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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Learn to Fly and Get College Credit: AVIA 111 FAQ

Q: Is the AVIA 111 course for me?

A: Yes.

Q: Could you be a little more specific?

A: Yes. Since this is the first class you'd probably take in aviation, it covers basic principles of flight, aviation regulations, elementary weather, and other very general topics. You don't need any experience around airplanes at all, and it doesn't matter if you can't tell an aileron from a snickerdoodle--although you'll definitely know which one not to take a bite out of by the time the class is over.

You don't even have to want to be a pilot to take this class! This class is a great choice for you if any of the following apply to you:

  • You're just looking for a fun, rewarding elective to add to your transcript. I can't promise that it will be the easiest one, but it will probably be one of the most enjoyable ones you ever take.
  • You've been curious about maybe learning to fly someday and want to see if you have what it takes.
  • Your child, spouse, or significant other is an aviation nut and you would like to be able to talk with them about it in an informed manner.
  • You hate flying! Knowledge is power, and understanding the basic principles of flying will allow you to be a much more relaxed airline passenger. Knowing that loud THUMP just after takeoff is just the landing gear coming up or understanding just how the pilots up front still know exactly where they're at even though you can't see out your side window will help you overcome a fear of flying. In fact, many psychologists recommend a class like this one as part of therapy for patients with flying phobias.
If you do want to fly for a living or go into air traffic control, unmanned aerial systems ("drones"), etc., this class is applicable to you, too, since it prepares you for the first of many exams you'll have to take throughout your career.

Q: Are there prerequisites to take this class?

A: No. While the physics of flight is so complex that NASA nerds still study it, you don't need to know more than very basic physics to fly an airplane, and even those physical principles I break down into the simplest terms possible. You don't need to know advanced thermodynamics of the internal combustion engine to drive to the grocery store, and you don't need to know advanced aerodynamics to understand flight. The only prerequisite is a sense of adventure.

Q: What is the class like?

I teach this class almost completely differently than any of the 4-year colleges or online programs. Everyone else teaches it the same dull way that it's been taught since World War II. That method was a rushed effort to do something that had never been done before: train a mass of pilots in a hurry. It was designed to weed out those who couldn't cram in a large mass of obscure technical details in a short amount of time. The materials, lectures, and methods have unfortunately changed little since then.

From the start, I have had my own fresh approach to aviation. I ditched the old, dry textbook that was used only because "that's the one we've always used" and replaced it with one that is more fun and more informative. I combine the classroom with this blog, my Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, interactive online mini-courses, an end-of-semester project, tours of an ATC facility or other aviation office, and a visit to the airport to see, smell, and touch a real plane. I also tossed the rote memorization and dusty mathematical formulas and replaced them with learning to think instead of barfing up a meaningless answer.

It's not an easy class, and just like any college course there is a lot of work to do. However, it's the most fun you'll ever have working so hard. By the end of the semester, most of my students have the same seemingly-contradictory comments: "There's so much to learn," and "This is the best class I've ever had."

If you're not having fun learning about flying, you're doing it wrong. And along the way, even if you never take flying lessons you'll end up with a way of thinking about things that will serve you well the rest of your life.

Q: Is there math involved?
A: No. If you can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, you're all set. The most complex math problem you'll get is something along the lines of, "If your plane burns 9 gallons an hour and it will take you 2 hours to get there, how much fuel will you consume?" If you can do 9 x 2 = 18 on a regular calculator, you're qualified. Pocket protectors are totally optional.

Q: How much does it cost?

A: Since this is a college course, the cost is based on LCCC's tuition rate. For a 4 credit hour course, that currently works out to $473.36, which can be covered by financial aid if you receive it. The textbook is approximately $45-65, depending on what format you prefer (paper or ebook) and where you buy it.

LCCC has a flat-rate tuition scale, so anything from 13-18 credit hours costs the same. This means that if you're already taking classes, AVIA 111 may cost you nothing extra to add to your schedule!

If you're over the age of 60, you may be able to take this class for free! Please keep in mind that I do not handle the paperwork for this, so you'll need to contact LCCC's Center for Lifelong Learning for more information on what you need to do. I've instructed plenty of students over 60 (I've had students range in age all the way from 8 to 80), so you're never to old to learn to fly!

