Pilot Ground School – Spring 2022

10704009_561588480607865_96589839511807853_nWe are planning for a class that we hope will offer both an in-person and online option…

We’ll be offering a pilot ground school again this term (hopefully on the Caltech campus). Class will be held for 10 weeks, 7:00-9:30 PM, on Thursday nights, starting March 31st. 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. For the last several offerings, video recordings via Zoom have also been available to students unable to attend a class.

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, though certain topics make more sense with practical application.

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 classrooms usually limit 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

4 thoughts on “Pilot Ground School – Spring 2022”

  1. I’m a JPL employee – wondering if spouses are part of the community for purposes of the course enrollment

    Thanks for distilling the update & providing a great post !

  2. Hi,

    I am a JPLer and I am interested in signing up for the next session. When is that schedule for?

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