Pilot Ground School – Spring 2024

We’ll be offering a pilot ground school again this term. We’re planning for a class that will offer both an in-person (on the Caltech campus) and online option. Class will be held for 10 weeks, 7:00-9:30 PM, on Thursday nights, starting April 4th. 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 comparable to 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 (~$30). These supply costs are in addition to the class fee (contact the instructor for details).

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. Usually, 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.). However, many students find a ground school helps keep momentum.

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 and might do
  • 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

5 thoughts on “Pilot Ground School – Spring 2024”

    1. Sorry for the slow reply. I’ve emailed you directly. Unfortunately, notification on blog posts doesn’t seem to be working well (just notified today…).

  1. When is the next course held? How can I sign up? What is the total cost of the course?
    Do you also offer flight lessons?

    Thanks a lot in advance.



    1. Sofia, I’ve emailed you directly. The link for contact, sign-up, and questions is at the end of the article.

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