What about an instrument rating?

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What are the basic prerequisites?

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What do I need to know?

What are the flying requirements?

Can I use an aircraft simulator for some of my training?

How many flying hours will this take? What is the syllabus?

How much will this cost?

Is it possible to cram this into a very short period of time?
How do I prepare for the written exam?

How do I prepare for the written exam?

How do I prepare for the flight and oral exam?

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According to FAR Part 91.65, here are the prerequisites for an instrument rating. You must
 -(1) Hold at least a current private pilot certificate, or be concurrently applying for a private pilot certificate, with an airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift rating appropriate to the instrument rating sought;
 
 (2) Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. If the applicant is unable to meet any of these requirements due to a medical condition, the Administrator may place such operating limitations on the applicant's pilot certificate as are necessary for the safe operation of the aircraft;
 
 (3) Receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor or accomplish a home-study course of training on the aeronautical knowledge areas of paragraph (b) of this section that apply to the instrument rating sought;
 
 (4) Receive a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that the person is prepared to take the required knowledge test;
 
 (5) Receive and log training on the areas of operation of paragraph (c) of this section from an authorized instructor in an aircraft, flight simulator, or flight training device that represents an airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift appropriate to the instrument rating sought;
 
 (6) Receive a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that the person is prepared to take the required practical test;

 (7) Pass the required knowledge test on the aeronautical knowledge areas of paragraph (b) of this section; however, an applicant is not required to take another knowledge test when that person already holds an instrument rating; and

 (8) Pass the required practical test on the areas of operation in paragraph (c) of this section in-

 (i) An airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift appropriate to the rating sought; or
 (ii) A flight simulator or a flight training device appropriate to the rating sought and for the specific maneuver or instrument approach procedure performed. If an approved flight training device is used for the practical test, the instrument approach procedures conducted in that flight training device are limited to one precision and one nonprecision approach, provided the flight training device is approved for the procedure performed. 

 Additionally, you must have logged at least 50 hours of Pilot-in-Command cross-country time, including at least 10 hours in an airplane.

What do I need to know?
(b) Aeronautical knowledge. A person who applies for an instrument rating must have received and logged ground training from an authorized instructor or accomplished a home-study course on the following aeronautical knowledge areas that apply to the instrument rating sought:

 (1) Federal Aviation Regulations of this chapter that apply to flight operations under IFR;

 (2) Appropriate information that applies to flight operations under IFR in the Aeronautical Information Manual;

 (3) Air traffic control system and procedures for instrument flight operations;
 
 (4) IFR navigation and approaches by use of navigation systems;

 (5) Use of IFR enroute and instrument approach procedure charts;
 
 (6) Procurement and use of aviation weather reports and forecasts and the elements of forecasting weather trends based on that information and personal observation of weather conditions;

 (7) Safe and efficient operation of aircraft under instrument flight rules and conditions;

 (8) Recognition of critical weather situations and windshear avoidance;
 
 (9) Aeronautical decision making and judgment; and

 (10) Crew resource management, including crew communication and coordination

Flying Requirements
Forty hours of actual or simulated instrument time  of which 15 hours must have been received from an authorized instructor who holds an instrument-airplane rating, and the instrument time includes:

 (i) Three hours of instrument flight training from an authorized instructor in an airplane that is appropriate to the instrument-airplane rating within 2 calendar months before the date of the practical test; and

 (ii) Instrument flight training on cross country flight procedures, including one cross country flight in an airplane with an authorized instructor, that is performed under instrument flight rules, when a flight plan has been filed with an air traffic control facility, and that involves-
         (A) A flight of 250 nautical miles along airways or by directed routing from an air traffic control facility;

        (B) An instrument approach at each airport; and

       (C) Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems

Simulator Use?
In a final rule published on April 11, the FAA increased the aviation training device (ATD) hours pilots can credit toward an instrument rating. The FAA now allows up to 10 hours credit in a basic aviation training device and up to 20 hours in an advanced aviation training device, not to exceed a maximum of 20 total hours under part 61. The previous maximum allowance was 10 hours in an FAA-approved aviation training device.

Note: Simulators (or Aviation Training Devices) can also be used for currency.

How many flying hours will this really take?  What is the syllabus?
Different instructors and flight schools break the training requirements down differently.  This is my syllabus, but everyone's syllabus will include the following, with these approximate training times:

 Block 1: Introduction (1 hour) Straight and Level; changes in airspeed, heading, altitude; Primary and Secondary Instruments.

 Block 2: Basic Instruments (7.5 hours )Timed turns and timed legs; magnetic compass; partial panel; Instrument takeoffs; Rate climbs and descents; steep turns; Recovery from unusual attitudes with full and partial panel

 Block 3: Navigation Instruments -basic (13.5 hours) VOR tracking; holding patterns, VOR: intersection identification; GPS navigation; use of IFR charts

 Block 4: Instrument Approaches (12 hours) ILS; VOR: GPS

 Block 5: Cross-Country (3 hours)

 Block 6: Check Ride Preparation (3 hours) Review of all material

How much will this all cost?
Costs can vary widely, based on your geographic area and the rental costs of aircraft in your area. Block 1 and Block 2 (above) training can be accomplished in any aircraft with basic instruments.  The remaining training will require an aircraft which is equipped the navigation radios suitable for the training.  And if any of the training takes place in actual weather, the aircrafdt must be IFR-certified.  And finally, as mentioned above, 20 hours of training may be accomplished in a simulator.  So with those disclaimers, you can expect aircraft /simulator rental to run in the $125/hr range, or $5,000 for forty hours.

 Looking at instructor costs, figure that you will spend about 40 hours in the aircraft with the instructor, and an additional 60 hours in pre-flight and post-flight instruction and miscellaneous ground instruction.  The current instructor rate in the midwest is $40 to $50 per hour, so you can expect a total cost in the $4,000 to $5,000 range for your instructor.  As the car dealers always say, "your mileage may vary."

Is it possible to cram this into a very short period of time?

There are courses that advertise that you can get an instrument rating in ten days. I am neutral on the subject, but I will offer these thoughts. 
       A prerequisite is that you have passed the written exam, so this training is not inlcuded.
       In order to fit all of the training into ten days, it is necessary to log an average of 4 flying hours per day. That is a bunch.
       Anyone who has crammed for an exam knows that it is possible to attain all the knowledge necessary to pass an exam, but that knowledge crammed in a short period is not always retained.

So where to I learn all of this stuff?  Ground School
The ground school route differs for each person.  For the person who is comfortable with self-study, there are several very good computer-based programs - look at King Schools or Sporty's for example. 
For the student that prefers a classroom environment, there are a number of possibilities.  Look to local flight schools or community colleges for opportunities.
Regardless of the study method, use your favorite internet search engine to find sample written exam questions.  There are several websites that offer free FAA questions, taken from the real FAA database.  These sample exams are not a substitute for learning the material, but they offer a great chance to practice for the real exam.

Preparing for the oral and flight exams -
Like the Private PIlot checkride, these two exams come together.  The are administered by Designated Flight Examiners who have no leeway by the FAA as to what topics they can cover on the oral exam, and how they will conduct the checkride.  That is all spelled out in the Instrument Rating Certification Standards.

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