Is an instrument rating necessary? The answer to this question depends entirely upon individual needs. Pilots who fly in familiar uncongested areas, stay continually alert to weather developments, and accept an alternative to their original plan, may not need an Instrument Rating. However, some cross-country destinations may take a pilot to unfamiliar airports and/or through high activity areas in marginal visual or instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Under these conditions, an Instrument Rating may be an alternative to rerouting, rescheduling, or canceling a flight. Many accidents are the result of pilots who lack the necessary skills or equipment to fly in marginal visual meteorological conditions (VMC) or IMC conditions and attempt flight without outside references.
Pilots originally flew aircraft strictly by sight, sound, and feel while comparing the aircraft’s attitude to the natural horizon. As aircraft performance increased, pilots required more inflight information to enhance the safe operation of their aircraft. This instrument flying information has ranged from a string tied to a wing strut, to development of sophisticated electronic flight information systems (EFIS) and flight management systems (FMS). Flight instrument interpretation and aircraft control have advanced from the “one, two, three” or “needle, ball and airspeed” system to the use of “attitude instrument flying” techniques.
Navigation began by using ground references with dead reckoning and has led to the development of electronic navigation systems. These include the automatic direction finder (ADF), very-high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR), distance measuring equipment (DME), tactical air navigation (TACAN), long range navigation (LORAN), global positioning system (GPS), instrument landing system (ILS), microwave landing system (MLS), and inertial navigation system (INS).
Perhaps you want an Instrument Rating for the same basic reason you learned to fly in the first place—because you like flying. Maintaining and extending your proficiency, once you have the rating, means less reliance on chance and more on skill and knowledge. Earn the rating—not because you might need it sometime, but because it represents achievement and provides training you will use continually and build upon as long as you fly. But most importantly—it means greater safety in flying.