Home > Flying > At last! I’m an Instrument-rated Pilot!

At last! I’m an Instrument-rated Pilot!

Well, it has been some time since I had my last blog entry, but this time I have an excuse. I have been working hard at getting my instrument rating over the last several months. Every spare moment I have had has been dedicated to getting this done. As many of you know who have received an instrument rating, it is a very intense and challenging endeavor. I am happy – actually excited – to report that I received my rating this past Wednesday, January 11!

I did all of my flying in my 3-display Aspen DA40 and really got to put myself and the system through its paces. I also made heavy use of my iPad during my training. All of my instrument training was in the Southwest primarily in the Albuquerque area where, as you all know, is surrounded by mountains and high altitude terrain. The combination of the availability of Nav Map, synthetic vision,  geo-referenced approach charts, redundancy, ease of use and flexibility of how to display the information on a 3-display Aspen system really gives the safety and situational awareness to safely fly instrument procedures in the heaviest workload situations.

I believe the key to this is to have a plan laid out in how to configure the displays and use them in both normal and emergency situations. That way, when you are flying, you can transition to the different displays quickly when you need them.

Having the MFD1000 installed to provide full redundancy for the AHRS, and air data information as well as the battery backup, is critical when the need arises. I also think that having the AHRS and air data information in one of the small windows of the MFD when flying in normal configuration to crosscheck provides a continuous redundant check on what I am flying so I can detect any anomaly early is a real plus.

During my training, I used the iPad to brief my approaches, but used the geo-referenced charts on the Aspen while I flew the procedures. I believe strongly that the ability to have a geo-referenced chart and nav map in my primary view lessens my workload when flying instrument approaches. It also provides a backup to the iPad.

For example, during my instrument checkride, I had briefed the RNAV 22 at Double Eagle Airport on the iPad. As I was transitioning into the approach, I wanted to double check my minimums as we were doing a circle-to-land approach and I wanted to make sure I had entered the right minimum altitude into the PFD. Unfortunately the display on the iPad locked up and I could not see the minimums. I was able to quickly look up at the Aspen to get the data instead of having to reset or figure out what I had done to the iPad. The redundancy aspects within the Aspen and with other devices and sensors increase my safety and confidence in flying.

I would be very interested in hearing how others are using the Aspens in instrument conditions and flying scenarios. While I am not quite “ready” to go flying in the clouds right now, I will continue to gain confidence through practicing in simulated conditions until the time comes. Please share with us your experiences with using the Aspen in your instrument flying, so we can all become safer and more aware pilots.

Categories: Flying
  1. January 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Congrats!!! The IFR ticket is a real achievement and once you get some time in the real IFR world, you’ll wonder how you ever functioned without it. Have fun!

  2. Charles Lloyd
    January 16, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Congratulations John for passing one of the most challenging and disciplined check rides a pilot will see. Your plan for using the three displays makes sense, including throwing away the iPad and flying the aircraft with what you had in front of you.

    Your insights and frustrations in gaining you instrument rating would have been beneficial to many. Don’t take so long until you next entry. Fill us in on your first trip where you file and fly the whole journey in VFR conditions and then the first time you are IMC. I will be fun to track you progress.

    Fly Safe,

  3. January 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks for your comment and advice. I am actually contemplating filing in VFR conditions on my flight tomorrow. I am definitely excited about it. I will let you know. The instrument training and completion of my check ride was a big milestone for me. I really enjoy the technical aspects of flying from planning to post flight and instrument flying really takes that to the next level.

  4. January 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for the note. It is pretty exciting and I can’t wait to make use of my rating in the coming year of flying.

  5. Mike Kobb
    January 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Congratulations, John! As someone who hasn’t really started the IFR ticket yet, it’s valuable to hear your impressions.

    Question: you talk about how great the three screen layout is. I’m interested to know how well you think this will translate to a PFD+MFD combined with the KSN 770. That’s my current plan for my panel.

