Minimizing The Cost Of Instrument Training – Part II

by Harold Green

This is the second of two articles intended to assist aspiring instrument pilots shorten their training time and hence safely reduce costs. The first article discussed pilot skills in flying the airplane. In this article, ways to enhance situational awareness and minimize the overhead involved in utilizing the avionics are presented.

Naturally, people beginning instrument training concern themselves primarily with flying the airplane without visual reference. The thought itself is scary for most rational people. If this was all there were to it, we could put in 5 to 10 hours and call it a day. By the time the student is able to perform steep turns, slow flight and stall in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), some of that trepidation disappears. Somewhere along the way the student will be treated to a zero-zero takeoff which  produces  tension, surprise and “Oh  MY  Gosh, I did that” responses. The real issue here is the ability to control the airplane without outside reference while navigating, communicating, talking with passengers, and reading approach charts.

The old saw “Aviate, Navigate and Communicate” is still valid. In fact, it is valid with a vengeance. That is because lack of attention to Aviate will result in unusual aircraft attitudes that can be very dangerous unless immediately recognized and corrected. Not only  that, but because of the duties of an instrument pilot, there are many distractions which make it more difficult to Aviate.

Preferably, we don’t get into that situation in the first place. The only way to prevent that is to develop the ability to spread our attention between the Navigate and Communicate functions without ANY reduction in Aviate  attention. The achievement of this is the primary goal of the rest of the training for the instrument ticket.

In the previous article, we presented the Touch, Glance, Activate, Look (TGAL) approach to control manipulation, even though it wasn’t given that name. Just to reiterate, TGAL means: Touch the control, Glance to confirm you are touching  the control you want, Activate the control, and then Look to confirm it is where you want it. To Look  and Glance, use a minimum of head movement to reduce the possibility of vertigo. In fact, it is best to use eye movement exclusively if possible. This technique is an important aid to reduce cockpit workload when working with avionics. As we will see, GPS and glass cockpits in general complicate this, but this can still be dealt with in a similar fashion.

While the demise of the VOR has been predicted, and hoped for by some, for a long time, it is still very much in use. During primary training, the emphasis is on tracking a course using the VOR. In this context the mantra is; “Heading and OBS within 180 degrees, turn toward the needle.” Since the Private Pilot test standards only require the student to track a course using a VOR, this is generally sufficient. Additionally, the student is taught that a radial is the line FROM the station. This sometimes sticks with the student and sometimes not. However, when flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), the controllers expect the pilot to know what a radial means.

For example, the instruction to hold “On the 130-degree radial east of the  19 DME,” means the plane should be southeast of the station 19 nautical miles out. The poor soul that was overheard one day explaining to approach that he was 18 DME south on the 360 radial thankfully was flying VFR. If IFR, he could have created a very tense situation for the controllers and anybody in the area. Since airway fixes and intersections are dependent on VOR  radials, the instrument pilot needs to know where those lines are relative to the current aircraft location. Since radials often are NOT within 180 degrees of the current heading, this can result in brain strain and additional workload attempting to determine where a given radial is with respect to the aircraft’s position. Additional work or brain strain when flying single-pilot IFR  is bad because our workload is already adequate, thank you.

The answer in this case is quite obvious once a very simple fact is recognized.

Every Omni Bearing Selector (OBS) is surrounded by a compass rose. Now regardless of whatever  the pilot sets into the OBS with the selector knob, the Course Deviation Indicator (CDI) will point to the compass direction of  the number set into the OBS. This is independent of aircraft heading. In short, it tells you  which way to go to get to that line. It does NOT tell you whether to turn left or right. By this time you are thinking in terms of North, South, East or West anyway, so this is natural.

Note, the settings of the two OBS dials in Figure 1.0. This was an actual student instrument approach. Note that the top OBS is set to 187 degrees with a TO flag showing and it indicates that the 187 degree line is to the west of the aircraft. The lower OBS is set to 007 degrees with a FROM flag showing, or the reciprocal of the top. The OBS shows that line to be to the west of the airplane. Therefore, to get to that line you go west regardless of whether that is left or right of the aircraft. Gee, whaddya know! (By the way, the lower OBS indicates the radial.)

Keeping this in mind when beginning instrument training will simplify life for the student. All ya gotta do is look at the compass rose and it will tell you where the line is. If you are going to that line and follow it, it then becomes your course. If it is  FROM the VOR, it is a radial whether or not it is your course. Knowing this in advance will save considerable time and frustration during your training.

Fig 1: Two OBS indicators set to the same VOR with reciprocal settings.

There is great emphasis on  Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment. Everyone seems to love this because it gives the pink (Magenta) line overlay on a map. Situational awareness just  comes naturally. However, there is a price to pay. That price is additional complexity in setting up the equipment to do what you want.

While flying in visual conditions, this poses no significant additional burden. However, when you begin flying with only instrument reference, the situation changes significantly.

Most VFR pilots know how to set the GPS for “Direct To” operation and some can also set up a flight plan. Most pilots, however, are  woefully unprepared to utilize the full capabilities of even basic GPS units.

