IFR Safety and Mental Flying Skills
Business Aircraft Center Inc.
As we quickly approach the winter flying season, it’s a good time to review IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) training and specifically, the development of the right mindset and mental flying skills necessary to conduct a safe IFR flight. Here are some best practices, courtesy of the September/October issue of the FAA Safety Briefing magazine.
While physical flying skills are usually the focus of IFR flight training — meeting the FAA’s requirements, proving you have the practical skills — FAA Safety Briefing suggests that it’s just as important to develop, maintain, and constantly refine the mental skills and mindset necessary for safely flying an approach or filing an IFR flight plan.
Thinking about the stabilized approach
As you’re well aware, a stabilized approach is a key feature to a safe approach and landing, and the FAA strongly advocates that all pilots master the “stabilized approach” concept as described in Advisory Circular 120-108.
The stabilized approach concept is characterized by maintaining a stable approach speed, descent rate, vertical flightpath, and configuration to the landing touchdown point.
As a meticulous pilot, you work hard to sharpen the physical flying skills that allow you to consistently hit the targets that define a stabilized approach. But you should also train diligently to develop the right mental flying skills necessary to safely conduct an IFR flight, especially one flown in actual instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).
There are many mental flying skills needed for safe IFR, for example, you need to understand your instruments, and assuming the plane is good working order, trust that the instruments are guiding you properly, instead of looking for physiological cues that often lead you into trouble. You also need a solid mastery of instrument rules and procedures presented in publications like the newly-revised FAA Instrument Procedures Handbook.
The real key to IFR mastery
The real key to IFR mastery is a three-pronged stabilized mental approach, which includes integration of instrument flying knowledge, instrument flight skill proficiency, and dedicated risk management.
One of FAA Administrator David Huerta’s strategic initiatives is “risk-based decision-making.” The idea is to gather all available information, and use it to make smart, informed decisions that mitigate or manage risk and help ensure safe outcomes. The concept is very much in line with using interdependence to gather information and critical thinking to analyze and use it to ensure consistently positive results.
These are the foundation for risk-based decision-making in IFR flying. You should work with weather briefers, ATC, passengers, and your co-pilot (if you have one) to gather every piece of information about potential flight hazards.
Use critical thinking — the “what if” exercise — to evaluate the risk each hazard presents.
Combine interdependence and critical thinking to brainstorm effective ways to eliminate or mitigate the hazards to your scheduled flight.
Accept the fact that consistency does not require proceeding exactly as planned. Rather, it means making whatever adjustments are needed to assure safety in each phase of your flight.
It may sound like a lot of effort, but cultivating the proper mental flying skills along with required physical flying skills is well worth the payback in safety and stress reduction.