Instrument Ground School – Winter 2017

We’ll be offering an instrument ground school again this winter term on the Caltech campus. Class will be held for 10 weeks, 7:00-9:30 PM, on Thursday nights, starting January 5th, 2017. The class is open to everyone in the Caltech/JPL community and all members of AACIT.

This class will introduce pilots to material needed for the “instrument airplane” FAA knowledge test. As a result, students should either have attended a private pilot ground school or have their private pilot certificate. It is also good for instrument pilots who feel a need for a refresher.

If you would like to enroll or have questions, please contact the instructor  directly.


Q: Do I need to have any flying experience to take instrument ground school?
A: No. I’ve had several students that had only taken the private pilot ground school, but some flying experience does help in understanding some of the concepts.

Q: What do I need for class and what are the costs?
A: We use the FAA’s Instrument Flying Handbook (errata and addendum too) and the Instrument Procedures Handbook; both are available as free PDFs via those links. Students should already have an E6B from private pilot training or ground school.

Q: Is it a problem if I can’t attend all the classes?
A: While you’ll get the most out of the class by attending all, it’s not mandatory. Most classes “stand alone” so missing a class doesn’t immediately mean you’ll be way behind.

Q: Is this class offered for Caltech credit?
A: No. The material is similar to the former PA80b class, but is no longer a credit course.

Q: Do I need to take flight lessons at the same time?
A: No.

Q: How much time do I need to dedicate outside of class?
A: You can get value out of the class simply by attending. If you want to get the most out of the class, an hour or two per week devoted to reading and sample tests will help and to prepare to actually take the test (if you decide to do that) will require some concentrated preparation after you complete the class.

Q: How large is the class?
A: Class size has ranged from 10 to 20 students. The classroom limits us to about 25 students. If we are short of space, first priority is given to Caltech undergraduate and graduate students, then in enrollment order.

Q: Do I have to take ground school to become an instrument pilot?
A: No. The FAA mandates that you take a written test (60 questions, 2.5 hours, 70% minimum, ~$150). Preparation for that test can done in a ground school or by self study (book, video, etc.)

Q: Can I take instrument ground school if I have no interest in becoming a pilot?
A: Yes! While less common, several students in the past, who worked on JPL instruments that fly on airplanes took the class as a way to learn more about air operations and airspace that was useful for their job.

Course Syllabus

  • Introduction – requirements to become an instrument pilot and how ground school fits in
  • Instrument flying overview and instrument systems
  • Aerodynamics – control of airplanes
  • Navigation systems – the systems used to find our way in the clouds
  • Rules, regulations, and responsibilities – what you can and can’t do as an instrument pilot and how to stay safe and legal
  • Airspace, airports, and ATC- understanding airspace and services in the US
  • Holding and approaches – the core of instrument procedures for arrival and departure, their interpretation and use
  • IFR Enroute – charts and how to safely get between airports
  • Weather theory – meteorology for pilots
  • Weather services – getting a picture of what the weather is doing
  • Aeromedical factors – physiology for pilots
  • IFR Flying – tying it all together