You can help yourself prepare for IFR training  by learning a few additional capabilities of your GPS unit.  This applies even if, perhaps especially if,  your airplane is equipped with a full glass cockpit.

To ease this, find a simulator provided by the manufacturer if possible to aid in this process. This will save you a lot of time and frustration during your training.

First learn the “flight plan” function. Learn to load a flight plan, modify it by adding and/or removing check points, invert it and generally do all the things your GPS unit will let  you do. You should be able to do this without hesitation and while flying your airplane, talking to a controller and listening to  your significant other, all at the same time. (Remember: When you can walk and talk and chew gum while patting your head and rubbing your tummy simultaneously, you are an instrument pilot).

When you begin approach training, realize that the GPS loads the approach into the flight plan page so modifications, with limitations, are also possible.

Sometimes there are two ways to accomplish the same thing. For example, selecting a new destination can be done by direct entry using the large and small knobs, or going to the nearest function and selecting the new destination. Learn why and when to use each. Learn to use the nearest function to find any resource your GPS will allow you to. These actions, and more, should become second nature to you.

Now, most importantly of all, learn how to back out of any of these operations to allow you to correct errors. When things are going smoothly, life is good. But when things go bad, they go bad with a vengeance and you will find yourself as busy as a one-armed chainsaw juggler.

In summary, learn everything you can about your GPS and/or glass cockpit system so that you don’t have to learn this while also learning to fly instruments. These devices should be an aid, not a hindrance.

The TGAL approach is still appropriate, but with different emphasis. It is still possible to select major functions in the same manner. You simply need to apply TGAL in conjunction with every function entry. You can reach major soft keys in the same manner by  touching, glancing, activating and looking. Then reaching for  subordinate soft keys requires more care. Typically it works to touch the frame next to the soft key and then glancing to see if you are near the correct one before actually  activating it. Then looking after activation to  make sure you have done what you want. You will need to adapt this procedure for your specific unit.

As you begin to execute GPS approaches, you will need to load an approach. The GPS treats this as a flight plan.

To fly the approach, you  need to be able to select the transition points and  the method of  intersection.  This occurs while you are talking to controllers, flying the airplane and analyzing the approach. This is the most likely point at which an entry error will occur and you will need to correct the error.

If your aircraft is equipped with an autopilot coupled to your navigation equipment, practice with it.   You should be able to use the autopilot in  conjunction with any equipment to which it is coupled. In particular, learn what GPS actions will de-couple the autopilot from the GPS. In any event, it is good practice to check the autopilot after every GPS change. You’ll be surprised how often the autopilot decouples itself.

As an added thought, pilots who employ glass cockpit in instrument conditions should seriously consider acquiring an autopilot if one is not currently installed in their aircraft. Even  a simple wing leveler gives a tremendous advantage when  your attention is demanded by the modern electronics. In fact, one manufacturer lists autopilot functionality as critical to instrument flight and states unequivocally that the airplane should not be flown in IMC unless the autopilot is working.

As an added comment, the FAA checkride guidelines call for pilots of autopilot-equipped airplanes to fly the checkride using the autopilot and  simply demonstrate they can hand-fly the airplane, which is a reversal of past policy. Therefore, it behooves the aspiring instrument pilot to learn the use of the autopilot. This is a task which can safely be done in VFR also. While you won’t be able to learn everything you need to know about the autopilot without instrument instruction, you can reduce the training time by becoming very familiar with its operation prior to beginning your training.

While I run the risk of being accused of being a curmudgeon, I believe it is appropriate to point out  what I believe becomes obvious with experience. Modern GPS, glass cockpits, weather uplinks, etc., are a tremendous aid to safe instrument flight, but they add considerable training overhead. This is an investment that is well worth the cost. Conversely, if adequate training is not received, these same devices can impede safety because they can detract from the ability to aviate. If you were trained on glass from the beginning, this will be an easier transition for you.

As a final note, you should know how to use every piece of equipment in your aircraft. It is amazing how many people will willingly spend thousands of dollars to add a piece of redundant equipment for safety, but fail to learn how to use something as basic as an ADF when it is already installed. If it is in the airplane, you should know how to use it. Otherwise, it is just taking up panel space and weight for no good reason.

Cranial redundancy (i.e. your ability to use everything in the airplane) is cheap and without it, nothing else matters. Almost all equipment can be learned while flying in visual conditions.

These recommendations are based on experience teaching instrument students and watching the learning curve they experience. Of course I never had any of these issues in my training. (Anyone want to buy a bridge?)

The typical student spends unnecessary time learning basics during their instrument training that they could have safely taught themselves and have committed to practice before beginning their instrument training. Not only will this save time and money, it frees up instruction time to learn those things that truly apply to instrument flying. Incidentally, these practices also make for a safer and smoother pilot whether or not instrument flying is the goal.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Harold Green is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor at Morey Airplane Company in Middleton, Wisconsin (C29). Email questions or comments to: or call 608-836-1711 (

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