Follow a pilot through the entire instrument rating, from the first training flight through the checkride (and everything in-between).
Get Checkride Ready (Again)
Many pilots are unprepared for the intensity of instrument training. There’s an enormous amount of information to learn, plus dozens of new and complex skills to acquire. By the time you take your checkride, you’re expected to be able to juggle all of this competently—and confidently—while flying in the clouds.
It’s no wonder many instrument students don’t feel ready for the checkride or for flying in the IFR system once they get their rating.
What if you could “ride along” on another pilot’s instrument rating? What if you could be right there, in the cockpit, from the very first training flight all the way through the checkride?
The Instrument Rating Accelerator gives pilots a unique view into the instrument rating. What an online ground school does for your written exam, this course will do for your checkride.
What is the “Instrument Rating Accelerator”?
We did something that has never been done…we took a private pilot through an entire instrument rating (including a full checkride with a real DPE) using a flight simulator and remote instruction. And we recorded the entire thing. The use of flight simulation provided a unique experience for the student pilot, and allowed us to do things that really enhanced the instructional value of the material.
You’ll follow a Private Pilot (Mike) through his entire instrument rating. You’ll see him struggle, and succeed. You’ll watch him make mistakes, and recover. As he learns, so will you.
All told, we captured over 60 hours of video during the making of this course. Then we edited it down leaving the best bits—in total about 14 hours of curated, instructional video. The result is an unconventional course that shows you exactly what to expect during the instrument training and checkride. You’ll learn what instructors and examiners are looking for, and how to exceed their expectations.
If you’re training for your instrument rating, the benefits are obvious. By watching these videos, you’ll be better prepared for each lesson, and truly ready for your checkride when the time comes.
If you already have your instrument rating, think of the value of reliving the experience and how much more you would pick up the second time through.
And if you’re a CFII, watching other instructors teach can be the best way to improve your own techniques and procedures.
This course will accelerate your IFR knowledge, no matter what level you’re at.
Mike Stuermer Private Pilot
Mike is a low-time private pilot who flies Cessna 172s and 152s out of Wausau, WI. He had no experience flying complex aircraft or using advanced avionics prior to this course. While he took an instrument ground school class a few years ago and passed his written exam, he never began instrument flight training.
When Mike was offered the opportunity to be the student for our Instrument Rating Accelerator course, he jumped at the chance. Plus, having legendary CFII and DPE Doug Stewart conduct his checkride was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (even if a little intimidating).
Ryan Koch CFII, PilotWorkshops Course Designer/Producer
Ryan is an active flight instructor specializing in instrument flight, and is a flight simulator expert. He currently instructs out of Wausau, WI and has previous experience doing remote flight instruction via simulators. He teaches ground schools, runs ATC communications courses for both IFR and VFR pilots, developed curriculum for a variety of IFR proficiency programs, and helped create a simulator-centered high school aviation program.
Ryan is part of the course development team at PilotWorkshops. He was the driving force behind the development of several PilotWorkshops online courses, including IFR: The Missing Lessons and Advanced IFR. Ryan is also a contributing expert for the IFR Mastery series and is a regular participant in the Instructor’s Roundtable.
CFII, DPE, National CFI of the Year
Doug Stewart was the “National Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year” in 2004. A Master Certified Flight Instructor, Gold Seal Instructor and Designated Pilot Examiner—he is based at the Columbia County Airport (1B1) in Hudson, NY.
Doug owns and operates his own flight school specializing in instrument training and has logged over 12,500 hours of dual instruction given, with over 5,700 hours of that being instrument instruction.
He offers fully immersive IFR training trips that give pilots an intense and thorough exposure to the real world of IFR flying. His long course (The East Coast IFR Experience) is a five-day trip up and down the East Coast that incorporates some of the most challenging approaches and varied flying conditions available anywhere in the country.
