Tom Haines

Multimedia, 1970s-style

August 13, 2008 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

Occasionally I have horrible flash backs to my private pilot ground school experience. It was the winter of 1976/1977. I wasn’t even 16 yet and had only been in an airplane–any airplane–once. The three-hour weekly session was held in a dowdy conference room at a rail yard for a freight line–heated by steam to a sauna-like atmosphere. Lights dangled from the high ceiling casting a yellow glow across the sparse and threadbare room. I felt as if I were in a Soviet interrogation cell. The classes were held on school nights. And, yes, I confess to falling asleep from time to time.

The “multimedia” consisted of chalk and a blackboard. The instructors brought a few charts to hang on the wall for enticing subjects such as calculating headwind and tailwind components. Primary support material came from FAA Exam-O-Grams–my forehead hits the desk as I write those words. These dry, grainy black-and-white government publications contained good information–presented poorly.

I thought of all this recently while listening to John and Martha King of King Schools describe their new online private pilot curriculum. The Kings have taken their famous highly interactive, engaging CD/DVD courses and made them available online. Now you can access your course from any Web-connected computer. The system keeps track of your progress on the server, so no matter where you are you can log on and pick up where you left off. For more on the courses see their Web site. You’ll find the courses the complete antithesis of Exam-O-Grams. You new student pilots out there have no idea how good you have it!

Apparently feeling masochistic, I Googled “exam-o-gram” and found a Web site where you can download those old government documents. At the site, I clicked on one enchanting Exam-O-Gram from 1967 titled: “Simple ADF for VFR Navigation.” Here’s the engaging first sentence: “To test the applicant’s knowledge of the practical aspects of cross-country flying, FAA written examinations contain test items on the use of radio aids to VFR navigation.” (Remove forehead from desk.)

Caution: Do not click on the Exam-O-Gram site while operating heavy equipment.

How was your ground school experience?


3 Responses to “Multimedia, 1970s-style”

  1. Fred Wilson Says:

    My private ground school was in the fall the 1980 in an old air force barracks on Paine field in Everett Wa. For visual aids I remember a small aircraft model and there must have been a few other items but certainly not much. The Instructor was good at stories that kept total boredom from getting in the way of learning the intricacies of the ADF, VOR and other such exciting stuff. My son is just starting his first flight instruction job, I reminded him to keep ground instruction interesting or it won’t be effective.

  2. Rick Keys Says:

    My ground school experience was nearly identical to Tom’s. We learned to fly at the same airport and I took my ground school in the same railroad class room. I was in high school, worked at the airport for flying lessons and had a few hours prior to taking class. My written results were, well, disappointing. The instructors did their best ( thanks Bernie, Marie and Charlie) with the technology and near zero budget of the day, but my head also hit the desk a few times. In fact I don’t recall if Tom was in my class or not.

  3. Matt Roberds Says:

    I went to ground school in 2005. The classroom was a purpose-built room inside a hangar; it had a whiteboard, TV set, DVD player, VCR, and air conditioning. The instructors used a whiteboard, some props (including actual aircraft parts), DVDs and VHS tapes, and some photographs that had been enlarged and laminated. Sometimes we went out into the main area of the hangar to look at an actual aircraft or to use the simulators; this was interspersed with the classroom time so we were neither sitting down nor standing up for really long periods of time. I did pretty good on the written test, but my first flight was a little embarrassing; the second one was better.

    I’m also the perpetrator of the Web site that Mr. Haines linked to. I realize that the material is 1) quite old and 2) not in full digital HD with 5.1 surround sound, but I thought it might be of historical interest, if nothing else. If anyone has comments or feedback about the site, there is an email address on it.

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