The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson. – Tom Bodett
I get it. Although I’m one of the geeky oddballs who actually enjoyed my time in private pilot ground school, I realize a number of my fellow aviators grudgingly approach it as a necessary evil, or worse, as a noisome speed bump on the runway to the target pilot certificate or rating.
Whenever I have an opportunity to teach ground school, though, I try to make it interesting and fun “edutainment,” and also try to convey a key point. With some acknowledged exceptions the FAA is working to address in consultation with the flight training community, the material presented in ground school is not just academic mumbo-jumbo. On the contrary, there is a great deal of information you will need not only to pass the FAA knowledge test (formerly and still colloquially known as “the written”), but, more fundamentally, data you will need to pass the many real-life tests aviation demands with the proverbial flying colors.
In Search of Excellence
In this issue’s Jumpseat column, FAA Flight Standards Service Director John Allen writes about the pursuit of perfection and excellence in aviation education and training. This starts with your approach to ground school and your willingness to get beyond a memorize-the-answer mentality in favor of a true understanding.
Here’s an example relating to the topic of aerodynamics. I’m the first to agree that there is no need for a student pilot to know (or even see) the mathematical equation for lift that I once watched a fellow ground school instructor present to a wide-eyed audience. But you do benefit from a practical understanding of basic aerodynamics. After presenting the four forces of flight (lift, weight, thrust, and drag), for instance, I note that the pilot’s job is to manage those forces, both separately and in relation to each other. We go on to talk about the specific things a pilot can do to manage each force. For example, you can generate additional lift by increasing the angle of attack (an important concept to know), by increasing speed, or – to a point – both. The pilot manages weight by determining how much fuel, how many passengers, and how much baggage to carry.
Though somewhat limited by the specific airframe and powerplant configuration, there are also things a pilot can do to manage the levels of thrust and drag. The point is that if you direct your energy entirely to memorizing specific phrases or definitions you are depriving yourself of the broad conceptual knowledge and understanding you can apply in your real-world flying.
The Big Picture
In September 2011, the FAA established an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to address concerns about the relevance of the FAA’s airman testing and training standards. The ARC, whose work is now underway, provides a forum for key players in the GA training community to offer their experience and expertise and recommend ways to improve airman testing and training.
In the meantime, I hope you will heed the advice I offer to my ground school students: Focus not on the real or perceived shortcomings of the testing process, but rather on truly mastering the material you will need to pass the “real-life tests” and become a safe, proficient, and competent aviator. (FAA Safety Briefing – JanFeb 2012)