Why We Used Flight Simulators
All the instruction in this course was delivered using flight simulators and remote instruction. Using simulation for the lessons gave Ryan far more flexibility and control as an instructor. He could:
Set the training flights anywhere in the country, using either real-world or custom weather
Train in a solitary environment without ATC, or add the increased workload of realistic radio communication by using live ATC services provided by PilotEdge
Reconfigure a modern glass panel with steam gauges when it was beneficial
Pause to discuss what just happened, or to set up the next phase of a lesson
Secretly (and safely) trigger instrument and system failures that would play out far more realistically than using instrument covers in an airplane
Include solo IFR flights in the syllabus—an invaluable learning experience that’s just not possible in the real world
We captured every screen on video, selected the best footage, edited it together, and added on-screen callouts and notes so you won’t miss a single detail.
The syllabus for this course is organized into six stages, beginning with the fundamentals and ending with the checkride.
Before most of the lessons, Ryan assigned Mike homework. It consisted of relevant reading from FAA publications and other sources, a series of questions they’d discuss, and (for the later lessons) briefing the weather and creating a flight plan for the flight.
Stage 1: The Fundamentals
The course begins with the building blocks for IFR flight: skills like the instrument scan, navigation, and partial panel flying. A stage check with Bruce Williams, a CFII based in Seattle, ensures Mike is ready to start putting the blocks together.
Ryan introduces you to the custom simulation-based syllabus, and to the technology that makes it possible. He explains how he took a private pilot with no instrument experience through a full instrument rating course—remotely. You’ll discover why the training was so effective, how it went beyond what’s possible in the real world by including solo IFR flights for practice, and how you’ll benefit from watching Mike’s struggles and successes along the way.
Learning the Numbers
In this critical yet often overlooked first IFR lesson, Ryan takes Mike through the process of recording performance profiles. Learning the numbers for your airplane makes your instrument flying smoother and more efficient—with a lot less effort. Instead of chasing airspeed and vertical speed while juggling pitch, power, flaps, gear, and trim, you’ll know exactly what to do to get the performance you want for each phase of an IFR flight. You’ll also learn some secrets for easy transitions from one performance profile to another.
Instrument Scan: Steam Gauges
Learning the instrument scan isn’t very exciting compared to flying approaches, but a good scan that’s second nature frees the mind to focus on higher workload tasks like navigating and communicating. To learn proper technique, Mike starts developing his scan using steam gauges. As you watch, you’ll discover the difference between a radial scan and a monitor scan, how to avoid common mistakes, and some tips and tricks (like why it’s important to always turn the heading bug in the direction of a turn).
Instrument Scan: Glass
Glass-panel instruments have many benefits, but you need to know how to take advantage of them—and avoid some pitfalls. In this lesson, Mike practices climbs, descents, and turns using Garmin G5 electronic flight instruments. You’ll learn how much easier it is to precisely hold attitude with glass, how to adjust your scan for the logical layout of pitch and bank information, and how to set bugs to get simple visual cues instead of having to interpret numbers.
VOR Course Tracking
While you can make an entire IFR flight today using only GPS navigation, practicing VOR course tracking will make you a better instrument pilot. In this lesson you’ll watch Mike determine his location relative to a VOR, intercept and track VOR courses, and track a multiple-airway route using an IFR Low Altitude Enroute Chart. Along the way you’ll learn a great trick for making smooth course intercepts, how to correct for wind (both with bracketing and using GPS), and an easy way to use the heading bug to avoid overcorrecting and chasing the needle.
Mike’s First Instrument Approach
Flying an approach requires putting the basic building blocks of instrument flight together in a realistic context. Everything you’ve learned so far comes into play as you watch Mike fly a full VOR approach to Mankato, MN (KMKT). A few helpful hints from Ryan about using an HSI make flying the procedure turn easy. Tracking the final approach course, Mike descends to the MDA, breaks out, and sees the runway just where he expects it.
Bonus: Flying the GFC 500 Autopilot
Using an autopilot is essential when you’re flying IFR in a complex aircraft. The GFC 500 can really reduce your workload—if you understand what each lateral and vertical mode does, the difference between armed and active modes, and how to interpret the autopilot and flight director annunciations at the top of the G5. You’ll learn some best practices too, like why IAS is generally the best mode to use for climbs, not VS. This quick lesson is your checkout for the GFC 500 so you can follow along as Mike uses it on his flights.