    Also, is there any progress on getting the certification to remove the redundant AI? This was expected pretty shortly after Oshkosh, I think, but I haven’t heard anything.

  6. Daniel C. Stybr
    January 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I had the Aspen PFD Pro put in my Archer but I never got the GPSS to work nor the attitude indicator to function correctly. How were you able to tell when you were straight and level when the AI is never right? I am never able to enter and stay in the hold relying on the GPSS. It just flies out of the hold and then tried to come back in, but I am never in the hold. “the safwe side” I am amazed you can fly hard IFR with the ASPEN.

  7. Daniel C. Stybr
    January 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    “the safe side” correction

  8. January 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm


    First let me apologize for the problems you are experiencing. Our system is flying in many hard IFR applications throughout the world and I can assure you when installed correctly and operating normally the system will give you the performance you need. It is clear to us that you are having some sort of equipment or installation issue in your airplane. I assume you have been working with your dealer to rectify this, but I would strongly suggest you have your dealer contact our customer support to get a field service engineer on the line to debug and correct this. Please let me know how it goes as we are anxious to get you flying and enjoying the Aspen system in your plane.

  9. January 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm


    I would strongly suggest getting your instrument rating. It does take some time and money but it really takes your flying to a different level. I have become a much more precise and I think safer pilot and way more proficient on the radio. It’s fun though at times a stressful journey!

    I have been thinking myself about the combination of the KSN and the Aspens. I will definitely install the KSN in my plane as well. I still have an older but very reliable and functional KLN94. I like the three displays primarily because it provides data in my direct field of view. I rarely use the center stack other than for data entry. I am able to concentrate more on flying with the reduced scan that the three Aspen displays provide without having to glance to the center stack for primary navigation MAP or other data.

    For example, in my instrument training I have the geo-referenced chart on one MFD and the Nav Map on the other along with terrain and traffic info and PFD in my primary view. It is quick and easy to cross check data. Because it is in my primary field of view I can recognize very quickly if I am doing something that is not consistent with the procedure flown or the airplane itself. This gives me more “brain” capacity to fly the airplane, which we all know is the most important thing!

    In addition, if you are considering the installation of Connected Panel (which I hope you are!) then the third display provides the additional display space to interact with the features that Connected Panel will provide you.

    All in all I do think it is a matter of preference. The KSN 770 will be a very functional unit with an excellent UI. That combined with the Aspen system will give you all kinds of flexibility for how you want to fly. What I have learned from my own flying and from talking to pilots is that everyone is different and the more flexible we can make the interface the more pilots will use the capabilities of the system. I think you will find that concept is brought to the KSN770 as well and the combination will give you a safer flying experience.

    We continue to work on getting approval for the removal of the redundant AI. This has proven to take longer than we had expected for numerous reasons. I wish I could confidently let you know when it will be available but at this point it is somewhat up in the air. We get a lot of inquiries about this and we continue to work on it. Sorry I don’t have a more definitive answer for you. When we have a better idea we will let everyone know.

  10. Mike Kobb
    January 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks for the quick reply, John! My KSN-770 will be mounted immediately next to my PFD (the panel in an AT-6 is pretty compact!) so it will be just as available to my scan as an MFD 500 would be. I hope that I might be able to use it much as I could use that second MFD — perhaps displaying the nav map in the scenario you described above.

    I had originally planned to use the third Aspen screen and a Garmin radio, but once Aspen took over the software side of the KSN-770, it seemed as if the integration that Aspen would be able to provide between the 770, the Evolution and the Connected Panel would make the 770 a better choice than the Garmin. Especially since the Garmin can’t play along with the Aspen datalink receiver, and therefore would not be especially useful as a mini MFD. (I do absolutely plan to install the Connected Panel!)

    Since I unfortunately don’t have room for both a third screen and a 770 in the panel, it then seemed as if trading off one MFD in favor of the KSN was the best compromise, since the 770 would presumably be able to offer some of the same functionality, like the moving map, plus benefits like touch screen for manipulation of a flight plan.

