Greetings from a Student Pilot!
Hey fellow aviators!

I just started Sporty's Learn to Fly online course for ground school, with ASA's "The Complete Private Pilot" by Bob Gardner for supplementary material. I've been fascinated by planes since around age 7 and flew with my Aviation Club in high school from 1997 through 2001.

Question: Is it possible to go through my entire ground school training and FAA Knowledge Exam without CFI assistance? I, like many people, don't have the money (yet) for an instructor, so I can't exactly call someone up and ask questions when I get confused. How should I handle that? Thank you and fly safe!

David Wilcox
Lombard, IL
9 Replies
Ronald Levy
1037 Posts
Patrick Delaney:
You don't need a CFI to complete your ground and knowledge test, 

You do need an instructor (CFI or Ground Instructor) involved to take the written since an instructor's endorsement is necessary to be eligible for the written. Most of the commercial on-line ground schools have an in-house instructor to provide that endorsement upon successful completion of the program (including some sort of end-of-course exam), but you will have to work with an authorized instructor at some point before you can take the written.

See 14 CFR 61.35(a)(1) and 61.103(d).

Good job on starting pursuit of your license even though you can't start flying yet.  But like the other comments, would be helpful to get a couple lessons now.  It might  boost your motivation to find a way to start flying sooner! You don't need a CFI to complete your ground and knowledge test, just study hard and use all the many free references out there, including google. Also there are several 
CFIs doing classes via zoom which is cheaper than in person and I think just as effective. 

I tell my students when they start that there are really 3 paths  they need to go down for the knowledge part of the PPL.  First is what you are doing now which is learning the basics.  Second is specific prep for the knowledge test by taking frequent practice tests which identify any weak areas and stress the  important areas that you need to know.  And last is the intense studying that you will do for the oral portion of the checkride, something that many don't expect.  All of these are obviously about the same subject material but just focused differently.
Hang in there and good luck!
Brian Goff
2 Posts
Hi David!  As you've discovered, the general answer to your question is "yes".  If you'll indulge me to throw in my $0.02, I'll be glad to share my experience with you.  To give you a point of reference, I started my Private Pilot training in June 2020 and finished in September 2020, and passed my checkride on the first try in October 2020.  I flew around 3 times per week, and did my ground school with both a CFI as well as Sporty's. 

Routinely throughout my training, I heard alot of feedback from my own CFI as well as my stage-check CFIs that my ground knowledge was exceptional.  I credit that to using both programs, and as others have mentioned, questions will arise no matter which ground school method you choose.  I found that being able to cross-reference one source against another was helpful.  Sporty's online "ask a CFI" was never functional for me; emails and messages just went unanswered.  But it was beneficial to be able to bring the Sporty's lessons into my CFI on my iPad, show him what I had trouble understanding, and get a better explanation.  The same thing worked in the opposite direction; when I didn't understand what my CFI was explaining, Sporty's was able to fill in some gaps.

I'll vouch for the others' comments, too, that ground school is best accomplished while simultaneously taking flight lessons.  In my experience, there were more than a few "ah ha!" moments in the air when a ground lesson kicked in.  Crosswind landings and forward slips are but two examples ... until you try it in the air with the ground lesson fresh in your mind, the ground lessons will have little meaning.

Lastly, I'll repeat the previous suggestion: if you're going to attempt ground school on your own, then don't go it alone.  One thing I might offer as a suggestion is to connect with other students.  In my program, all instruction was offered one-on-one and I lamented that being able to learn from other students would have been advantageous.  Students share a commonality in that they are laypersons, and even the best CFIs cannot always make the connection between the lesson material and a student's brain.  For me, it would have been quite helpful to talk to another student who might have explained things in plain English and share their own ah-ha moments.  I'm sure there are multiple flying clubs around suburban Chicago and maybe even the AOPA discussion board can connect students with each other.

Good luck, and enjoy the adventure!  It's worth the effort!
To answer David, yes, you can learn everything you need to pass the written exams on your own. I used Rod Machado’s books. I never had any logged ground instruction. That said, questions will arise, and it is more meaningful to discuss them with someone who is familiar with you and your progress. Some people suggest getting the written exam out of the way first thing. I disagree, for two reasons. First, the material will make a lot more sense and will become ingrained as you fly, so the exam will be easier after you have flown for a while. Second, the exam credit expires. Life happens. I, and some fellow students, ended up pushing up against the written exam expiration, even though we had all delayed taking the exam until we had at least soloed. DPE scheduling, finances, world wide pandemics - they can all get in the way of your practical test. 
Regarding Ground School without being out of pocket at $50 an hour, there are numerous free ground schools on the internet.   That said, I am of the opinion that the best approach is to fly the real aircraft for several lessons as soon as you can.  Then Ground School takes on a more realistic and personal perspective.   Ideas get connected so much better to actual flight.   

For others reading this thread, another route is to study for and successfully pass the Advanced Ground Instructor exam.   The AGI exam does not require any endorsement.   Check in advance with your CFI and gain assurance that they will then grant your endorsement to take the PPL written.   No better proof of having completed adequate study than passing the AGI.   The knowledge gained makes preparation for the AGI exam is well worth the effort.   I studied Gleim and then switched to Dauntless for example test material.   You will learn a lot along the way and PPL exam preparation will be super easy.

As an additional thought, for those who have the budget, investing in a good simulator will save you lots of hours in real world training.   The sim will pay for itself in very short order and be available for further training thereafter for years and years.    PM to me if anyone wants details on hardware and software.   
I think so. I used Sporty's (but I did have my CFI for questions).  I also used the Sporty's "ask a CFI" thing a couple of times. Be sure to read the FAA manuals: Airplane Flying Handbook and PHAK.  I used the Gleim test prep book, and worked through all of them (it's a lot), and then used the Sporty's for practice tests. Or, work through ALL the Sporty's prep questions (not just take practice tests of 60 questions or so, just choose them all)