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
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
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
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.