Pilot Ground School – Spring 2021

10704009_561588480607865_96589839511807853_nUPDATE: with COVID-19 restrictions, the class will be available in an online format (and recorded for use by enrolled students).

We’ll be offering a pilot ground school again this spring term on the Caltech campus. Class will be held for 10 weeks, 7:00-9:30 PM, on Thursday nights, starting April 1st. The class is open to everyone in the Caltech/JPL community (students, staff, faculty, alum, JPL, retirees, contractors, etc.) and all members of AACIT.

Ground school is a great way for anyone who has an interest in flying to learn more, but at a cost of a typical single flight lesson. It’s also great for pilots who feel rusty to get a refresher. The class covers most of the material necessary to pass the FAA’s private pilot airplane knowledge test.

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 ground school?
A: No. The class is geared towards those with no prior flying experience.

Q: What do I need for class and what are the costs?
A: We use the FAA’s Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge in the class (free PDF available). We normally do a group buy in class for the needed flight computer and plotter (total cost ~$25). These supply costs are in addition to the class fee (contact the instructor for more information).

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 PA80a 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.

Q: How large is the class?
A: Class size has ranged from 6 to 25 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 a 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 ground school if I have no interest in becoming a pilot?
A: Yes! 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 – becoming a pilot and how ground school fits in
  • Airplanes and aerodynamics – the structure and control of airplanes
  • Airspace, airports, and charts – understanding aeronautical charts and the range of airspace in the US
  • Instruments, engines, and systems – the nuts and bolts of the airplane
  • Rules, regulations, and responsibilities – what you can and can’t do as a pilot and how to stay safe and legal
  • Weather theory – meteorology for pilots
  • Weather services – getting a picture of what the weather is doing
  • Planning and navigation – how to prepare for and get someplace in an airplane
  • Performance – how to determine expected performance and what influences it
  • Aeromedical factor – physiology for pilots
  • Operational considerations – decision making and airport and flight operations

Billing & Squawks – SM

The club is transitioning to Schedule Master (SM) as the primary source for squawks, billing, and maintenance tracking. The paper system continues as a backup. For this to work, it’s critical that members and board members enter data correctly and in a timely basis.

Continue reading “Billing & Squawks – SM”

Noise abatement procedures, restrictions, and curfews

Almost every airport that is located in an urban area, or has housing near the airport, is likely to have some sort of noise abatement procedure and/or some sort of flight operation curfew or restriction. The goal is a balancing of neighborhood concerns and utilization of the airport by pilots. As an example at our home airport, there are restrictions on the time of day during which pattern practice (repeated takeoff and landings) may be done. (7AM-10PM). This helps avoid annoying neighbors during typical sleep hours, while allowing reasonable hours for flight training and other activities. In addition, we have recommended procedures to keep departures over less residential areas when airplanes are operating at high power and low altitude (and hence are noisiest). In 2019, the airport updated and published new noise abatement procedures.

At 11156312_641478039285575_8823997895904999176_nmany airports, you’ll get a hint by looking at airport information, such as “Noise abatement procedures in effect, ctc arpt manager for details.” (this is the verbatim text from the AFD/Chart Supplement/AirNav for our home airport). If you are trying to find info on noise abatement at a particular airport try searching for the airport name and noise abatement. Also be attuned to the presence of signs at many airports. Here’s an example from Santa Monica. Sometimes signs will designate areas to avoid, particular headings or areas to follow, times during which certain activities are discouraged or prohibited.

AACIT asks that all pilots become familiar with the noise abatement procedures at the airports where they operate and comply with all procedures, as long as that can be done in a safe manner; curfews should be strictly adhered to. Other good ideas are to climb as quickly as practical to pattern altitude, keep patterns a reasonable distance from the airport, and to use as low a power/rpm setting as possible while on approach. If you have questions about procedures, ask a tower controller or ask your CFI or a board member.

Here are a few links to get you started on local procedures

Fly safely, quietly, and neighborly,
David Werntz, AACIT President