you could just set that up at the point you are having trouble at and you can just do that over and over and over again and learn a lot of things. So simulators just have so much benefit for instrument pilot specifically.

Anyway, so you have all of the same technology and tips that I talked about before in the flight simulation topic. This is something that is very affordable, that will save you money in the long run, it will make you a better pilot and I definitely, definitely believe that simulation is absolutely for everybody and I think you should definitely consider it.

So let’s get through it and summarize again what we talked about here in the 7 Healthy IFR Mindsets. First, it’s not just a step. Again, take it seriously. This is something you should spend some time on. Number two: It can definitely be done safely. So clouds aren’t the killer. Really it’s up to you to be a safe pilot and you can be a safer pilot statistically even by becoming an instrument pilot. Three: Practice makes better but not perfect. So just try all sorts of different things to remain proficient and you can never be too proficient. Number four: Get your rating to proficiency. Get your instrument rating when you are ready to use it, when you are going to leave that checkride and you will be confident to go out and actually fly in those conditions on your own. You want to be ready to do this, not just getting a ticket. So I challenge you guys to do that. Really important one there.

Five: Know your minimums. Obviously, you should always know your minimums, better required by the FAA because they are there for a reason, and you should also know your own personal minimums. So the extra buffer that you build in as a pilot to keep you safe and to keep you comfortable and to help you make better decisions so that you aren’t kind of boxing yourself in a corner with maybe conditions that are outside of your experience level and also in there know your no-go’s. So number six: If you’re getting a PPL or have a PPL, plan on your instrument. Start it immediately. Start it little by little and just keep at it and get there. Get to that level of proficiency. And seven, last but certainly not least, flight simulation is for absolutely everybody. It should be part of your plan for becoming an instrument aviator and if you are already an instrument rated pilot, I would challenge you to look into this. I would challenge you to look into how a simulator can help you remain proficient.

So I hope you guys enjoyed that segment and the previous segment. Now we are going to finish up the show.

You can take a quick two-minute survey at survey.aviatorcast.com. Here, you can give us ideas for upcoming shows. Some of the ideas for this show, they were actually brought from that survey, so I do review it, I do see it and I really appreciate the thoughts and ideas you guys have there. You can also join the conversation for this episode by going to AviatorCast.com or you can write me directly at me@aviatorcast.com. I’d love to hear from you in either location. We always love hearing from you and we answer each and every comment and email, so we’d appreciate hearing from you.

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Many thanks also go out to the Angle of Attack crew for all of their hard work to make this episode possible and all they do outside of AviatorCast. These guys are awesome and that allows us to have cool podcasts like this every week and kind of focus on that. So thank you so much for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. We are truly grateful to have you here, part of our community and so engaged in this wonderful passion for flying things.

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  • Giovanni

    I just finished listening to this podcast. Very interesting, thank you for sharing your experience, Chris.
    Regarding IFR training in a home simulator, I was actually wondering what you thought about a couple of extra points:
    1) you mentioned Pilot Edge and Vatsim for practicing ATC. Both very valid solutions. Have you ever tried ATC add-ons that simulate ATC with the computer only? What do you think about them? In particular, I am thinking about VoxATC, to my knowledge the only one that actually does voice-recognition and checks all your read-backs. Always available, everywhere, very consistent and quite rich in ATC services.
    2) I wondered why you did not mention traffic simulation. There are add-ons (Ultimate Traffic 2 is one of them) that take care very well of traffic in and close airports, big and small, both for airliners and GA. The result is visually quite amazing.
    Needless to say, UT2 and VoxATC talk to each other, and they simply make the ATC experience in IMC very rich and consistent.

    What do you guys think?

    • Keith Smith

      Synthetic ATC solutions can handle some of the basic exchanges, but that’s about it. There are two problems, though:
      1) you never feel as though you’re “on stage” when working with a synthetic system. There are no repercussions to getting it wrong. There’s no pressure. Those are very real factors in the real world.