GPS Enroute: Setup and Prep
Understanding the features and functions of your GPS is important if you want to get where you’re going (not to mention pass your checkride). In this lesson, Mike receives a complex IFR clearance and enters the route into both ForeFlight and the GTN 750. You’ll learn some best practices for entering airways on the GTN, how to activate a leg you’ll be intercepting after takeoff, and how to configure the autopilot for takeoff. It’s a great overview of what you need to be able to do before departing IFR with any GPS.
GPS Enroute: Flight
Mike departs from Ramona, CA (KRNM) on a complex route across the Los Angeles Basin to Santa Monica (KSMO). As he settles into cruise there’s time to explore changing the GTN 750’s data fields, all the different ways the GTN and the G5 display information about the wind, and the pluses and minuses of auto-zoom. To keep things interesting, Ryan gives Mike a shortcut, then an amended clearance with a new routing. When an engine failure forces an emergency landing at the nearest airport, the GTN takes away a lot of guesswork—and the “Visual Approach” feature provides advisory guidance to a runway.
Using a simulator instead of an airplane means Mike gets to experience vacuum system failures in real time, and he quickly learns the secret to a partial panel scan: using performance to infer attitude. Flying attitude—instead of chasing performance instruments—makes climbing, descending, turning, and airspeed and trim changes much less demanding. A failed Garmin G5 presents an entirely different sort of partial panel experience, and Mike discovers how to use all the information presented on the PFD to fly direct to a GPS waypoint without the benefit of an HSI.
Holding with a glass panel, a GPS, and an autopilot is pretty easy once you know how to set things up to reduce your workload. Flying a hold manually on steam gauges is much more challenging. Mike practices both. Either way, the key is visualizing the holding pattern you plan to fly, thinking about what the wind will do to it, and making corrections. Drawing the assigned hold directly on the enroute chart is a big help. As Mike practices flying multiple holds in this lesson, he learns that without a GPS, getting the wind correction right requires careful observation, making adjustments as necessary, and being patient.
Stage 1 Check
CFII Bruce Williams joins Mike on a simulated Stage 1 check to evaluate his ability to competently and consistently fly the airplane solely by reference to instruments. Mike demonstrates turns, descents, a transition to the Approach Level profile, climbs, and slow flight with turns. Then he intercepts and tracks a VOR course, a GPS waypoint, and a localizer. As they fly, Bruce shares some thoughts about using bearing pointers, setting the heading bug, verbalizing what you’re thinking when you’re flying with a CFI or an examiner, and how real-world IFR flights compare to training.
Stage 2: Instrument Approaches & Departures
A pilot’s workload is typically highest at the beginning and end of an instrument flight, so Mike will need to be confident flying complex departure and approach procedures. In these lessons, he focuses on developing solid SOPs and procedural knowledge in a low stress environment in which he can pause the sim for discussion.
Briefing an Approach: St. Cloud, MN (KSTC)
A good approach briefing helps you double-check your setup work and makes it easier to recall key information as you fly the approach. In this lesson, Ryan teaches Mike a simple method he can use to brief his approaches, using the “WIRE” acronym (Weather, Instruments, Radios, Environment). You’ll learn what to focus on while briefing the approach plate, and why it’s important to also brief how you’ll use automation on the approach.
Planning a Departure: Sylva, NC (24A)
Departure procedures are a weak area for many instrument pilots. In this lesson, Mike plans his departure from a non-towered airport in mountainous terrain. You’ll learn the value of starting departure planning by reviewing the Sectional Chart, the difference between an Obstacle Departure Procedure (ODP) and a Visual Climb Over Airport (VCOA), and how to make sense of takeoff minimums, including how to plan for non-standard climb gradients. Finally, the discussion turns to how the weather, terrain, and departure alternate minimums all factor into the Go/No Go decision.
GPS Approach Gotchas: Clemson, SC (KCEU)
Hand-flying an RNAV approach to Clemson, SC, Mike starts his approach briefing too late. That makes it challenging to focus on the tasks at hand: descending to the FAF and setting up the approach on the GTN 750. Flying the final approach segment too high and too fast, he fixates on correcting lateral deviation, and makes an error he wouldn’t want to make in a real airplane. Lessons learned include the importance of briefing early, knowing the difference between loading an approach and activating an approach, and why skipping the Approach Level profile can cause problems.
