Life on course: ground school phase one.

It’s a quiet, sunny, Sunday morning here in Adelaide. I’m gazing out the window at the birds in the trees and listening to the quiet hum of DA-40’s flying around nearby. Yes, alike thousands of student pilots before me, I’m grinding through a period of ground school. But surprisingly, I’m having a great time.

Our course is structured with a few blocks of ground school, broken up by periods of flying. We have spent our first seven weeks studying Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) level subjects culminating in the first three external CASA exams. We are then released from the classroom until the end of May to fly up to a Private Pilot’s Licence level, and then return for five weeks to finish off the remaining CASA CPL exams. Another block of flying prepares us for our CPL Flight Test, followed by another block of study and flying for the Multi-Engine Command Instrument Rating (MECIR). Following that, we have eleven weeks of Airline Transport Pilot Licence theory and exams, and then finally a Multi-Crew Coordination course.

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Our awesome ground school class.

While it may seem like a lot when written out like this, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. We have the additional benefit of being completely immersed in a culture that encourages and supports a study regime and are surrounded by people at all different stages in the process. Often, a quick conversation with someone at lunch who has just come back from a navigation flight, or someone who just passed a flight test, is all the motivation you need to get back into your study, with the promise of being there yourself in a few months getting you through.

The day to day in ground school phase starts at 8am and finishes up at 4.30pm with breaks for food and, of course, multiple coffees. This first block that we are in has focused on Aircraft General Knowledge, Aerodynamics and Human Factors with comprehensive introductions to the first half of the other four subjects in the CPL curriculum. Because of the broad level of content being covered, no day’s schedule has been the same which has kept us engaged.

Every single one of our dedicated ground school instructors have had comprehensive and successful careers as commercial pilots or engineers before finding themselves in the classroom. They have brought a level of expertise and understanding that has clearly been fine-tuned through their past experiences.

I have surprisingly quite enjoyed having ground school every day because it has allowed time for me to focus on actually understanding the subjects and not just rote learning the answers. The subject that I have always struggled with the most is aerodynamics, and at university and my old flight school, I just tried to memorise the key details and prayed I only got a few questions on the specifics.

Now, with almost two months to study the subject and properly familiarise myself with it, I feel like I actually understand it. Mind you, I have asked about 50 questions in class and am answering a lot of questions wrong on the practice exams, but I have had the time to go back and actually try and figure out why.

Our ground school class is definitely the most diverse class I have had. There are the eight of us from VA5, along with the four Cobham guys. There are also fifteen cadets from Cebu Pacific, an airline in the Philippines. Hands down, they are the nicest people on campus. Every time I walk past any of them, they’ll always say hello and ask how I am. In class, we help each other out and work together and I think they’re pretty cool.

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The room that forces me to study, with Cathay Dragon Cadets, Grace and Mac.

With exams coming up over the next two weeks, I have been trying to crack down on study and work really hard. Unfortunately for them, I have befriended the Cathay Dragon cadets that lock themselves in the classroom each night to study with them. It has been really good though because they are so focused and encourage me to not get distracted. They both answer any of my questions since they are a few months ahead, even though they have their own exams they have to focus on.

It has been really good to mix it up and take a break. After class, our course often exercises together. I have found that I am using exercise as a procrastination tool. We will go to the gym together, go for a jog or play a game of tennis. Because there are a few of us, we play a round robin type game where you get three faults and then you’re out. But I get five faults, because I’m extra terrible at it.

On Friday night, we went to the Adelaide Fringe Festival after class and explored The Garden of Unearthly Delights. This place was like a mixture between Side-Show Alley at the Royal Queensland Show in Brisbane and some kind of massive Eat St Market, mixed with a variety of comedy shows and theatrical performances. It was pretty cool to get out of Parafield and do something different, and we went with the whole crew of people from all different courses.

Cadet pilots at the Adelaide Fringe Festival
The group of us at the Adelaide Fringe Festival

So far, living on campus is working well for me. I have even acquired my own porch seats, which are perfectly situated on the path from the Mess, to grab anyone walking past and have a chat. Inez, one of the other VA5 cadets, and I, found the table setting out the side door of the engineering hangar a few weeks ago. We monitored the setting for a few days before concluding that no-one seemed to use them. We wanted to take them, so we left a sticky note to find out if they were used. The next day, we came back to find them nicely stacked up with a reply left – “please take”.

Also, as an update to anyone who read my last post about the cadetship – there is no 10km path around the airfield. I found out the hard way, 6km in, being spat out on the side of a highway in the middle of a 30 degree morning. 0/10, would not recommend.

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