      2) more importantly, synthetic systems do not handle less structured interactions. Whether it’s a intermittent transponder, a weak radio, or a thousand other things that result in a non-standard conversation taking place, the experience of flying in real life looks, sounds and feels different than what a synthetic system can deliver. The shear pace of working with New York Approach in real life is something that synthetic systems just can’t replicate. You could take someone who’s been flying with VoxATC for years, put them in an airplane with NY approach and then watch them crumble. Ask them what happened and it’ll likely come down to the fact that “it was just so different.”

      • Giovanni

        Keith, obviously I was not comparing synthetic ATC to real life experience. I am not a real pilot, just a simmer, and therefore i was referring to Chris segment when he was describing tools available to simulate ATC on a computer.
        The question I was raising is if software like VoxATC could be helpful and even have some advantages compared to Pilot Edge and Vatsim.

        I see your point about being “on stage”. I am sure in Pilot Edge or Vatsim you a bit of that, certainly more than on VoxATC. But what about the advantage of being always available and in every corner of the globe? That you cannot get with Pilot Edge or Vatsim…

        My personal view (but I am really interested in hearing more from others) is: (1) the limited geographical coverage of PilotEdge is a real turn-off; (2) in Vatsim I am just worried that I will get as random controller a 15 year old kid who will simply kill my flight experience…

        Comments/experience on this, please?

        • Keith Smith

          If you’re a pilot in the US, then PilotEdge is a solid solution because flying an ILS in Chicago, or Miami is identical to doing it in California. However, if you’re wanting to fly outside of the US, then relocating your operations to the US does represent a few changes in procedures (not many, though).

          PE is available 15×7. If you’re in North or South America, the schedule works out very well (that’s what it’s designed for). For Europe/Australia, less convenient.

          As for being available everywhere, you’re right, VoxATC is capable of providing the same generic, synthetic experience anywhere in the world 🙂 Its training value is minimal because it is so far removed from what it means to work with ATC.

          For strict entertainment, I’m sure it provides some value, but if you’re hoping to get a head start on ATC communications for real world flying, it’s unlikely to help. Also, once you’ve flown with realistic ATC, synthetic solutions just feel painful. They’re missing _so_many things.

          • Giovanni

            “flying an ILS in Chicago, or Miami is identical to doing it in California”.
            Is it? My understanding is that each precision approach has its own nuances… Just flip through your approach charts and show me two identical procedures…
            I think some variety would help, that’s all.
            Many thanks for your comments on synthetic vs human ATC: I will certainly give PE or Vatsim a try myself!

          • Keith Smith

            It depends on what you call ‘identical’. Once you have learned how to fly precision approach, and a non-precision approach, either in full, or with vectors to final, the number of variations that remain are very few. More importantly, examples of those variations can be found within the coverage area.

            I would understand your point if PE services just one airport, but that is not the case. You don’t need a massive geographic area to cover all the bases with regards to approaches.

            I totally understand that it would be ‘nice’ to have it, but it would a total non-starter from a financial perspective, and the training benefit would be minimal. This isn’t just a theory, it’s been well-tested. Countless pilots have told us that training in SoCal had them more than prepared for flying in their own airspace.

          • Giovanni

            Again, thank you for your detailed and passionate answers, Keith.
            I feel I will certainly give PE a try, and make a direct comparison with VoxATC. You also have to understand that a sim-only has different requirements than a real pilot in training.
            I guess some of us try to inject variety in our simulated environments to compensate for lack of a real experience…

          • Keith Smith

            Hi Giovanni,

            You’re welcome, thanks for having an open mind and taking the time to read the posts.

            Please note, I’m not trying to convince you, personally, to fly on PilotEdge. I’m just addressing the issues you raised.

            If you elect to fly elsewhere, I will completely understand, but I wanted to clear up the misconceptions regarding the number of airports in the coverage area, the point about approaches being unique, etc.


        • Giovanni,
          I too don’t like the whole idea of a limited geographical area. Of course we want the whole globe to be covered, where we can fly anywhere we want and have ATC coverage.

          As a businessman (and even a user) I have to look at this realistically. Truth is, it’s impossible to staff an entire globe. Not only would the overhead be absolutely nuts, but there isn’t a large global demand for something like that.

          Limiting the pilots to a specific area actually starts to gain a lot of advantages for the user. Now you are going to get more aircraft in that area that you can hear on the frequencies and even see in the sky. The immersion really starts to pay off when that happens.

