A helicopter instrument rating, or IFR (instrument flight rules) rating is so much more than an opportunity to qualify for more helicopter jobs or lower insurance premiums. Quite simply, an IFR helicopter rating may very well save your life.

For many years, an IFR rating wasn’t required for pilots who didn’t actually fly under IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) in aircraft equipped to fly in the clouds. But the accident rate due to inadvertent IMC was high. Bad weather conditions would close in on pilots, trapping them with no outside visual clues or skills to safely exit. Many times these situations ended in tragedy.

Soon insurance companies and safety organizations began requiring IFR ratings for pilots, even if they were not flying aircraft equipped to fly in the clouds, in order to help reduce these accidents.

The honest truth is, the training received when working toward an IFR rating teaches you how to navigate by instruments alone, how to read the world of IFR charts, and how to use radio and GPS navigation without outside reference. IFR pilots gain a better three-dimensional understanding of their position and skill in navigating, making them better, and safer, pilots.

Instrument Helicopter Rating

While the cost of an IFR, or instrument rating, is a bit higher per hour due to the more specialized equipment in the aircraft, pilots at the beginning of their training can save thousands of dollars by incorporating their instrument rating into their commercial training.

A commercial helicopter rating from Group 3 Aviation (an FAA Part 141 flight school) requires 115 total hours. Our private pilot certificate requires a minimum of 35 hours. The difference in time between a private and commercial can be used to work toward an instrument rating. The cost difference is minimal compared to returning to school later in your career to pay the full cost of an instrument rating.

IFR Rating Requirements

At Group 3 Aviation, we provide IFR training in our Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter and our Frasca TruFlite Helicopter Flight Training Device. Students are required to receive 35 hours of flight instruction and 30 hours of ground school to receive an IFR rating. We recommend 21 hours in the R44 and 14 hours in the Frasca (which helps reduce the costs compared to receiving all flight instruction in the helicopter). Additionally, your flight instructor will provide you with 30 hours of ground school, assuring you’re familiar and comfortable with the navigating solely by instruments and fully knowledgeable of IFR rules and regulations.

Upon completion of your training, you’ll be recommended for your instrument rating. At that time you will take a written test, followed by an IFR practical test with an FAA-designated examiner who will both quiz you in a ground portion then fly with you to test your skill.

In the end, whether your goal is to fly for a living or simply for pleasure, you’ll not only experience the benefits of being a more marketable pilot and able to fly IFR-rated aircraft in the clouds, you’ll also have the peace of mind that you have the invaluable skill to safely navigate should you ever find yourself in IMC conditions.