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  • Writer's pictureRachel Miller

4 Vital Habits for the IFR Pilot

1. Familiarize yourself with the airport

Sure, this might sound basic because you should gather any and all information regarding your flight before you takeoff. Foreflight will pack your virtual flight bag with everything you need including weather conditions, NOTAMS, PIREPS, and even alternate airport suggestions. But here's the catch: After you're done briefing your flight, go back and review key aspects of the airport that are critical to landing safely.

For example, you won't need to memorize the projected wind conditions (you'll check them anyway mid-flight), but it is a good idea to A) Note the available approaches and runways at your destination airport. If the ceiling is too low for you to shoot the RNAV approach, and you'll have to impromptu shoot the ILS on another runway, perhaps you should make sure that runway is in use, long enough based on your aircraft performance, and not "NOTAMed out." B) Note the runway(s) lighting systems so that you'll know exactly what you're looking for as you approach the runway.

In other words, you won't have to know the icing conditions 10,000 ft from your en route altitude, but you might have to triple check the available runways and approaches before you even pre-flight the plane.

2. Brief Every Approach

If you have flown the same approach 10 times in the last month and know the procedure like the back of your hand, it might be easy to skim over the approach plate because "you know what you're doing." That, my friend, is called complacency.

None of us would like to consider ourselves a complacent pilot, and yet - there are probably a number of complacent pilots out there. Complacency can disguise itself in seemingly minuscule tasks like checking the lights before starting up, overlooking personal minimums, or deciding not to check the approach plate.

3. Set yourself up for success at the final approach fix

At this point, you're established inbound and preparing to power-back-nose-down into a relaxed 3 degree descent. You're leaving your safe altitude to descend toward the runway... It might be a good idea to double check all critical factors of a smooth approach.

Before committing to your descent, ensure that the airplane is stabilized and flying the appropriate speed for its class. Double check that the CDI is on GPS or VLOC mode. Its vital that you complete your pre-landing checklist and a thorough scan of your avionics and instruments so that as you come closer towards the runway, you are flying a stable approach. As you approach your minimums, the needle is likely centered and you're altitude is right on cue. The workload is now significantly less than if you hadn't done that in-flight check at the final approach fix.

4. Practice Missed Approaches

You might think, "If I ever need to do a missed approach, I'll know exactly what to do," but if you haven't practiced one in 3 months, how can you be sure?

You've probably noticed that your approaches are significantly smoother now verses when you completes your first handful of approaches. A huge contributor to that fact is muscle memory - completing approaches over and over until the procedures become second nature. Only when you feel completely comfortable practicing missed approaches without feeling the weight of a heavy workload can you expect to safely and correctly demonstrate a missed approach when you actually need one.

Furthermore, you'll need to practice missed approaches as part of your currency. If you haven't practiced a missed approach in 6 months, you'll need to schedule an Instrument Proficiency Check. To help you prepare, you can use the Instrument Proficiency Check Study Guide or a convenient pocket-sized Instrument Flight Review study book with detailed illustrated flight procedures, clearances, approaches, flight planning and more.

Check out resources you'll need as an instrument rated pilot!

Instrument Pilot Oral Exam Guide - The comprehensive guide to prepare you for the FAA checkride

FAR AIM 2021 - Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual

BFR - By far the most concise well organized VFR flight review book on the market.

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