          It is the ONLY consistent way of getting realistic ATC in a simulated environment.

          If you’re wanting to fly in other parts of the world, then you’re more than welcome to use VoxATC. In addition, you could do some VATSIM events. These are generally well staffed, and you know in advance that there will be some coverage in a specific area.

          Hope that helps you wrap your head around it a little.

          • Giovanni

            Hi Chris,
            I see the point, sure.
            One more thought on this: isn’t there the risk that by practicing in a limited airspace (South Cal for PE) you sort of get too comfortable with that landscape, runways orientation, etc?
            Would this not diminish the teaching value of the whole exercise? It’s almost like you learned to play golf only on the same three holes… you will be a champ on those, and you will learn by heart every little stone or tree, but what happens when you happen to play on a new course?

            Idea: wouldn’t it be more helpful for PE to use the same number of controllers but rotating the serviced area around the US (since the controllers are probably used on that set of rules)? As this is virtual, I really don’t see the point to restrict it to Cal… It’s not that the controllers are actually (or need to be) in California, isn’t it?

            Anyway thank you again for all your work at AOA, Chris. A real enjoyment!

          • Keith Smith


            There are 40 towered airports and ~150 non-towered airports within the PE coverage area. I don’t know anyone that has shot every approach at every airport yet.

            The number of airport combinations is very high, with all sorts of routing combinations. It takes years to exhaust your training options, there. If you add some emergencies, change the weather and change the air frame, you can keep yourself busy for a very long time.

            So, it’s lot more than ‘3 holes’. Also, you don’t need to keep changing airports for the training to be valuable.

            I fly (real world) into new airports on a frequent basis, all over the east coast and midwest. I don’t practice any of the flights in the sim beforehand because I stay proficient by shooting approaches with PE already. The airspace just doesn’t matter, as long as you’re training in airspace that is of the same complexity (or more) than the airspace in which you intend to fly in the real world.

            Case in point,I just flew into JFK 2 weeks ago. It was no different than any of the simulated training I’ve been doing.

            Also, it sounds like you’re under the assumption that controllers can pick any piece of airspace in the US and start controlling there. It doesn’t work that way. PilotEdge provides realistic routing and vectoring for each airport….it takes a lot of time, energy and money to obtain that data and train all of the controllers. That’s why we don’t rotate the airspace.

          • Giovanni

            thank you Keith. What you say makes sense.
            I did not know there were so many airports covered by PE and, yes, I was under the impression a controller could easily jump form one airspace to another.
            Now I have a better idea of what PE offers and see the difference with VoxATC.
            I guess in the long run it is price which is going to make the difference, but of course you always pay different prices for different services.


    • Good questions, Giovanni.

      First, I don’t think that a synthetic ATC can truly replace what real ATC does. Both in the critical thinking it takes, and in the ‘character’ of a person on the other side of the transmission. We can’t to remember that ATC aren’t robots. Rather, they are humans just like us that make mistakes, have a personality, and a respect for aviation. In that sense, I find it very hard to replace real ATC.

      Second, I don’t find Ultimate Traffic to be something that is necessary to enjoy simulated IFR. When you are in a real airplane flying IFR, you generally rarely get close to other aircraft. You may see a few of them during a flight that you can actually spot and keep an eye on.

      That said, if you are flying big jets (which, because I know you, you aren’t interested) then it makes a little more sense. You would want to see aircraft moving all over the ramp, you’d want to wait in line to take off- you know, all the fun stuff that airline pilots just LOVE to have to go through as part of their job.

      In closing, I just really like the consistency and professionalism of PilotEdge. It’s something you can’t find anywhere else.

  • Kilian

    Hey Chris and all the others of AoA!

    Just listened to your podcast and again: Great job you are doing with that! Thanks to you I’m always reminded that THIS IS what I want to do to make a living! I’m tryin to start my flight training for the ATPL license next year and because of this podcast I already learned so much that I can use later on!
    So please keep up the good work and cheers from Germany! 🙂

  • Michael Husken

    Aircraft add-ons were discussed. Where can I find an FSX add-on for a Tecnam P92?

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