Non-Precision Approach: Toccoa, GA (KTOC)
With a simulated iPad failure, Mike learns to use the GTN 750 to get all the information he needs to fly a VOR approach to Toccoa, GA. Generally speaking, using the autopilot reduces workload. But on a non-precision approach without any vertical guidance you’ll still have your hands full: using VS mode to match VSR on the GTN until inside the FAF, preselecting the next altitude while in ALT Hold mode, and managing stepdowns using VS mode. When Mike sees the runway before reaching the MAP he makes a steep approach and lands, even though that wasn’t the plan.
Stage 3: IFR Dual Cross-Countries
Dual cross-country flights let Mike see if the skills he’s acquired hold up under pressure. Complete flights from one airport to another—with live ATC and no pausing allowed—are a great introduction to the real world of being PIC in the IFR system.
SoCal (KSMO-KCNO): Briefing & Flight
The objective for this first dual IFR cross-country from Santa Monica, CA to Chino, CA is to introduce Mike to the IFR system. With a challenging Tower En Route Control (TEC) route through complex airspace, and live ATC provided by PilotEdge, it’s a bit like wading into the deep end of IFR. Mike’s procedural, workload management, and radio skills are all put to the test. The challenges include entering a complex clearance into the GTN 750, identifying a crossing radial on departure, and trying to fit flows, checklists, and the approach briefing into the small gaps between radio calls.
Cascade Mountains (KELN-KPDX): Briefing
IFR flight planning is a balance between planning what you want and familiarizing yourself with what you might get. It’s a lot of work—but having a proven process to follow makes it easier. For this flight from Ellensburg, WA to Portland, OR, Ryan introduces Mike to a step-by-step weather briefing and flight planning process that helps him stay focused on what’s most important. After a weather check, he starts planning for the departure, arrival, and enroute phases of the flight, looking at all of the relevant DPs, STARs, approaches, alternates, routes, MEAs, cruising altitudes, and diversion options.
Cascade Mountains (KELN-KPDX): Flight
Mike departs Ellensburg, WA on a flight to Portland, OR for some more experience operating in the IFR system. Hand-flying an ODP that ends in a hold at a VOR seems straightforward, but when radio work increases the workload, he learns there’s value in briefing complex departures, just like approaches. Vectors to an opposite-direction ILS at Portland provide plenty of time to brief the approach and set up the GTN 750. He hand-flies the ILS down to minimums, goes missed, then heads 20 miles northwest to fly a localizer/DME approach at Scappoose.
Pacific Coast (KAST-HQM): Briefing
Mike’s third dual IFR cross-country flight is from Astoria, OR to Hoquiam, WA. After planning the flight by himself, he discusses his chosen route with Ryan. You’ll see how a not-so-obvious tweak to Mike’s plan simplifies flying the graphical ODP, and how thinking through the entire approach helps Mike clarify how he’ll use the GPS and autopilot to make flying a DME arc to an ILS easy. Pay attention and you’ll get some valuable insights into making the transition from thinking like a passive student to thinking like a PIC.
Pacific Coast (KAST-HQM): Flight
After departing Astoria, OR via the graphical ODP, Mike heads north to Hoquiam, WA. With the GPS and autopilot tracking the 21-mile DME arc to the ILS, Ryan reviews how to fly a DME arc the old school way: with just a VOR indicator and DME. Four miles from the MAP, Mike runs the Before Landing checklist and clicks on the pilot-controlled runway lights. Given his careful planning for this flight, he expects it to be pretty straightforward. It is—until the darkness, low weather, and his fixation on landing conspire to present some valuable lessons in the last few minutes.
Desert Southwest (KVGT-KEED): Briefing
Planning this final dual cross-country flight from North Las Vegas, NV to Needles, CA was challenging. Mike faced widespread IFR conditions along the whole 90-mile route, few alternate options, high temperatures, the extra weight of two passengers in the back, and non-standard climb gradients. Ryan helps him choose between the ODP and the SID, then explains how to get an accurate climb estimate when you’re not quite at max gross weight (since that’s all the POH shows). In the end, Mike needs to reconsider both his fuel and passenger loads to stay within the legal range of the Arrow.
