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From the Logbook: Ground or Flight Instruction . . . Which is the Most Important?

Jim Trusty, 2005

Which is the most important, ground or flight instruction? Well, personally, I am biased on this opinion. I was an Advanced Ground Instructor Instruments (AGII) long before I became a Certificated Flight Instructor, Instruments (CFII). This has convinced me that ground instruction is by far the most important. You can't truly fly an airplane until you understand what makes it fly, how it works, how it was built, the numbers, and a million other things readily available as information that is supposed to be digested long before you set off on that first flight.

Let's not confuse Ground School with written test preparation courses. I've seen this happen when I offered classes at a local community college. Some of those registered really wanted help in preparing for the written, and ground classes do help in some small way by getting you familiar with the necessary vocabulary. However, it is not structured toward the written test enough to be of any value. Always make sure that what is being offered is what you need and want.

It bothers me terribly to get a student from someone else, or a Private Pilot looking for the next step up, Instrument or some other add-on, and find this pilot cannot converse intelligently about the basics of the airplane they have been flying. They have never seen the engine nor do they know how it works, what a magneto is and what they are doing as they turn one and then the other off, carb heat and how it works, rudders, trim, ailerons, flaps, the prop, and a zillion other things you would think of as being important if you are going to trust your life to that machine. What do they do when they buy a new car? Look at it in the showroom, sign the papers, and drive it away? When something goes wrong much later, or maybe even sooner, do they then read the book? You can only hope it's not too late.

With an airplane, things generally go wrong in the air, and it is probably a little too late to find that book and read it unless you just happen to be a lot faster than I am.

If you are a student, this should be a major question for your new instructor: "How much time will we spend doing ground school?" In reality, a good instructor will most likely spend as much, if not more, time with you doing ground school than they will in flight instruction. The reward to you will be that you will become a better and more knowledgeable pilot and, without a doubt, SAFER. Knowledge is power, so if you fly with me look forward to doing ground school before we go up, after we land, and also look forward to having an assignment to do before our next flight or meeting. Yes, homework!

The joke around my training airport is that you can spot a Jim Trusty student by the amount of paperwork they are carrying. Joke or not, you need ground instruction in an abundance to keep up with the requirements of the FARs and to safely make use of the SYSTEM. It simply cannot be done without the proper training.

Now we turn the other cheek and tell you some things about flying that no other flight instructor has told you before. Flying is the easiest thing that we as pilots do!

What did he say? How can a CFI say something so broad and encompassing as that statement? Let's go backwards and look at it. The very first flight you ever took, you flew. Well, "kinda sorta," "of sorts," "some portion," "everything but the landing," "quite a bit," "with some assistance," and several other quotes that you have made to anyone that will listen. You actually flew the airplane. We do this to let you know how much fun it really is, the power surge you get being in charge of an airplane, and actually just how easy the motion of flight can be accomplished. If we do it right, we usually end up with you as a student.

From the time that we have you hooked on flying, we continue to let you fly. We make suggestions on how to improve what you are doing and what would be more comfortable and how to leave one maneuver and go gracefully into the next. But you are doing all the flying.

Step back and think, "If I can already fly, what else do I need?" You need ground classes to fully explain what you are doing, the best way to do it, and what to do if you do something wrong. See how well the two forms of instruction compliment each other?

I have never understood why an instructor would not use both forms of teaching. It makes for a more complete student, a more knowledgeable one, and it gives student and instructor plenty to do on bad days. If you are an instructor, you never have to miss another appointment with a student again, and you can set your schedule weeks in advance because of ground school. Some CFIs tell me that they don't do it because they were never taught how. It's just more talk! Have you ever met an instructor that couldn't talk? Neither have I.

Some say we can't charge for it. Why not? All we have to sell is our time and expertise, and both of these fit into either form of teaching. I charge. Actually, I probably make more money in a year's time from ground school that I do from flight.

The amount of time that you will devote to both should be spelled out clearly in the initial interview and programmed into your syllabus for this particular student. Once they see they are getting ahead of the other students and becoming smarter, they will appreciate the effort being put forth by you and by them. So it finally comes down to you doing ground school on the ground or spending half of your flight time talking about something that should have been covered before the flight.

Your choice, as are most things we do as instructors. We are given such leeway, to evaluate and modify to suit the needs of each case, that we should never produce anything but winners each and every time. And we usually do.

If you would like to discuss this matter from your viewpoint, my address and telephone number are listed at the end of this article.

I'll see you at the airport! Always remember, pilots who don't fly have no advantage over people who can't fly. What's your excuse?

JIM TRUSTY, ATP/CFI/IGI/ASC, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 & 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate Pilot/ "Gold Seal" Flight & Ground Instructor/ FAA Aviation Safety Counselor/ National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide. If you have comments, questions, complaints, or compliments, please e-mail them directly to me, and I'll respond. Thanks. (Lrn2Fly@bellsouth.net)