Learn to Fly
7 day IFR Rating
The Right Amount of Ground
By Rod Machado
About the author: Rod is an aviation writer
AOPA publications, an excellent flight instructor, and author of the
popular Private Pilot Handbook, an excellent guide to begin your
with. Consider purchasing his products at his web
site. In this article, Rod explains the importance of ground
instruction. It is such an important topic, the article is
here to ensure you can read it.
QUESTION: I know you're busy, and I don't expect
to this, but want to run a thought by you. If you agree with this and
it's even appropriate for your column in AOPA, I would like to see your
thoughts on the following. I'll try to be very brief.
It is a growing concern of mine that
flight instructors I observe, do not spend proper ground time with
before jumping in the plane for a lesson (some spend no ground time at
all). I believe that flying is taught on the GROUND. It's not fair to
student to introduce a concept in the plane with so much going on. I
a lesson should consist of:
1. Preflight briefing (as much time as is necessary for that individual
to grasp the concept of the maneuver or lesson).
2. The flight lesson.
ANSWER: Greetings Monte:
From the tone of your note it sounds
like I'm not the only one that gets a lot of e-mail. I sincerely
the considerate nature of your message.
You make an important point. Yes, ground
time is absolutely essential to flight training. I can't imagine a
acquiring a pilot certificate without obtaining a reasonable amount of
ground instruction in the process. How much ground instruction? That's
a difficult question to answer precisely. It depends on many things.
ground training should accompany every flight lesson. If it didn't, I'd
be very concerned about the quality of flight training I was receiving.
Let's explore the issue a bit.
Knowing what I know now, if I were a
beginning flight student, I'd insist on at least a two-hour block of
for each lesson. Approximately one hour would be used for the flight
with an additional hour for the pre- and post flight briefing. The
and ground times are, of course, reasonably flexible within the
The first 30 to 40 minutes of this
block are typically used for the preflight briefing. It takes this much
time for the instructor to explain what he or she intends to accomplish
on this lesson. Sure, this can occur at a faster pace, but not
without a loss of comprehension on part of the student.
I've known instructors who, upon
from a flight lesson, drop off one student and, while the engine is
running, wave another student into the airplane. The student and
accomplish their preflight briefing during the taxi-out and runup. On
they may discuss additional details of the lesson during takeoff and
(I'm not making this up, either).
Of course, everyone knows that the
isn't a critical time and is actually quite relaxing. In fact, I do my
flight planning during the climbout. Why waste time planning my flight
beforehand? After all, I've got a lot of e-mail to answer. In my
elliptical, nonlinear sort of way, I think you see that this paragraph
is a joke. Even so, if this is how your instructor treats you, you need
to have a serious talk with him or her. This isn't normal behavior nor
should it be considered normal.
The idea that you, the student, can
comprehend the essentials of a lesson over the sound of an engine is
silly. Flying skills are built on understanding the basic fundamentals
of flight. The key word here is understanding. This takes a little
a little concentration and a little effort on your part and on the part
of your instructor. Skip the ground instruction and I'll guarantee
pay for it in frustration and reduced learning efficiency.
Remember, as a flight student, you are
the consumer. You deserve an opportunity for quality training. But this
won't happen unless you take an active role in your education. Flight
becomes a consumer driven activity when you teach your instructor how
teach you. If you need more ground time to comprehend a subject, then
so. If you need less, say so. Working with the instructor to tailor
training is essential in creating a comfortable and enjoyable learning
On the other hand, deserving the
for quality flight training implies a willingness to pay for it.
an instructor for a two-hour block of time is reasonable if the
is paid for this amount of time (assuming, of course, that the
spent the time teaching and not telling stories). The idea of paying an
instructor only for the time spent in the airplane is simply goofy. It
makes no sense at all. Although this may explain why some instructors
on their pre- and postflight briefings. "Free the chain and fly the
makes economic sense to instructors who don't charge or who aren't paid
for the time they spend on the ground with their students.
Think about the problem this way. Would
you expect to pay a dentist only for the time spent drilling into your
teeth? Would you expect to pay a tennis instructor only for the time
swinging the racket, but not for the time he or she spent talking? Of
not. Why, then, should a student expect to pay an instructor only for
time spent in the airplane when the engine's running? One answer to
question is something known as tradition.
Although this is slowly changing,
have been reluctant to charge for their ground time. It's often not
for them to do so. Who knows? Maybe they have so much fun flying that
feel GUILTY charging for pre- and post flight briefings. Consequently,
these instructors are less likely to spend extra time on the ground
Remember, flight instructors have to
eat too. Contrary to popular opinion, they don't live off the plant
in the air. And those that do, are probably too weak to physically
into the airplane unassisted.
In the movies, when James Cagney walks
into a busy restaurant without a reservation, he gets a table by
the maitre d'. Of course, the maitre d' finds Cagney a table - or risks
dying of lead poisoning. TIP means: To Insure Performance (the proper
here is ensure, not insure, but why ruin a perfectly good acronym?). In
other words, once upon a time, a TIP was the bonus we paid before a
was rendered. This helped ensure the desired behavior (good service)
the meal took place.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you TIP
your instructor. I'm suggesting that you ensure the reception of
ground instruction by paying for lesson blocks that are of sufficient
A two-hour lesson block is reasonable for most flight training
Higher ratings or complex lessons may require longer lesson
My friend and well known Southern
flight instructor, Gene Hudson, schedules three-hour lesson blocks
students. He spends approximately 2.5 hours with his student and
for all that time if he actually uses that time. Here are Gene's
in his own words:
"A typical lesson runs about 1.7 hours
on the hobbs meter and anywhere from 0.5 to 1.0 on the ground. I charge
for ground time. I set expectations up front, with a conversation that
goes something like this: "My rate is $50 per hour - clock time, not
time. It starts when you were supposed to have been there and ends when
we shake hands good-bye in the lobby." However, if I allow myself to
distracted into telling a 'war story,' I deduct for that. I don't
for 'war stories.'"
Wait! Before you run off thinking I'm
crazy, hear me out. It's to your benefit that instructors are paid for
all the time they spend with you. I'm not saying that money should be
only motivator governing a flight instructor's behavior. I am saying
the lack of fair and sufficient compensation doesn't increase the
that your instructor will spend the ground time necessary to meet your
Paying for ground instruction and
lessons in two-hour blocks makes sense in the long run. It's likely
overall, you'll pay less for your flight training as well as reduce the
length of time it takes to obtain a pilot certificate. I don't make
statement casually. I know it to be an accurate, honest assessment of
flight training process.
So here's the plan. If flight training
isn't working out for you or if you want to try improving your
performance, have a talk with your instructor. Schedule a two-hour
block and offer to pay for both the flight and ground training (not
and stories). Insist on receiving ground training before and after each
lesson. If possible, schedule the airplane 15 to 30 minutes before your
instructor is scheduled to arrive. Show up early and preflight the
(of course, this assumes that your FBO has enough airplanes and that
one you want isn't being used prior to your lesson. You're smart enough
to figure out the pros and cons of doing this). Why waste your
time having him or her watch you do a preflight when you know how to do
this? Now, you and the instructor can jump directly into the lesson
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