Desert Southwest (KVGT-KEED): Flight
Real IFR flights are too dynamic to ever go exactly according to plan, and this final simulated dual cross-country is a good example. Mike hand flies the SID out of North Las Vegas, is quickly vectored onto course, and uses the GTN 750’s “Activate leg” feature to fly an ATC-assigned shortcut. When the GPS fails, he falls back on his VOR navigation skills. He decides to continue to Needles, selects the VOR-A approach, flies the procedure turn, and circles to land. But Ryan wonders: Given that the GPS failed back in Las Vegas, was this the right choice?
Stage 4: Solo Cross-Country Flights
The power of simulation really shines as Mike plans and executes complete ramp-to-ramp IFR flights with live ATC—entirely on his own. Every one of his actions, and decisions, are captured on video for a detailed debrief with Ryan.
Alone in the System: Sacramento Roundtrip
For practical reasons, solo cross-countries aren’t usually part of instrument training. But a simulator, real-world weather, and live ATC from PilotEdge made it possible for Mike to plan and execute a realistic IFR flight in VMC from Sacramento, CA (KSAC) to Petaluma, CA (069) to Oakland, CA (KOAK) and back—all on his own. In this lesson, Ryan and Mike review the flight and discuss the challenges Mike had properly configuring the GPS and autopilot modes to provide the guidance he wanted.
Departures and Emergencies: Seattle Area
Mike’s second solo cross-country was a two-leg flight from marginal VFR in Port Townsend, WA (0S9) to low IFR in Seattle, WA (KBFI). His decision to forego flying the ODP or VCOA and roll his own departure on the first leg is the subject of an interesting discussion. On the second leg, from low IFR in Seattle across the mountains to VFR in Ephrata (KEPH), the alternator failed shortly after takeoff. He did lots of things right, but there’s plenty to learn from his mistakes. You’ll hear about load shedding, troubleshooting, the clues a voltmeter provides about battery life, and the benefits of declaring an emergency.
Stage 5: Checkride Prep
This series of realistic, high-workload flights give Mike a taste of what’s to come. With live ATC and the possibility of a failure or abnormality at any moment, he has his hands full—and that’s the point. A final stage check with Jeff Van West ensures he’s ready for his checkride.
Task Saturation: Santa Maria, CA (KSMX)
Climbing on the missed approach after flying a LOC/DME backcourse approach at Santa Maria, Mike requests an RNAV approach back in the other direction. While he handles the radios like a pro, he makes multiple mistakes rushing to set up the GTN 750 for holding and the new approach. Then, he loses the HSI. This first checkride prep lesson takes Mike right up to the limits of his ability to juggle tasks, but Ryan’s impressed that he maintains situational awareness and remains in command.
Glideslope Failure: Green Bay, WI (KGRB)
While flying a full procedure ILS to Greenbay, WI, the controller instructs Mike to fly the alternate missed approach procedure. He easily reconfigures the GTN 750 to fly to, and hold at, a new missed approach fix. Inbound on the procedure turn the glideslope fails, and he decides to continue flying the localizer-only approach. Some confusion identifying a stepdown fix reveals an important fact about GPS navigation, and why, when the glideslope fails, it’s often better to just go missed—and fully brief the localizer approach before trying again.
iPad Only Approach: Green Bay, WI (KGRB)
A complete electrical failure is a big problem for an instrument pilot flying in IMC. But an iPad—and the skill to fly an emergency approach using it—can save you. In this lesson, Mike practices an iPad-only approach using ForeFlight with synthetic vision. He finds the visual display similar to what he’s used to with the G5 PFD and HSI, but there are some differences, and it’s definitely awkward to use. Mike pulls off a zero-zero landing. It’s something you should only attempt in a sim, but it demonstrates just how useful an iPad can be when all else fails.
