16.687: Private Pilot Ground School
Next class: likely January 2019 (free and open to the public)
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Bring camping supplies! We will take short breaks, but there are talks at lunch time.
Read in advance:
The course includes qualitative aerodynamics, airplane and helicopter systems, practical meteorology, navigation and cross-country flight planning, and human factors. We present the FAA-required theory, pose some thought-experiments, and offer practical advice based on instructors' real-world experience.
Course staff: Philip Greenspun, an FAA Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor for both airplanes and helicopters, MIT alum (Course 18 S.B.; Course 6 Ph.D); Tina Prabha Srivastava, pilot and MIT alum (Course 16 S.B.; System Design and Management S.M.; Engineering Systems Design Ph.D, supervised in Course 16, ESD, Sloan); and Matt Guthmiller, a Course 6 undergraduate who flew a 6-seat Bonanza around the world at age 19.
Prerequisites: About two evenings of reading (see above). Download ForeFlight (iOS only) or Garmin Pilot (Android or iOS) and set yourself up with a 30-day free trial. Bring your tablet or phone to class and also a laptop, if convenient. In-class exercises will be done in pairs, so you don't need to have your own devices.
That said, given the technical sophistication of our audience and the fact that they are capable of reading, we tried to have them do some reading in advance and also didn't try to teach into every corner of the FAA material. The students who wanted to go on and earn a 98 or 100 score on the FAA knowledge test could hit the books after our lectures.
The FAA materials are designed to be comprehensible to a motivated 17-year-old. Given our audience we decided to teach some of the Why? and How? as well as the What?.
One critical departure from the standard approach was made in light of sociology research that the iPhone generation ("iGen") is more risk-averse than previous generations of Americans. Any slide that said "You will crash and die if you do X" was rewritten to say "You will stay safe if you do not-X." More substantively, we use the class an an opportunity to introduce the crew concept in flying. The FAA materials stress single-pilot operations, which is odd considering that (a) a two-pilot crew running checklists is the cornerstone of commercial aviation safety, and (b) most of the FAA is devoted to preventing single-pilot operations (e.g., by airlines).
Our goal was to show students that they could learn something challenging, develop a skill that they could be proud of, and do some fun trips, all while staying closer to airline levels of risk than single-pilot-in-little-plane levels of risk. We took every opportunity to tell them that here is the kind of flying where it can be helpful to bring along another pilot and/or instructor.
Finally, we stressed that they didn't have to earn an FAA Private certificate in order to say that they had achieved the ancient dream of controlled human flight. The FAA certificate was about being a safe single-pilot operator, something that passengers don't even want. Learning to fly per se, we explained, is more like a 10-hour process and therefore much more affordable.