    There’s still time to change that decision back to a third Aspen screen and a Garmin 430W or 650, but it needs to be finalized really soon now as we’re about to cut metal.

    By the way, my avionics shop would really like as much installation info on the KSN and the Connected Panel as can be provided, as soon as possible. We’re going to use a temporary radio until the KSN is available, but since we’re doing the panel now, this is the time to run all the necessary wires and to get the physical dimensions correct.

    They also wondered whether the KSN will be available to them as Aspen dealers. They are no longer Honeywell/Bendix/King dealers because it was extremely costly to remain so, and there was virtually no demand for those products. There are very few such dealers in the area, apparently.

  11. Daniel C. Stybr
    January 17, 2012 at 7:22 am

    I have been in contact wirth both Aspen and JA. JA has a very nice AP guy who keeps adjusting things and Aspen hasn’t followed up since last August. Like I said in my letter to Aspen, I will get killed in this airplane in hard IFR with it working the way it does now with the PFD Pro.

    I fail to understand why the AI is adjustable in the first place. Isn’t this supposed to be giving actual attitude and not some adjusted picture?

    If the gain on the GPSS can be turned up to be moe aggressive in standard rate turns, why won’t this keep the plane in the hold and on track? I’ve tried slow and faster speeds with the same result.

    It was only $15,000, but not much of a bargain.

  12. Daniel C. Stybr
    January 17, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Also, you say when it is installed correctly the Aspen will work fine in hard IFR. JA is your installer and you have been in contact with them. At what point do I get a correctly installed unit in my airplane? What do I have to do beside all this bitching to get the issue resolved?

    It’s been 6 months!!

    Daniel C. Stybr
    President DAKA Aviation LLC

  13. January 17, 2012 at 8:37 am


    Again I apologize for the problems you are having. I can certainly understand your frustration. I have asked our Director of Customer Support to contact JA to get to the bottom of this and take the necessary steps to get your airplane functional. He will also have someone contact you as well to answer your technical questions regarding the technology.

  14. January 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm


    Sounds like a very cool panel. While I would love to sell you a third display, given your specific layout I would go with the 2 display and KSN for numerous reasons. You clearly need a GPS and the best choice will be the KSN. The close proximity of the KSN to the PFD and MFD will provide you what you need in your primary view. The KSN770 will be tightly integrated with the Aspen and therefore the information presented will be consistent across your panel. In addition, as you mentioned, you will only need one XM receiver for your weather and you will have it in all places instead of just being limited to the GPS if you were to go with the Garmin GPS. I think you will be very pleased with this choice.

    As far as pre-wiring the installation, as I mentioned everything is not final yet but I am sure we can give you some help. Have your dealer call John Reid at 505-338-2435 and we will see what we can do to help. We are still working with Bendix/King on the logistics of bringing this product to market and therefore I can’t really give you information for your dealer at this point, but we will do what we can and let you know as soon as possible.

    BTW: Glad to hear you will be going with the Connected Panel. It will provide unprecedented functionality into your cockpit!!

  15. Mike Kobb
    January 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks John, much appreciated. I’ve passed the contact info on to my installer.

    We’re building a spot for the iPad on the side console of the AT-6, so I will have it easily available and ready to talk to the Connected Panel! It’s going to be one well-wired warbird!

  16. Jeff
    January 1, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    How would you campare the amount of preparation in getting instrument rated in comparison to the work in getting the Private Pilot?

  17. January 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm


    The amount of preparation for an instrument rating is quite a bit more than for your private pilot license. However the flight training and book studying is extremely rewarding as your piloting skills improve by flying more precisely. The studying seems to go pretty fast as the material is extremely interesting.

    I have told many people that getting the instrument rating was one of the most rewarding accomplishments in my life because it is an intense and exciting experience. The rating makes you a more precise and safe pilot. I strongly recommend it even if you don’t fly in IMC very often. An added benefit is that the studying and flying makes for interesting conversations with other aviators!

    I hope you decide to get your Instrument rating. Good luck!


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