With new iPad apps appearing every day, it was inevitable that ground school, written prep and aviation reference materials would hit the tablet market. And sure enough, there’s plenty out there for someone looking to add a new rating or to just have a convenient reference library.
We limited our app search to the instrument rating because it’s a popular and useful rating. We looked at the one app that’s available, Sporty’s, two online instrument written courses, ASA’s Prepware app and two e-Books.
Overall, Gleim and King Schools got good marks for their online courses, and while we felt Sporty’s app was good, it needs improvement. We liked ASA’s inexpensive Prepware for final brushup for the written and the two e-Books we reviewed.
ASA offers what it calls Prepware apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. For the instrument rating, ASA has taken its long-time Test Prep Book ($24.95) and turned it into a $9.99 app. We found the Prepware to be intuitive to use. Simply tell it whether you want to do study questions—in which you get feedback and explanation as soon as you touch your answer to the question—or test questions. It then simulates the FAA knowledge test by giving you no feedback until you finish the test and push the button to grade it.
There are eight general areas of test questions, each averaging just over 100 questions. Once you select an area, the questions pop up in clear, easy-to-read screens. For $9.99, we think this is a great way to review and prepare for the FAA knowledge test. There is a $49.94 version for a computer that has more features and allows you to obtain the hard copy endorsement that you need to take the FAA knowledge test.
ASA offers, as an e-Book, one of the better textbooks ever written, the late William Kershner’s The Instrument Flight Manual, seventh edition, which is the most current update, edited by the original author’s son.
ASA also offers an instrument oral exam guide in e-Book format for $9.95 and hard copy for $12.95.
We liked that ASA’s website included a section on how to read e-Books on computers and mobile devices, however, we did find the site itself a bit clunky when trying to navigate to find e-Books and apps.
Gleim has long been the no-frills, least expensive, we’ll-give-you-what-you-need-to-know-to-pass-the-test training organization. It has not put together any apps for ground school training, but has an online ground school series. In reviewing the $99.95 online instrument ground school, we found it to be in keeping with the company’s philosophy of efficiency with no extraneous material. The course can be viewed on the iPad, although you must install a browser that allows use of Adobe Flash to watch the video segments, which are a necessary element.
The course is organized into three stages that contain three or four study units. Each study unit contains a detailed outline, not a textbook, of the areas covered in the study unit. It’s recommended, and we agree, that the outline be printed out. You view the video for the study unit, and probably mark up the hard copy of the outline, as there’s substantial information not included in the outline. You then go into the study session, which consists of a series of questions that must be answered with a score of at least 70 percent. Immediate feedback is given upon selecting the answer to a quiz question, and the system requires that the student correct any wrong answers before advancing to the next question. As you finish, you’re required to review the questions not answered correctly the first try.
At the end of each study unit, there’s a test quiz in which feedback is given at the end of the quiz. Once passed, the study unit is complete. The Study Unit Selection page clearly shows the student what has been completed and what remains to be done.
There’s a stage test at the end of each stage, or group of study units and an end-of-course test that allows the student with a passing score to receive and print out the required endorsement for the FAA knowledge test. We liked the fact that there were also five practice tests available for further test prep.
This is truly a product stripped to the essentials—the video is essentially two-color PowerPoint screens with narration—no on-camera humans appear.
Chartmaker Jeppesen acquired leading aviation ground training company Sanderson Films in the last century. As such, we expected to see Jeppesen among the leaders in the instrument training world, with an online course and perhaps an app. We found that Jepp has no training apps and its online offerings were limited to the private pilot rating.
For the instrument rating, Jeppesen offers an e-Book format of its Guided Flight Discovery Instrument Commercial Textbook for $79.99; the hard copy is $86.95. While it covers more than the instrument rating, it is, in our opinion, one of the best textbooks in the industry. It goes well beyond the minimum required by the FARs for aeronautical knowledge for the written exam. In our view, it’s an outstanding textbook and a long-term reference that should be in a pilot’s library.
Strangely, 10 minutes of hunting around the Jeppesen website did not disclose the existence of the e-Book. We could only find it on iTunes.
King actively advertises its courses for the iPad. It has a number of apps for $29 on various subjects, although none that were specifically applicable to the instrument rating. The $279 instrument rating knowledge test course is an online course and requires adding a browser to the iPad to accommodate Adobe Flash. It recommends storing or printing the PDF of the course notes and figures used in the various quizzes and tests.
The course itself is set up as a flow through 11 sections. Each section is broken into various subsections that consist of a full color, video presentation of either John or Martha King showing graphic depictions of the subject, such as an enroute chart. After the video you take a quiz, which gives immediate feedback on each question. Once you have given the correct answer to each question on the quiz, you have successfully completed the subsection.
The introductory graphic shows what you have completed and what is yet to come. However, it’s limited to the sections you have completed, not the subsections within, something we would like to see. We found it difficult to move among the subsections within a section, even after watching the explanatory video twice. It wasn’t intuitive. The videos themselves were good, but the slider used to scrub forward or back within a video is tricky to move on an iPad.
Once through the course, there are practice questions to review as well as practice tests that simulate the FAA knowledge test. You must take three practice tests and receive a score of at least 70 percent on each to receive and print out an endorsement for the FAA knowledge test.
Sporty’s Pilot Shop
Sporty’s $199.99 universal iPad and iPhone instrument rating—not just the written—app is the only way we found to do instrument rating ground school without access to high-speed broadband. While it does require that you download the individual video segments before watching them, a little planning ahead means you can watch this course anywhere, any time.
Sporty’s has put out a lot of good aviation apps, but we think that maybe they hurried this one. We like the convenience of the course, but had trouble figuring out its organization. There are over 12 hours of top-notch videos—the best of the courses we reviewed. They are not limited to just the material on the FAA exam. However, they are not connected to practice questions, as with the other courses.
The written test prep section is the $14.99 Sporty’s Study Buddy app incorporated into the course. The Study Buddy is set up to either present sample written test questions with immediate feedback and explanations after each, as flash cards, or a test mode that simulates the FAA knowledge test with time limits and grading the answers at the end of the test.
The Study Buddy topic arrangement is not tied into the topics covered in the videos, so immediate review after a video is not user-friendly.
There is a full, 72-page training course outline designed for the flight portion of the instrument rating. We did not see any reference to the videos or Study Buddy segments of this app, although it did reference FAA documents to review prior to a flight lesson. It appeared to be a standalone instrument rating syllabus added to, rather than integrated with, the app.
There’s a video maneuvers guide that is well done, as is the interactive Practical Test Standards study guide that ties into videos.
Once all of the videos have been viewed and you pass two practice tests with a score of 80 percent or better, you can receive an endorsement to take the FAA knowledge test.
The Sporty’s app came across to us as too much self-guided learning, particularly when it comes to having an instrument student sort out which practice questions should be reviewed after a video lesson segment. We would like to see the app organized a little better so that a student can easily access pertinent review questions for each training segment and track progress in mastering each segment, as is done in the Gleim and King online courses.
The good news is that there are credible instrument written online courses that can be viewed on the iPad, even though some part of each will need to be accomplished on a computer. The bad news is that there’s only one instrument course app, and we don’t think it’s quite ready for prime time. If money is the driver, the Gleim online course is a good value. While it’s bare bones, it doesn’t omit anything. For a higher-quality course that includes more than just the legal minimums, we think the King course is worth it. ASA’s $9.99 Prepware app is definitely worth the money for test question review at any time you’re carrying your iPad. For truly rounding out training and to have in an aviation reference library, we recommend Jeppesen’s Instrument Commercial Textbook, either in e-Book or hard copy form, even though it’s pricey.