If there is one thing golden about 14 CFR Part 61, in my opinion, it is the instrument IFR currency rules. Minimalist, though they may be (and hallelujah to that, I say) I am thankful to have them, not because they drive customers to flight schools for more training, or pilots to their cockpits for a bit of practice approach “therapy,” but because of all the rules in Part 61 of the regulations, these just make sense.
IFR flying is performed in a complex and fluid, constantly changing environment. Worse, it is an environment that we pilots have limited control over. You can pick your weather day, for instance, but you cannot make that day proceed as forecast, and anyone who flies IFR in the winter will tell you that unless it is a cloudless, cold, bright day-after-the-front kind of morning where you don’t need IFR, the odds that the weather will change before you get to your destination are, well, in Vegas-speak, house odds. (Real good.)
All of the above is why I time my instrument proficiency program with the seasons. I am keen to get an Instrument Proficiency check (IPC) in June and December. The June check coincides with the summer thunderstorm and permanent stationary front that seems to coagulate and stagnate in the Ohio River Valley, and is always in my way heading north or south that time of year. The December check is about the morning fog and multitude of stratus layers that are consistently found in my corner of the globe near the holidays.
Why bother with the IPC at all? Why not just get my instrument currency in during the year and self-monitor? Because bad habits are hard to see in the mirror. Yep, even for someone who has flown instruments since the early 80s and teaches these techniques routinely it is good protocol to have an objective eye look over my procedures and provide critical commentary. Frankly, I learn something new, either about my airplane, my instrumentation, the National Airspace System, or myself every IPC check. That alone is worth the price of the CFII for two hours.
The best part about the IPC is that you don’t need a good weather day to go fly. In fact, you don’t need to get airborne at all. The modern Advanced Flight Training Devices (ATDs) available at many flight schools make, perhaps better platforms than the actual airplane for the kind of flight scenarios that constitute a typical IPC. Today’s FAA authorized ATDs are ideal for testing your mettle in the most challenging and realistic in-flight emergency situations. An hour in “the box” sweating out realistic cascading electrical and vacuum failures with a knowledgeable flight instructor is worth six in the airplane with a couple covered instruments on a bright blue-sky day. Best of all, weather is highly unlikely to cause the lesson to cancel!
So in this season of gift-giving, think about offering yourself something that’s got real value: flight currency that’ll take you right through to the spring thaw. Fly safe out there!