Tuscola Intermediate School District adult and community education director Tina Adam stands next to a small airplane last month at Caro Area Airport. Adam and local pilot Jerry Oprea have announced that the ISD will host a private pilot ground school course, beginning this month, at the Tuscola Technology Center, as long as five or more students sign up.

A new community education program is coming to Tuscola County. As long as there is enough interest.

A new community education program is coming to Tuscola County.

As long as there is enough interest. 

Beginning this month, the Tuscola County Intermediate School District is offering a private pilot ground school course for anyone looking to learn how to fly an airplane, whether it be as a career or for a hobby.

“This is open to students, and anyone else interested in learning to fly,” said Jerry Oprea, who will instruct the course. “It’s for rusty pilots, people kind of like me – I hadn’t flown since 2011 – or people who want a new experience.”

Classes will be held at the Tuscola Technology Center, 1401 Cleaver Road, just north of Caro in Almer Township. Students will meet from 5:30 to 8 p.m. each Monday and Thursday through June 5. The cost of the course is $780 per student, which includes ISD-associated fees and class materials associated with the Gleim Study Kit, which will serve as the course syllabus.

To participate, folks must register by March 10 by calling the Tech Center at 989-673-5300. At least five students are needed for the program to be a go.

The Tuscola ISD serves students in all of the county’s school districts – Caro, Millington, Vassar, Unionville-Sebewaing Area, Mayville, Akron-Fairgrove, Kingston, Reese and Cass City. The ground school course will be part of its community education program, which means it’s open to anyone.

“Our community education program is about getting individuals out into the community and really being able to be part of something,” said Tina Adam, the ISD’s adult and community education director. “We offer career-based classes and we also have leisure courses, such as art classes, craft classes, swim classes for kiddos, water aerobics classes …”

The ground school course is unique, she said, and not offered by any neighboring county ISDs. 

“We’re definitely excited about this course because it can lead to both a career and a hobby,” Adam said. “I feel individuals will really benefit from having something like this local.”

The course is a necessary step in obtaining a private pilot license. Although there is no age requirement for the course, a prospective pilot must be 17 years old to receive a private pilot license. 

“A private pilot license is the foundation of aviation,” Oprea said. “It gives you the right to fly with passengers in visual flight rules (VFR) conditions.” 

A pilot needs ground school instruction endorsement by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified instructor, such as Oprea, in order to take the FAA written exam. 

“This is one of three elements you need for a private pilot license,” Oprea said. “You must pass the FAA exam with at least a 70 percent. This course provides the knowledge you need for the exam.”

The FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Test costs $175 (not included in the course cost) and consists of 60 multiple choice questions. The test is administered at certified testing centers.

Oprea explained that a student must first obtain a solo pilot license, which gives them the right to fly in a small airplane, such as a two-seater or four-seater, alone. To receive a solo license, a pilot must be certified by a flight instructor. There is no required amount of flying hours necessary to receive a solo license, but is obtained when an instructor deems the student ready to fly alone.

In addition to the written test, a pilot must log 35 hours of flight time and pass a medical exam and oral exam to receive a private pilot license. 

Oprea, 67, started flying as a teenager and received his private pilot license in 1973, at age 17. He went to college and spent 35 years working in supply chain distribution. He retired briefly, then in 2012 began working as a circuit court bailiff at the Tuscola County Courthouse. He retired from that gig in September 2021.

At the time, the world was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Oprea decided it was the right time to spend more time involved with one of his great passions – flying. 

Oprea had spent minimal time in the air during the past decade, and decided it was time to climb back into an airplane. He took the courses necessary to become a certified ground school instructor and has hit the ground running. In the past 13 months, he said, Oprea has been instructing private pilot and instrument ground school courses to students at Harry Browne Airport in Saginaw County’s Buena Vista Township.

He’s instructed about 20 students with the same Gleim Study Kit curriculum that he will utilize at the Tech Center. All have passed the course.

“It’s just an awesome lesson plan,” Oprea said. “It takes the students all the way from start to finish and prepares them for the exam.”

It will be up to students to follow the curriculum and come to class prepared with the knowledge necessary for that day’s lesson.

“If they’re hearing it from me first, they’re not doing it right, and it will hold us back,” he said. “They really need to be dedicated to it.”

Oprea said his students have been a mix of those wanting to fly for fun, and those pursuing flying as a career. Airline pilots are a hot commodity, he added.

“The pandemic affected so many fields. And when the country shut down, you had a lot of pilots my age out there who just said, ‘I’m done,’” Oprea said. “And the retirement is well-deserved, they worked hard for a long time. It’s so very difficult to refill that pipeline. It takes time and a lot of dedication.”

Flight students who want to take their education all the way to the top of the profession – piloting a commercial jetliner – would need to rack up hundreds of hours of flight time. To receive a commercial pilot license, which allows a pilot to charge a fee for flying, 250 hours of flight time must be achieved. Most major airlines require a total of 1,500 hours of flight time before admitting potential airline pilots to train on the big jets. A good way to go from the 250 to 1,500 is to pilot charter flights or carry cargo, Oprea said.

Regardless of a student’s intention, Tech Center Principal Todd Laventure said he is excited about folks taking their first step with the Tuscola ISD.

“If this ignites a spark in somebody’s mind, I don’t care if they’re 15 or 50, then that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “Our goal is to open people’s minds to possibilities, things they may have not considered. We want them to dig in and realize this is achievable.”

Adam, Oprea and Laventure are all onboard for making pilot ground school a regular course at the Tech Center, even if the program doesn’t garner the five commitments necessary for the class to proceed this school year.

“If this doesn’t happen now, we’re going to push for it in the fall,” Laventure said. “Tina does a great job trying to meet the unique needs of this county, both for individuals and industry, and find innovative courses.

“And this is an exciting one.”

Adam said the Tuscola County community education program is always searching for new suggestions.

“If you have an idea and are interested in sharing your skills and talents, please contact the Tech Center,” she said.