Q: Do I have to buy a textbook?

A: The textbook of record per the syllabus is Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook. This is the book that Embry-Riddle and many other colleges use for their introductory aviation classes. He has an accompanying workbook that is highly recommended but not required.

That said, while I do tend to use the book to remind myself where I am during lectures, I am not one of those instructors who treats you like you can't read and just teaches right out of the book. You will probably find it slightly easier to keep up in class if you have a copy, but if you already have a textbook from somewhere else (Jeppesen, King Schools, etc.) or prefer to download the FAA's official Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and Airplane Flying Handbook for free from their website, feel free to do so. Which ones you read is less important than that you actually read them.

Q: I have already started my flight training or I'm already a pilot. Can I or should I take this course?

A: Absolutely. I've had many students who got their license, flew for a while, and then had life get in the way for 5, 10, or 20+ years. Once flying gets in your blood, it never gets out, and if you've been away from flying for a long period of time, this class will help you brush the dust off that old knowledge and shine it up with the new things that may have changed while you were gone.

AVIA 111 also works well if you're a student pilot who has started taking lessons. In fact, several of my ground school students started out as my flight students. The hours you already have in the air will help you understand the concepts in class, and the things you learn in class will help you understand why you do the things you do. Flight training takes care of the "how" part of flying, and ground school takes care of the "why". The two of them work together to develop you into a whole pilot.

Q: Is AVIA 111 offered online?

A: Not at this time. While I'm all for making this an online class so you can learn on your own schedule, there is a LOT of work involved in turning a classroom lecture-based class into a fully online section, much of which involves getting it approved by the powers that be. It's not just a matter of uploading some PowerPoint slides and pretending it's a class, and the continuing budget cuts in higher education that we've been suffering the last several years make this process even longer.

If you prefer to learn on your own schedule but still want college credit, contact me and I'll see if we can work something out along the lines of a series of independent study classes. There are disadvantages in doing it that way (especially if you're planning to transfer), but if your circumstances absolutely preclude you from attending a lecture-based class, I'd much rather see you have the opportunity to learn about the wonder of flight in some way rather than none.

Q: Do I have to (or get to) fly in this class?

A: No. Learning to fly involves two parallel tracks: a ground part and a flight part. As the name of the class suggests, the Private Pilot Ground School covers the ground part. There is no flying required and flying is no part of your grade. You will have the chance to see, touch, and sit in a small plane as part of the class, but it will be in the hangar with the engine off.

However, you can take an introductory flight (or, if you're already taking lessons, continue them) outside of class, either with me or anyone else. This will have no effect on your grade at all, except perhaps to help make what we talk about in class make more sense. This is not included in the cost of the course and LCCC takes no part and no responsibility for you flying. 

Q: Who teaches this class?

A: Me. I'm a commercial pilot and certificated flight and ground instructor. I have over 2,000 hours of flight time in dozens of different airplanes, from small two-seat light sport aircraft to big multi-engine aircraft. I've written extensively on a large number of aviation topics, and the only thing I like as much as flying is teaching others to fly!

This is an actual college class, which means that unlike many of the weekend ground schools available, you'll have an actual college professor instead of a weekend pilot teaching a class for a couple of bucks on the side or a brand-new flight instructor who barely knows more about flying a plane than you do.

Q: What is the coursework like?

A: Since the FAA publishes the questions for their written exams, you can actually see every single question I would possibly ask you on a quiz or test before you even take the class by buying a study guide like Rod Machado's Private Pilot Workbook, any of dozens of different test prep guides from different publishers, or exam prep software from vendors like

There are also 6 self-paced mini-courses throughout the class that you'll take online. Each one takes approximately 60-90 minutes to complete.

There is also a flight planning project that is due at the end of the course. You can see that by checking out Come Chair Fly Away With Me. It may look complicated now, but that's because it ties together all the neat little things you'll learn throughout the preceding three months, so that by the time it's due, it will all make perfect sense.

Q: Why should I take this class instead of one of those weekend/online/etc. classes from somewhere else?

