This manual is not intended to help you pass the written exam. It will not teach you the Air Regulations or guide you through the ins and outs of the Airman’s Information Manual. Nor is it intended to be a step-by-step how-to that will guarantee instrument flying skills in ten easy lessons. Its purpose is rather to present a new perspective to someone who is already working hard at learning to fly instruments. It is a perspective from someone who has had a career in the trade and (so far!) survived. It is a view looking backwards over that career. You could think of it as a survival manual.

Survival. That is the bottom line. In fact it is the very definition of your job as pilot of an airplane. Even as second in command the bottom line is the same. If you are part of the crew you are responsible, and if things go badly wrong you will be just as dead as the Captain.

So what are the secrets of survival? That is what this manual will talk about: how to develop and nourish a sixth sense to separate what is important from what is just embarrassing. You will read about how all the basics – angle of attack, tracking, navigation – just become more important when you are flying on instruments. You will see that neither you nor your airplane are perfect, that you have both good qualities and limitations.

Perhaps most important, you will learn to visualize what you are doing – to keep a picture in your head that includes all the cues you can’t see looking out the window. In most fatal crashes the picture in the pilots’ head was inadequate or just wrong. Survival is all about keeping that picture accurate.

You might think that with today’s Glass Cockpits and Flight Management Systems that keeping the picture in the pilot’s head is a thing of the past. You would be succumbing to a very dangerous illusion. In fact, today’s video-game cockpits, while being extremely useful, can also be a powerful distraction, a video game giving the player the illusion of reality and making the pilot lazy.

This is where you can start: keep your guard up! Don’t trust anyone!

That glass cockpit is terrific; most of the time it is accurate and can save you a lot of mental effort. But in the end it is just another system. You have to know how it works. You have to know its limitations. You have to know when NOT to trust it.

There is another marvellous system in the cockpit that sometimes can’t be trusted. We’ll get to that later.