in Checking In

Highlights of 2020: Wings of Carolina ground school

In the spring of 2020, Travis and I took a virtual ground school from a local flying club, the Wings of Carolina (WoC). It was the second time I’d gone through ground school, the first one being in the mid 1990s. That time I never got around to taking the FAA exam and I’d hoped to complete it all this time around.

Travis has expressed his interest in becoming a pilot. He has excellent vision and would spend lots of time using my flight simulator. I’d promised him long ago if he completed ground school I would be happy to pay for it, but still he was on the fence. When dates opened up for the virtual ground school, I prodded him multiple times about signing up but he was noncommittal. Finally, I signed myself up with the goal of finally finishing what I started. This was all it took to convince Travis to sign up, too, and we were off!

Twice a week, we would gather in front of our playroom TV to “attend” class. For three hours per night we’d be on Zoom as our instructor, John, filled out formulas and sketches on a whiteboard in WoC’s classroom. About 30 other classmates joined in, too. There were some technical glitches, fewer opportunities to interrupt with a question, and more of a distant feel to it than I would’ve hoped.

There was also a lot to learn. Being that this was near the beginning of the pandemic, shouldering the needs of this course while still panicking about potentially getting sick and going through work changes was a lot to take on. I did the best I could but I found I was not as engaged as I should’ve been. I was happy to see Travis really get into it, though. Towards the end when we were tasked with planning a virtual flight, Travis did his weight-and-balance calculations like he’d been doing it all his life. He arrived at his answers long before the rest of the class (and instructor!) had worked out their solutions. It seemed to me that he had a knack for it. I was so proud!

When it came time for the final exam, though, Travis confessed that he felt he wasn’t ready. Like me, he didn’t feel like he had learned what he needed. I was disappointed but I certainly understood. And so, neither one of us wound up taking our FAA final exams. I believe that to this date there is still a tab open on my mail app for the class exam email.

In hihdsight, I think it would’ve been helpful to slow down when trying to teach a course virtually that is normally taught in person. Classmate interaction suffers in virtual classes, so offering one night each week where classmates could chat together in a virtual study hall would’ve helped. And finally, being much closer to actual aircraft (as we would’ve been had we taken the course in person) would’ve really helped us picture ourselves as pilots. With nearly no one traveling right now, it was hard to consider going through this training and then not using it anytime soon (though now I know that this would actually be the best of both worlds – the convenience of air travel without the hazards of a boarding process).

For Travis’s October birthday, I gave him the gift of an “introductory flight” at a local flight school. When I spoke with him to schedule the flight, to my surprise he turned it down. Well, postponing is more like it. He did not feel comfortable spending even an hour crammed into the tiny cockpit of a Cessna with a flight instructor.

And, he’s right. To do this for 20+ hours while training for a private pilot license would certainly not be safe from what we now know about SARSCoV2.

So, it’s not the right time to take this on. Perhaps this year or next.