Instructor Insights

Instructor Insights pages are part of the OCW Educator initiative, which seeks to enhance the value of OCW for educators.

Instructor Insights

Below, Dr. Philip Greenspun and Dr. Tina Srivastava describe various aspects of how they teach 16.687 Private Pilot Ground School.

Every student graduating from MIT should know how airplanes fly. It's a really basic point of curiosity in the world.

— Tina Srivastava


Curriculum Information


None, though students are expected to have previously read portions of the FAA Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, FAA Airplane Flying Handbook, and FAA Helicopter Flying Handbook.

Requirements Satisfied

Unrestricted Elective Credits Unrestricted elective credits


Every IAP

The Classroom

  • The front of a classroom, with rows of tiered seats facing a wall full of blackboards.


    The first day of the course was taught in a lecture hall with tiered seating for 119, several blackboards and whiteboards, and A/V equipment.

  • The front of a classroom, with arced tiers of desks facing a wall full of blackboards.


    The second and third days of the course were taught in a slightly smaller lecture hall with tiered seating and shared desk space for 90, blackboards, and A/V equipment.



Students receive a P/D/F grade rather than standard letter grades. P (passing) indicates a C- or better.

Student Information

About 170 students took this course when it was taught in IAP 2019.


Enrollment was about 170 in the 2019 IAP, of whom 51 were MIT students taking the course for credit.

Breakdown by Year

30% undergraduates, 40% graduate students, 10% MIT alumni, 20% other

Typical Student Background

About 25% of students had taken one or more flight lessons; 20% had studied some written pilot training materials; 55% had no aviation experience of any kind.


How Student Time Was Spent

In Class

The course met on three successive days from 9 AM to 5 PM each day. Class sessions were lecture-based, with many opportunities for asking and answering questions. Lectures were also infused with images, graphics, and props.


Out of Class

Students were expected to read portions of the FAA training manuals before the beginning of the course and many prepared to take the FAA official knowledge test outside of class.