A: If you want college credit or are planning to pursue aviation as a career, this is a no-brainer.

If you're just taking it for personal reasons, then this class may still be a better option for you than a canned class available elsewhere because it is personally tailored toward you. There are many "class-in-a-box" courses available, and many of them (particularly the King Schools ones) are very well done. However well produced they are, though, they all suffer from the problem that they have to be written to a one-size-fits-all audience. This means that they cannot know what material you're struggling with, what material you find easy, and can't give you immediate feedback, so they'll often spend too much time on some topics and not enough on others.

The first day of class, I ask the students in the class why they're taking it and what their career goals are. I then keep these answers in mind throughout the semester as I'm lecturing, which allows me to point out when something will be of particular interest to someone.

Another big advantage is that you can use financial aid to cover the cost of the class.

Q: What do get I when I pass this course?

A: You get an endorsement to take the FAA written exam. While most instructors give this as a scribbled, handwritten note in a logbook, I give this endorsement as a certificate suitable (and intended) for framing. (Don't worry: if you take the written, they make a copy and you get to keep the original.) Completing your first step in flight is an accomplishment you should be proud of, since it is a step that less than 1% of people ever take in their entire life.

Q: Do I have to take the FAA written?

A: No. This class prepares you for it and qualifies you to take it once you successfully complete the course, but you don't have to take it and has no effect on your grade. In fact, since you don't get your endorsement to take the written until after the class is over, there's no way I could even make it have an effect on your grade. The official FAA written exam is administered through two organizations: CATS or PSI (LaserGrade) and requires a fee which is not part of the course.

Q: Do you offer this kind of class for an instrument rating?

A: Yes. LCCC does offer a class designed for those pursuing an instrument rating: TECN 196. I teach that one too. It is only offered when we get a sufficient number of students enrolled, so if you want to take it, contact the Engineering Technologies department at (440) 366-4005 and let them know.

Q: Do I have to be an LCCC student to take this class?

A: Yes. Fortunately, it's an easy process to register as a student. You don't have to take a bunch of entrance exams and all that if you just want to take this one course, either. LCCC's Registration department has more information about taking classes just for personal interest.

Q: What other aviation classes does LCCC offer?

A: TECN 196 is the Instrument Rating Ground School. We have also put together a class for those interested in a commercial pilot certificate. Both of these classes are only offered if there is sufficient enrollment, so contact the Engineering Technologies department at (440) 366-4005 and let them know you're interested.

In the long term, I'd love to expand LCCC's aviation program into offering classes in several departments such as history, political science, economics, and literature with listings for things like History of Aviation; Aviation in the World Wars; Aviation's Influence on Commerce; an English literature class with reading from Gann, Buck, Saint-Exupéry, Lindbergh, Earhart, etc.; and an applied technology series of courses where students build their own kitplane. However, this is a long process, and it also requires a demonstration that people would be willing to take that sort of class. If any of those sound good, please contact the Engineering Technologies department at (440) 366-4005 and let them know your thoughts on growing the program. Aviation's impact on modern life is so large that it's hard to find some facet of life that it hasn't touched.

We may be able to arrange an individualized study course if there is a particular topic that really fires your interest and that you'd like to learn more about. Perhaps you watched The Aviator and you'd like to learn more about Howard Hughes and the Spruce Goose. Maybe the old days of "real pilots" flying rickety biplanes full of mail fascinate you, or the modern days of "cool pilots" flying stealth planes full of bombs halfway around the world... If it's a worthwhile topic, we can probably put together an individualized studies class for you. Beware: individualized studies courses are only for you if you meet certain academic prerequisites and standing are good at directing your own learning, must be approved by the department, and can only be repeated a limited number of times. They're good if you have a "square peg" interest that doesn't fit into your "round hole" degree. With the way the college budget is being shaken lately, though, individualized studies may or may not be an option, unfortunately.

Q: I have a question that wasn't answered here. Where can I get more information?

A: LCCC's Engineering Technologies department is a good place to start. They're available at (440) 366-4005. If they can't answer your question, they can give you my faculty email address. I would be happy to answer your questions, but I can't post my email address here because of spambots.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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