Attitude instrument flying in helicopters is essentially visual flying with the flight instruments substituted for the various reference points on the helicopter and the natural horizon. Control changes, required to produce a given attitude by reference to instruments, are identical to those used in helicopter visual flight rules (VFR) flight, and pilot thought processes are the same. Basic instrument training is intended to be a building block toward attaining an instrument rating.

When flying a helicopter with reference to the flight instruments, proper instrument interpretation is the basis for aircraft control. Skill, in part, depends on understanding how a particular instrument or system functions, including its indications and limitations (see Flight Instruments). With this knowledge, a pilot can quickly interpret an instrument indication and translate that information into a control response.