What is the difference between “actual” and “hood” time? In other words, when can you can log “actual instrument” vs “simulated instrument” in your logbook?
This question is extremely important when you are trying to get a rating or you are trying to get a job.
Employers value actual instrument time over simulated time and for good reason. Flying instruments in “actual” conditions is a game changer. It is also a small percentage of overall time even for airline pilots in rainy Seattle.
Let’s go into the differences, give you some examples and then provide some additional thoughts.
Actual Instrument Time:
You can log “actual” instrument time when you are actually in the clouds.
Don’t think too much about it. It’s pretty simple.
Your “actual” instrument time will be substantially less than your total time. An employer would probably raise an eyebrow if your “actual” time exceeded 25% of your total time. This applies even for people who fly almost exclusively on IFR flight plans.
Let me tell you how I log actual instrument time and then give you an example of a flight I did recently.
I do log actual under the following conditions:
- I am in the clouds. I can’t see anything except white.
- I am in and out of the clouds. Sometimes I can see the ground, and sometimes I can’t. Or I can see the ground passing below me but when I look up I see nothing but white
- I am in between layers and I don’t see any ground between the layers and I don’t see any sky. (this is an unusual situation)
I don’t log actual under these conditions:
- I am cruising above the cloud deck and I can see the horizon and blue sky. The clouds go for hundreds of miles, but I am still on top of the clouds. I consider the “horizon” a low cloud layer or the actual ground.
- Note: some Army pilots may get hung up on the “horizon” definition as our regulations consider “actual” as “no visible horizon.” This is different from the FAA’s definition of “flying only referencing the instruments.” I personally would stick with the FAA’s definition.
- I am below the cloud layer and I can clearly see the ground. It doesn’t matter how close I get to the clouds, I don’t log “actual” until I punch in.
- My instructor puts a limiting device on my head and we are VMC on an IFR flight plan. (this is simulated instrument or hood time)
- I can maintain VFR cloud clearances, but I am only referencing the instruments for training purposes. (this is simulated instrument or hood time)
- I am on an IFR Flight plan and I never fly into a cloud the entire flight.
Here’s an example of an IFR flight I did recently:
I took off and punched in at about 2000 feet. We flew through the clouds for a bit then we popped up on top and I could see the cloud layer below. There were clouds 75 NM in front of me at my altitude.
When we got to the destination we descended into the clouds. We punched out at about 1500 ft above the ground.
This is how I logged it:
The total time was 2 hours. I only logged a total of .7 “actual” instrument time, though. I did not log simulated instrument time.
It took about .3 to climb out of the clouds and about .4 to descend through the clouds for a total of .7 “actual” instrument time.
Simulated Instrument Time or “Hood” Time:
Simulated Instrument or Hood time is usually (not always) done with a limiting device and is exclusively logged on training flights.
You can also get simulated instrument time in an “approved” simulator.
I have no idea what an “approved” simulator is if you are trying to get your instrument ticket. Ask your flight instructor since you will almost always have an instructor sitting next to you when you log “simulated” instrument time. Perhaps the best way to rack up the 40 hours of instrument time needed for your Instrument ticket is to hop into a simulator.
You can log simulated instrument time on an IFR flight plan or a VFR flight plan.
I log simulated instrument time under these conditions:
- My instructor puts a limiting device on my head because we are in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC).
- I can maintain VFR cloud clearances, but I am only referencing the instruments for a practice IFR training.
I think simulated time is also pretty straight forward. Once you get your instrument ticket you will hardly ever log simulated instrument time unless you are having a hard time maintaining your currency by finding “actual” conditions.
- Whether you are on an official IFR flight plan has nothing to do with whether you log simulated instrument time.
I don’t recommend being on a VFR flight plan when practicing IFR maneuvers because what’s the point of practicing IFR if you enver talk to ATC? Flying the approaches is never the hard part in instruments, it’s the talking and the flying that’s hard.
- You can never log actual weather without being on an official IFR flight plan under control of ATC.
If you logged actual instrument time, it means you are in the clouds. If you are in the clouds and not up with ATC on an IFR flight plan then you just busted a huge regulation requiring you to maintain VFR cloud clearances (500 below, 2,000 horizontal and 1,000 above). This is such an egregious violation of the rules I am wondering why I mentioned it, but pilots have been known to do some stupid stuff.
- You can never log simulated instrument time as a single pilot (except in a simulator). The FAA requires a safety pilot if you are flying for real.
- You can log “actual” instrument time as a single pilot.
- Simulated vs actual has nothing to do with whether the autopilot is on.
- If you fly an aircraft without de-icing equipment it will be hard for you to log very much “actual” instrument time.
Here are links to some additional reading you may find useful. The first has a more in depth look logging time in unusual circumstances like over water at night in VMC conditions.
Forum thread on simulated vs actual instrument time (with a discussion on logging instrument time over the water at night)
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