IFR Advisor Part 2: Checkride Prep

Response to more reader mail on earning the instrument rating (thanks for asking!).

I am a new pilot and would like to immediately start working on my IFR. Several of my friends who got their licenses have basically put off the IFR and frankly I wonder if they will ever get it. Since I am still very much in the learning mode, I thought I should push ahead while building up my VFR time. I have two questions…

1) “My thought is that I would start to work on the written test portion. I used the King DVD’s for my private pilot. Have you ever compared the Kings to Sporty’s. Do you consider one over the other?”

Congratulations, and best of luck as you continue your aerial education!

Thousands upon thousands of pilots swear by John and Martha King’s aviation instructional videos. Although some of the tapes are dated (in production quality, information, or both), they all serve as excellent instructional tools for the aspiring instrument pilot. Order a tape (or borrow one; you often find them lying around in the corners of FBOs after they’ve served their first owner, so ask around) and check it out for yourself. There’s no denying the success of pilots who’ve excelled using the King videos.

I have less first-hand experience with the Sporty’s tapes, but I have reviewed several of the Air Facts series (for my “Weatherwise” column in Private Pilot magazine a few years ago) and found them to be superbly produced. The Sporty’s tapes are generally newer and include a lot of computer-generated graphics and in-flight footage, so if you’re more of a “visual” learner they may appeal more to your style of learning. The Richard Collins Air Facts series (on topics like thunderstorms, airframe icing, and the like) are more practical-flying oriented than simply ratings preparation, so they will help round your education, but may not be as focused toward the rating as you’d like. Sporty’s does have ratings-prep videos; just as with the King tapes, get hold of a tape and see how you like it before ordering en entire set.

Tip: See if some of your friends, who may need a little nudging to earn their instrument rating, are interested in “chipping in” for whichever set you buy … that’ll help keep the cost down for you all.

Early last year I took my Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) written, and reported on it for iPilot. In that article I wrote:

Winning Strategy: There are lots of ways to prepare for the written test, but the best possible method is to get the appropriate regulations and manuals, and study until you know them — all of them — by heart.

Practical Strategy: Since the questions and answers to the written tests are in the public domain, the 80 you’ll be asked are somewhere in the thousands of possible questions printed in the test guide. If you don’t have the time (few of us do), a common tactic is to order a study guide and practice the questions and answers. I used the Gleim guide, “the book with the red cover.

Other Ideas: If you’re more the “cram course” sort of test-taker, several private companies offer weekend ground schools that present test-taking techniques and memorization approach to passing the written.
Substitute any written exam for “ATP” and the information still applies.

***Editor’s Note: iPilot also now has an online written test-prep that is rather dynamic and deserves mention here. It uses actual FAA test questions, automatically sets time limits (with a visual timer) and provides written explanations as well as a statistical review. It’s a solid pre-test study aid and refresher. (And, yes, they like it when I say that, but, no, they don’t pay me for it.) Besides, you can sample it free online before you purchase access, so I advise you to have a look and decide for yourself if it’s for you.***

2) “What are your thoughts about, after passing the written, to going to one of these intense schools where you go for a week or they send a pilot to you to get the flight work? Frankly, I am somewhat dissatisfied about my local flight school although they have a simulator. In getting my private pilot I went through 13 instructors, 15 months and $8,000. The instructors are always quitting (airline jobs, better pay, etc.) and I get shifted around. It seems from my experience, this cost me a lot of extra time (and money), because with each new instructor I had to make him/her comfortable with me. The intense work sounds like an option.”

You may be an excellent candidate for an accelerated instrument course. If you can take the time off, look into some of the “big name” schools or Professional Instrument Courses (PIC), the people who “send a pilot to you” that you talked about. (While many times a local FBO has a stable enough staff and a good customer orientation that fits right in with plans to earn an instrument rating, it sounds like the FBO you’ve dealt with apparently does not.)

Good: You may be able to more quickly earn your rating if you travel to get the training. Home and office often creep into the training schedule when you try to train locally.

Even Better: If you can combine your rating training at a school in a resort area with your family’s vacation — so long as it’s clear that they’re on their own to have fun, and you’re there to work — you can treat yourself while treating them. If you like the one-on-one contact of PIC or similar programs, think about working with the instructor at some resort location. Pay your money and take your chances.

Little: I earned my instrument rating at a sleepy little FBO, with two instructors, a Skyhawk and an ATC610 desktop “simulator.” There was little competition for instructor, airplane or simulator time, and the instructors were a little hungry — they were very anxious to fly with me. It took about two weeks.

Big: I picked up my instrument instructor rating at a (since bankrupt) well-known school in southwest Tennessee, with six or seven 172s and bank of “simulators.” It was a constant struggle to get a “sim” or an airplane every single day of the week I was there. Several days I had only an hour or an hour and a half instructional time, the rest was allotted to “individual study” (read: reading the book) and was time I was away from home, away from work, while paying for food and lodging. I was “assigned” to an instructor who was seemingly more interested in partying than teaching instrument flight.

In the end, “big” vs. “little” in instrument training schools isn’t nearly as important as the school’s customer orientation, when it comes to timely and economical completion of your instrument rating. (And my experience leads me to think that FBOs with a “good customer attitude” turn out better and safer pilots.)

BOTTOM LINE: You’re not begging to be trained for a written test, or a rating and no one should make you feel like you are. You’re deciding to invest several thousand of your hard-earned dollars (or national currency of your choice) in a training-provider, based on its ability to present information that will literally save your life. In the process, it will also adequately prepare you for the examinations required prior to enjoying the privileges of instrument flight. Ask for demo tapes, check out learning materials (before making a big purchase), interview schools and instructors, talk to prior students and customers… And don’t be afraid to say, “I’m willing to spend (X) thousand dollars on my instrument training. Why should I give it to you?” Then make a decision you can live with.