Quick instrument workout

Though I log a lot of PIC during instrument training flights, I frequently have to go out with an instructor or safety pilot in order to keep up my currency. Over the years, I’ve come up with a “workout” that can get my necessary hold, intercept, tracking, and 6 approaches, while flying a variety of approach types. If you are lucky with vectoring, get prepared quickly in the air, and do missed approaches, this can be completed in much less than 2 hours. I’ve mapped out the rough line I typically end up flying (minus the necessary hold at PDZ). If you are rusty, this may not be the workout for you or you may at least need to ask for delaying vectors, extra turn in a hold, or land at some of the airports to give you time in between


SoCal Instrument Workout

The controllers in the Inland Empire area (which includes all of these airports) work very well with pilots requesting practice approaches in VFR conditions. It is busy airspace though and they expect pilots to listen and do what they are told. If you make sure the controllers know you are doing missed approaches and what approach you will do next, they will work to give you efficient routes. Here’s the sequence I aim for, though there are lots of options that don’t make it much longer but give you even more variety.

  • Practice departure procedure from EMT – if you tell the tower you want a simulated IFR departure procedure, they’ll know what to expect. They usually give you a frequency change before you have even established on the 098 to PDZ. I plan to climb VFR to 3500 unless otherwise instructed. I call up SoCall Approach and ask for the Riverside ILS practice approach to a low approach. If the frequency is busy and you have trouble getting a call in, make sure you stay clear of ONT airspace until you’ve established communication.
  • RAL ILS or LOC RWY 09 – if traffic is light and the controllers not too busy, they will almost immediately have you turn to a heading and intercept the localizer inbound, while maintaining 3000. Because the CNO and RAL ILS courses overlap, your descent to 2500 for the segment outside of the FAF is often delayed. In that case, expect to descent quickly prior to EXPAM when instructed. If the controller knows your next approach request, your missed approach instructions are usually just to turn southbound and return to the SoCal frequency. As this approach is opposite to the normal traffic flow at Riverside, don’t be surprised to be given an early climbing right turn by the tower and told to contact SoCal Approach.
  • CNO ILS or LOC RWY 26R – if you are lucky and ready, SoCal may immediately turn you back north for vectors onto the final approach course. If so, you better get set up for the approach efficiently – I’ve had as little as 2 minutes before intercepting the final approach course for the CNO ILS right around LINDN. The typical missed approach instructions are to turn direct PDZ. You are frequently 2nd or 3rd in line for the runway and should verify with tower prior to making a left turn on the miss that will cross the parallel runway.
  • AJO VOR or GPS-A (with a hold) – if the controller knows this is your next approach, you’ll quickly be told to cross PDZ at 3000 and cleared for the practice approach. Time to remember those hold entries and to let the controller know you want to do a(n extra) turn in the hold. Expect a frequency change to the CTAF around PDZ. The safety pilot needs extra vigilance as you would fly almost directly into the pattern at a non towered airport. Communications is key: make sure to use phrases that VFR pilots will understand – telling them you are inbound on the VOR-A won’t help; saying you are 2 miles ENE at 2000 and will be overflying is much better. If SoCal doesn’t know your next approach after AJO is POC, the missed approach instructions will have you turn back to PDZ. By letting them know you want the POC VOR, they’ll usually allow you to fly west after AJO, setting you up perfectly for vectors to…
  • POC VOR or GPS-A – departing west from Corona, expect a quick turn NW to intercept the final approach course. As the minimums will bring you in perpendicular to the traffic pattern at lower than TPA. Expect to have traffic called out. Common missed approach instructions have you turning south or southwest after POM.
  • CCB RNAV (GPS) RWY 06 – SoCal controllers too often try to send you direct to POM on this approach. If they do that, expect to be confused by what the GPS does to you. Direct to the FAF is not generally an appropriate instruction, but if you use vectors to final, you may get it to work. Again, this has you entering a non-towered pattern, so be careful and communicate. Expect a westbound turn for your missed approach instructions.
  • EMT VOR or GPS-A – the westbound departure from Cable will usually be followed by either vectors to final or a direct to POM. This is the perfect approach to cover up the DG and AI and practice those partial panel skills. For extra points, cover or ignore that GPS too. I request a cross-over to enter the downwind for a landing.

What this workout doesn’t do

  • Work on landings – I normally only do a circle to land at the end at EMT, though you could easily add a touch and go at CNO without changing the timing and flow
  • Actual – if there are actual conditions, don’t expect to do it nearly as quick
  • Clearances – I do this workout in VFR conditions. If I wanted to add in a clearance, I could ask for tower en route (assuming I’m IFR rated and current) to RAL and then cancel IFR along the way.
  • Simulate reality – this is meant to be high workload, but is not representative of how you’d expect to fly in actual


I use a slightly less intense version of this as my test as to whether students are ready for the checkride – CNO ILS, AJO VOR, POC VOR, EMT VOR. That’s a good starting point if you feel a little rusty.

If you do CNO then RAL, it adds some time, but makes the transitions easier while still getting 6 approaches in without repeats.

The CCB VOR can be substituted for the RNAV if not flying a GPS equipped plane.

Let me know if you have improvements on this sequence or ideas for other groupings of approaches in this area.

2 thoughts on “Quick instrument workout

  1. This is great David thanks for all the extra comments about what to look for. Can’t wait to try it!

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