Challenging Approach: Siskayou, CA (KSIY)
This lesson really puts Mike’s instrument flying skills to the test: a night flight to an airport in mountainous terrain with an unexpected hold, a steep GPS overlay approach, and a circle to land with the weather just above minimums. This is another flight to experience in a sim rather than real life. You’ll learn some best practices for flying with the GTN 750 and ForeFlight in mountainous terrain when you can’t see outside. You’ll also see why you need to carefully study the descent profile for a steep approach like this, and you’ll learn a not-so-obvious way to increase your descent gradient when necessary.
Final Stage Check: Oral
CFII Jeff Van West joins Mike for a dress rehearsal of the checkride oral exam. This edited video focuses on the things that didn’t come up during the checkride itself: route planning over mountainous terrain, minimum IFR altitudes, freezing levels, resources for long-range weather forecasts, the differences between LP and LNAV minimums, Visual Descent Points, determining the visibility at DA, and what “known icing” means. Jeff also passes along some helpful tips for passing the oral exam—like not digging yourself into a hole by over-answering questions.
Final Stage Check: Flight
Jeff Van West joins Mike again, this time for a mock flight test. Highlights include flying a SID with a DME arc out of Yakima, WA (KYKM), a GPS failure, the VOR-A approach to Ellensburg, WA (KELN) with a stressful missed approach and hold entry, vectors to a very long ILS approach to Wenatchee, WA (KEAT), unusual attitude recoveries, and a partial panel VOR approach to Ephrata, WA (KEPH)—with a circle to land in the dark. Mike does lots well, and makes some mistakes, too. Can you catch them before he does?
Stage 6: The Checkride
Mike’s checkride evaluates whether he possesses the knowledge, skill, and ability to manage risks that the FAA would require for him to act as PIC flying under IFR. Because the checkride is flown on a simulator, and conducted remotely, the rating won’t be real even if he passes. But the lessons imparted by legendary CFII and DPE Doug Stewart are worth every moment.
Checkride: Oral Exam
DPE Doug Stewart walks Mike through an IFR flight scenario from Arcata, CA (KACV) to Camarillo, CA (KCMA). Using the FAA’s “PAVE” risk management checklist as a structure, he evaluates Mike’s mastery of a variety of IFR topics. It’s a long exam, but you’ll learn a lot by watching—both about the topics covered, and about how to prepare for your own oral. As the test gets underway, Doug gives Mike some good news: “As a rule, those who aren’t nervous don’t do well.”
Checkride: Flight Exam
The flight portion of Mike’s checkride is a multi-leg IFR flight from Paso Robles, CA (KPRB) to Santa Barbara, CA (KSBA), with missed approaches at San Luis Obispo, CA (KSBP) and Santa Maria, CA (KSMX) along the way. With Doug remotely observing his every move, Mike flies a localizer approach on autopilot, hand-flies an RNAV approach with raw data, demonstrates an unusual attitude recovery, and hand-flies a partial-panel VOR approach with a circle-to-land. When ATC unexpectedly assigns him a hold three miles before the fix, Mike frantically attempts to re-configure the GTN 750 in an effort to avoid busting the checkride.
Checkride: Debrief with Doug
Ryan joins Mike and Doug for a detailed discussion of Mike’s performance during both the oral and the flight portions of his checkride. Mike learns that while he has room for improvement, there was a lot that impressed Doug as well. As expected, Doug assesses Mike’s knowledge and skills. But he also shares plenty of wisdom—what he would have said or done in similar circumstances, based on his own best practices developed over thousands of hours in the cockpit. Mike, Ryan, and Doug all learn things from the conversation. You will too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do I access the Instrument Rating Accelerator videos?
A. Your videos are available online via a secure, password-protected website. You can watch the videos on any device—Windows PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android. The website has a simple menu structure so you can easily find the segment you want to watch and start it with the click of a button.
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A: If you have an internet connection, you can watch the videos online without downloading them. However, you can also move the video files from the optional USB drive to your iPad (using your computer and iTunes) which will allow you to watch the videos without an internet connection. We provide step-by-step directions for moving these files to your iPad.
Q. Can I access the videos from more than one computer or device?
A. Yes – with your login info, you can access the site from any device as often as you want for personal use.
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