INSTRUMENT FLYING BASICS

Updated: Nov 6

Instrument Flying Basics Lesson by wifiCFI


Basic Instrument Flying

The fundamental skills of instrument flying are:

Instrument Cross Check

Instrument Interpretation

Aircraft Control

There are two different methods for performing basic attitude instrument flying. They are:

The Control and Performance Method

The Primary and Supporting Method

The main difference between the two methods is the importance that is placed on the attitude indicator and the interpretation of the other flight instruments.

Additionally, in this lesson we will discuss how to control an aircraft in instrument conditions with inoperative instruments (partial panel).

Instrument Cross Check

The first fundamental skill is cross-checking (also called “scanning” or “instrument coverage”). 

Cross-checking is the continuous and logical observation of instruments for attitude and performance information.

There are 3 ways to cross check instruments:

Radial Cross Check

Inverted V Cross Check

Rectangular Cross Check


Instrument Interpretation

The second fundamental skill, instrument interpretation, requires more thorough study and analysis. 

It begins by understanding each instrument’s construction and operating principles. 

Then, this knowledge must be applied to the performance of the aircraft being flown, the particular maneuvers to be executed, the cross-check and control techniques applicable to that aircraft, and the flight conditions.

Control and Performance Method

Aircraft performance is accomplished by controlling the aircraft attitude and power output. 

Aircraft attitude is the relationship of its longitudinal and lateral axes to the Earth’s horizon. 

When flying in instrument flight conditions, the pilot controls the attitude of the aircraft by referencing the flight instruments and manipulating the power output of the engine to achieve the performance desired. 

This method can be used to achieve a specific performance level enabling a pilot to perform any basic instrument maneuver.

The instrumentation can be broken up into three different categories: control, performance, and navigation.

Control Instruments

The control instruments depict immediate attitude and power changes. 

The instrument for attitude display is the attitude indicator. 

Power changes are directly reflected on the manifold pressure gauge and the tachometer.

All three of these instruments can reflect small adjustments, allowing for precise control of aircraft attitude.

The control instruments do not indicate how fast the aircraft is flying or at what altitude it is flying. 

In order to determine these variables and others, a pilot needs to refer to the performance instruments.


Performance Instruments

The performance instruments directly reflect the performance the aircraft is achieving. 

The speed of the aircraft can be referenced on the airspeed indicator. 

The altitude can be referenced on the altimeter. 

The aircraft’s climb performance can be determined by referencing the vertical speed indicator (VSI).

Other performance instruments available are the heading indicator, pitch attitude indicator, and the slip/skid indicator.


Navigation Instruments

The navigation instruments are comprised of global positioning system (GPS) displays and indicators, very high frequency omnidirectional range/nondirectional radio beacon (VOR/NDB) indicators, moving map displays, localizer, and glideslope (GS) indicators.

The instruments indicate the position of the aircraft relative to a selected navigation facility or fix. 

Navigation instruments allow the pilot to maneuver the aircraft along a predetermined path of ground-based or spaced-based navigation signals without reference to any external visual cues. 

The navigation instruments can support both lateral and visual inputs.


Primary and Supporting Method

The second method for performing attitude instrument flight is a direct extension of the control/power method. 

By utilizing the primary and supporting flight instruments in conjunction with the control and power instruments, the pilot can precisely maintain aircraft attitude. 

This method utilizes the same instruments as the control/power method; however, it focuses more on the instruments that depict the most accurate indication for the aspect of the aircraft attitude being controlled. 

The four key elements (pitch, bank, roll, and trim) are discussed in detail.

Over the next few slides we will discuss the different flight regimes and the appropriate primary and supporting instruments for each particular regime.

REGIME: Straight and Level Flight

Primary Pitch = Altimeter

Primary Bank = Heading Indicator

Supporting Pitch = Attitude Indicator and Vertical Speed Indicator

Supporting Bank = Attitude Indicator and Turn Coordinator


REGIME: Constant Airspeed Climb or Descent

Primary Pitch = Airspeed Indicator

Primary Bank = Heading Indicator

Supporting Pitch = Attitude Indicator and Vertical Speed Indicator

Supporting Bank = Attitude Indicator and Turn Coordinator


REGIME: Constant Rate Climb or Descent

Primary Pitch = Vertical Speed Indicator

Primary Bank = Heading Indicator

Supporting Pitch = Attitude Indicator

Supporting Bank = Attitude Indicator and Turn Coordinator


REGIME: Standard Rate Turn

Primary Pitch = Altimeter

Primary Bank = Turn Coordinator

Supporting Pitch = Attitude Indicator and Vertical Speed Indicator

Supporting Bank = Attitude Indicator

Helpful Overview Chart


Partial Panel Flying

INOPERATIVE: Airspeed Indicator

Attitude Indicator = Used for pitch and bank

Altimeter = Used for pitch

Turn Coordinator = Used for bank

Heading Indicator = Used for bank

Vertical Speed Indicator = Used for pitch

Magnetic Compass = Used for bank


INOPERATIVE: Attitude Indicator

Airspeed Indicator = Used for pitch

Altimeter = Used for pitch

Turn Coordinator = Used for bank

Heading Indicator = Used for bank

Vertical Speed Indicator = Used for pitch

Magnetic Compass = Used for bank


INOPERATIVE: Altimeter

Airspeed Indicator = Used for pitch

Attitude Indicator = Used for pitch and bank

Turn Coordinator = Used for bank

Heading Indicator = Used for bank

Vertical Speed Indicator = Used for pitch

Magnetic Compass = Used for bank


INOPERATIVE: Turn Coordinator

Airspeed Indicator = Used for pitch

Attitude Indicator = Used for pitch and bank

Altimeter = Used for pitch

Heading Indicator = Used for bank

Vertical Speed Indicator = Used for pitch

Magnetic Compass = Used for bank


INOPERATIVE: Heading Indicator

Airspeed Indicator = Used for pitch

Attitude Indicator = Used for pitch and bank

Altimeter = Used for pitch

Turn Coordinator = Used for bank

Vertical Speed Indicator = Used for pitch

Magnetic Compass = Used for bank


INOPERATIVE: Vertical Speed Indicator

Airspeed Indicator = Used for pitch

Attitude Indicator = Used for pitch and bank

Altimeter = Used for pitch

Turn Coordinator = Used for bank

Heading Indicator = Used for bank

Magnetic Compass = Used for bank


FAA Sources Used for this Lesson

Instrument Flying Handbook Chapter 6


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