When a student pilot is working on obtaining his private pilot's license, he is required to pass a written knowledge test prior to taking his final licensing check ride. The knowledge needed to pass the written exam may be acquired through home study, weekend seminar or private pilot ground school. Information required to pass the written exam for a private pilot's license is governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and covers a variety of topics that students must be familiar with in order to pass their written exam for their license.
Although ground schools can be condensed into shorter periods of time, many flight schools that offer a private pilot ground school hold classes once a week for a period of two to three months. Before delving into heavier ground school subjects, instructors cover the requirements for a private pilot's license, commonly used aviation terms and definitions, and FAA regulations (FARs). The first subject that a private pilot must be comfortable with prior to operating an aircraft alone is weather and weather services. For example, a pilot must know about different types of clouds, different types of fog and how to read weather forecasts put out by the National Weather Service.
After students learn about weather in private pilot ground school, they must become familiar with different types of airspace, such as airspace with a control tower versus uncontrolled airspace. Additionally, students must learn how to read sectional charts, which are basically maps of the sky. Sectionals signify different types of airspace, important land markers and the heights of objects that could possibly be obstructions in a pilot’s flight path.
Next in line for topics that students must be familiar with to pass their written exam are engines and systems, runway marking systems and the medical impact that flying may have on a pilot. Pilots should understand how a basic engine works, in order to recognize when an engine is failing in flight and in order to mechanically maintain their aircraft. Different airports use different types of marking systems for their runways.
Most airports have a rotating beacon and large airports will have runway lights. Smaller airports and private landing strips will have special runway markings that a pilot must learn to read to land easier. Pilots may also experience spacial disorientation or vertigo while flying, especially if they inadvertently end up in a storm. Learning about these aeromedical factors help prepare a private pilot for emergency situations in the cockpit.
Other topics covered in private pilot ground school are aerodynamics, flight instruments, radio communications, radio navigation, aircraft performance and weight and balance. Ground school instructors will also spend time teaching students how to plan a cross country flight. After all the subjects have been covered thoroughly, it is typical for instructors to offer a study session prior to sending a student to take the written exam.