Ground School: No Pilot Left Behind

Ground School is a good idea.  You need to know some things before you get into an aircraft.  As a Navigator I went through my first Ground School at Pensacola Naval Air Station about two ice ages ago. We spent 2 months in a classroom learning all kinds of stuff before they let us touch an aircraft (I was also required to learn how to swim, EFF YOU Navy). Each time we went to a new aircraft, there was a new Ground School. When I moved on to B-52s I spent another 2 months in a classroom before they let me get inside one. Overall, I’ve been through about a dozen different kinds of Ground School. So trust me when I say, Ground School is important.


This Ground School, however, is a joke.

Let’s start with the facilities. An Afghan guy who dries mud bricks in the sun has better stuff. The building is for shit. It’s dark, dirty and makes me want to swim in Purell.  Every other place I’ve been too, including the granite cave I work in, is in awesome shape with modern equipment. The building next door is Base Ops, which is just as old, but their computers actually work, their whiteboards are actually white (that’s not racist is it?), and they have some sense of organization. After several weeks, Nicole and I sprung 5 bucks and bought them a new set of dry erase markers because she was tired of the instructors spending ten minutes before every class looking for a marker that worked. In my opinion, when I pay $150 bucks per hour to be here, they should have hors d’ oeuvres for me and valet parking.

Next up is the syllabus.

There are two kinds of Ground Schools that the FAA is cool with, Part 141 and Part 61. A Part 61 school is more flexible and has a more ‘independent study’ type of learning. The problem is, they are much harder to certify and manage. This Aero Club took the easy way out and is a Part 141 school. That means that they have a specific structure (that they bought from Jeppesen, which normally puts out good stuff) that they HAVE TO follow. No deviations allowed. This is the syllabus and it will be followed to the letter. This makes it easier to complete Ground School and easier to get them certified by the FAA. I wouldn’t have a problem with that, except the syllabus sucks. Ground School consists of sitting in a classroom and watching a DVD of some incredibly outdated material then the instructor asks if we have any questions. For real?  I paid $500 bucks for this?

Our instructor is a retired navy Captain with about a million hours flying off carriers. I make a Top Gun joke every class. Because he’s a retired O-6, I have a hard time not calling him sir and giving him the respect that his rank deserves. But then I remember that he was in the Navy and it’s all better. This guy knows, well, everything about aviation and he’s NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH US.

Did you get that? The instructor I paid $500 bucks for is not allowed to teach. Is this the total opposite of the California public school system or what? He’s just the proctor, the DVDs are the lessons.  There’s a pretty good book that accompanies the DVD series, but it doesn’t get used nearly as much as it should.

For Nicole, Ground School consists of her devouring this book, laughing at the DVDs and then asking me questions. I then proceed to give her two different answers. The answer is either (A) You really need to know that, or (B) You don’t care about that. It’s not totally useless; they taught them how to read a METAR and a TAF, how to interpret performance charts in a Flight Manual and what the different kinds of airspace are.  It did not prepare anyone to take the FAA test, it only prepared them to attempt to study for that test.

The course has other tests, called stage tests, along the way.  They are NOT the FAA tests and they don’t mean anything.  That’s right, they don’t mean ANYTHING (just like the NBA draft). The score is irrelevant (just like the NBA regular season). If you fail all the stage tests you still graduate Ground School (just like the NBA playoffs).


What I realized is that for civilians Ground School is just something that you need to do. The FAA requires it, so just put in the time and get it done.  We still need to take the FAA test, and we’ll still need to study hard(ish) for that. Maybe.

For those of you PPL holders out there (Vicky), in the comments leave your tips on how to pass the upcoming FAA test or any ground school stories.


2 responses to “Ground School: No Pilot Left Behind

  1. Uhh yeth. Not that you need the help, but can’t you just use the METAR tool the website translates to English? Whoa, there I go applying common sense again.

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