How hard is it to get an IR?

I have been asked to write a short piece with my personal views about getting a CBIR. 

Surprisingly for an activity that one might assume was rational and fact-based, pilots tend to believe all manner of half-truths, outdated ideas and some things that are plain wrong.  I think that is partly because, like your first love, first instructors make a big and long-lasting impression. Their ideas tend to stick for good or ill. Secondly there is huge difference between the skills required for single pilot IFR flight in a general aviation aircraft and the experience and relevance of a background in an airliner flight deck or a fast jet. The days in which most pilots came through general aviation to the airlines or the air force are behind us. In the distant past most flying schools would have had one advanced SEP and probably a light twin for further training and then hire. That’s not so true today. Most flying schools know a lot about basic PPL training but not necessarily much about instrument flying in the real world. Now, given the many blogs and forums it can be hard to distinguish the gems from the dross

Then in the UK the IMCR/IRR is at best a mixed blessing as a basis for an IR. The standard of instruction for the IMCR is variable and any rating holders may or may not have a good foundation for their IR.

All of this may be seem negative or even derogatory to other types of flying but this is not the case. I would have little idea how to fly an Airbus or a fast jet.  Any arrogance is in assuming that experience in one specialisation implies any real understanding of the skills required for another.

The IR is generally accepted to be a demanding qualification. Assessing how demanding and how long a given individual will take is very difficult. It really only becomes clear part way into the training.  Another variable is that progress is rarely linear. I have no idea why but almost all pilots have setbacks for no apparent reason. Training takes both money and time. These are commodities that tend to be in short supply in younger people establishing a career or raising a family. Hence most candidates are older. Nothing much gets easier as you get older. If someone is successful in life, it tends to be many years since they last tried anything new and difficult. In their VFR flying they may have established ingrained habits some of which they may simply have to change.

The CBIR is fantastically flexible and demands only 10 hours training in an ATO. Unfortunately, this low number raises false expectations. I have never seen any candidate reach test standard in 10 hours.  The IMCR/IRR reinforces these false expectations, as many rating holders simply don’t understand the huge step in standards and attitudes involved in moving from an IMCR to an IR. 

You might be a keen rambler keeping to marked footpaths in lowland areas. Another person might consider themselves a fell walker, tackling the hills of the UK but not expecting to be donning crampons and roping up while a third person might have climbed several of the world’s most demanding peaks.  If these three people met, I don’t think the mountain climber would disparage the rambler or the rambler would assume he or she could easily aspire to climb mountains. Nor do I believe that the rambler would consider that the mountain climbers’ achievement somehow diminished their own achievements and knowledge.

An IR is the peak of many pilots flying careers; it is an Olympic medal.  I won’t stretch the rambler – climber – mountaineer analogy too far, but let me just say that it is 30 years since I flew home from a successful IR skill test and it remains one of the best and most memorable days of my whole life.   

Almost anyone willing to put in the effort can get an IR but that effort is substantial. It should be. You are being given the entrance pass to an environment shared with the airlines and their fare paying public. Your responsibility is not just to keep yourself and your passengers safe, but to have sufficient spare mental capacity and skill not to imperil public safety or even cause them expense and delay.

Theoretical knowledge for the IR is demanding. Most of the course is useful, some is necessary but some is tedious and of little relevance. As the Americans say, suck it up and get it done. 

The flying on the other hand is entirely focused, relevant and you will not fly an hour more than the minimum you need.  Everyone asks how many hours. It’s a hard question to answer. Progress is not linear. Almost everyone has setbacks and while an assessment flight helps it’s just an indication. The true picture only emerges well into the course.  Historically few candidates take less than 30 hours in an ATO, most take 40 or 50 Some much older people will take 80 even very occasionally 100 hours but keep in mind many candidates are over 60 and in one or two cases over 70 years of age.

Only an individual can judge if the reward balances the effort for them but I cannot recall any successful candidate who later regretted their decision to gain the rating. 

Jim Thorpe