It’s a classic aviation topic of discussion: Do you start with ground school or flying lessons?
The answer, of course, is yes.
Back in the day, pilots-to-be overwhelmingly sat in a classroom and learned the academic side of flying the same way they learned algebra, English, and history. Courses would run several weeks depending on how many days a week it met, and most students were flying concurrently. Nowadays, so many pilots engage in the self-paced home-study courses that it’s probably difficult to find a traditional ground school.
The advantage of starting with flying right away is that you have a much easier time keeping up your enthusiasm, and besides, flying is fun, so why not do it? The truth is that you can do both at the same time, but you need to learn how to do it efficiently and effectively.
The home-study courses available today are a far cry from what was available even 10 years ago, and they are light years ahead of where they were 20 years ago. Jeppesen used to charge a king’s ransom for a series of video tapes that accompanied the private pilot curriculum. Now, online classes and DVDs have replaced VHS, which means you can go right where you want to study, and better yet, it’s all interactive, which keeps you more engaged. The video quality is better as well. And Jepp being Jepp, they still charge a king’s ransom, but the Kings are still doing their thing as well.
There are some areas of study you should start with right away. Aerodynamics, the FARs, and weather are topics that you can’t get a jump on fast enough. Most people are more weather savvy today, thanks to the Weather Channel and the Internet, but aviation weather is still information intensive, so getting a leg up on it early is always a good idea.
But a few areas of study call for caution when it comes to getting too far ahead of where your training is. You should spend a lot of time reading, watching, and studying all of the maneuvers. However, don’t jump into trying to understand all of navigation until you are ready to do your cross-country flying. In more modern aircraft, you may already have a bit of proficiency with the GPS since you use it all the time. In older airplanes, it may just be you and your VOR indicators. I am a firm believer that you will be a better pilot—you’ll certainly be more knowledgeable—if you can do everything the old-fashioned way, and that includes using a manual E6B. After all, it doesn’t ever need to have batteries replaced. As for the panel-mount GPS, a good instructor will take the time to show you all the ins and outs you need to know as you need to know them.
When getting ready for your knowledge test, don’t do it by just memorizing all of the answers. Make sure that you understand the theory and the concepts discussed in each question. Be able to answer them using what you know, especially weight and balance and navigation questions. Some of them are indeed rote memorization (the FARs), but make sure you really know the material and know where to find it!
Learning all that you need to know can seem daunting, but if you break it down into chunks, it is much more manageable. Yes, you can fly before you open a book, but if you combine the two, you will have more effective learning and have a more enjoyable training experience.—By Chip Wright