Yep. I’m finally doing it.
After close to a decade of talking about taking flying lessons, and after a couple of false starts, I’ve plunked down my money and started ground school last month with Galvin Flying at King County International Airport, aka Boeing Field, aka BFI, in Seattle.
Flying is both a spendy and time-intensive process. I’ve taken a number of introductory flight lessons, and at one point I actually started flight training with a private instructor and self-guided ground school (that’s the experience that made me realize a formal program would be better for me). I’ve also ridden along with several friends and their instructors on their own training flights.
Anyway, here I am, about halfway through ground school. Now, as JL has already told you, formal ground school is optional, as there are many legit self-study options available that will prepare you for the FAA written exam. Key to any learning endeavor – especially one for folks for whom school of any kind is a couple of decades in the past – is knowing your learning style preferences.
From experience, I know that my most effective learning style is a combination of books and a human instructor, hence my choice of classroom-style ground school. Other folks might prefer videos, still others might choose a self-paced pre-packaged program; all those options are available.
Student pilot requirements get their own chapter in the FAR/AIM, which is the combined set of Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) and the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). It’s the bible for flying in the U.S. I’m here to tell you that it definitely contains lots more rules and regulations than the real Bible.
A friend who’s also a flight instructor once told me that reading the FAR/AIM is like reading the history of aviation, written in rules that are based on mishaps or near misses. Many of the rules or bits of information in there are based on a hard-learned lesson. The legal sections also function as an effective sleep aid.
I sought out Galvin’s program because learning to fly at Boeing Field is akin to learning to drive in lower Manhattan – it’s a super busy airport, hosting both general aviation and lots of Boeing test/delivery fights. It has controlled airspace, it’s sandwiched between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Renton Municipal (which is where every 737 is assembled and takes its first flight), and is just a bit south of Paine Field, where Boeing builds its twin-aisle jets. The airspace around here is complicated.
It’s also bit more expensive here in the Pacific Northwest than in many other parts of the country; a Cessna 172 goes for close to $180/hour, and instructor time is about $80/hour. Ground school, taught by a certificated (welcome to the crazy world of FAA English) ground school instructor, is about $500.
I’ve met and selected my CFI (Certificated Flight Instructor), and we’re hoping to start flight training this coming week – Seattle’s fickle spring weather permitting, of course.
Galvin does have several FAA-approved flight simulators, which will probably come in handy when the weather is below approved VFR (Visual Flight Rules, aka those covering private/sport pilots) minimums. There’s a metric sh*t ton of information to learn, memorize, and apply before the actual flying part begins.
As Capt. A. G. Lamplugh said in 1931, “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.” Thus, the rules and regulations are principally designed to keep you, me, and everyone else out there, safe.
So, yes, this is going to be a ton of work. But it’s already a ton of fun – I’m learning new stuff daily. I’ve already made some new friends at ground school, and summer is on the way, so we’ll soon be experiencing some of the best flying weather of the year.
This will be a regular column, hopefully culminating in my obtaining a private pilot certificate. I’m hoping to inspire folks to pursue their passion by sharing what it’s like to do this, sharing the ups and downs, so to speak, of learning to fly.
I’m also hoping that you’ll ask questions or share your thoughts in the comments.
Disclaimer: Galvin Flying is partially sponsoring this content; our opinions remain our own.