Sporty’s (www.sportys.com) recently expanded its line of interactive training materials with a Commercial Pilot Test Prep Course it offers for $149.99. Although advertised as a test prep course, it is, in our opinion, much more. It starts with the industry standard procedure for test prep courses—the student answers test questions, gets feedback as to why an answer is right or wrong and is directed to the appropriate reference (such as the FAA’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge), and the software keeps track of the student’s score so review can focus on weak areas.
However, the Sporty’s course goes further by providing solid preparation for the oral portion of the practical test, more than 90 minutes of video animations of commercial maneuvers and complex airplane operation as well as an impressive reference library.
This course is designed as a test prep; it is not a ground school. Sporty’s John Zimmerman told us that the course, and its content, were produced in response to what customers told Sporty’s they needed. “They wanted the test, maneuvers and the oral,” Zimmerman said. He advised us that by not doing a full-blown ground school, the customer is saved about $100.
While Zimmerman said that Sporty’s may do a full commercial ground school course in the future, we’re of the opinion that a private pilot who studied the Airplane Flying Handbook, Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and Aeronautical Information Manual can prepare for the commercial written exam effectively using nothing more than the Sporty’s course.
By working through the database of more than 800 test questions and reviewing the references for correct and incorrect answers, the student gets a hands-on immersion into all areas needed to pass the written exam. Where relevant, questions direct the student to the appropriate FAA graphics, such as aeronautical charts and performance graphs, needed to answer the question—so the student sees material as it will appear on the FAA written.
Once the student has completed the question battery the next step is a Smart Study Session where the software focuses on the areas of weakness. The student can direct the system to present only questions missed previously and can mark questions for follow-up or last-minute review.
When the student feels ready, it’s time to take practice tests. Once the student passes two practice tests with a score of 80 percent or better, Sporty’s issues a written test endorsement.
We like that the course can be used on multiple formats—iPhone, iPad, Android and online. There is also a dedicated section for taking notes, so the course is completely portable—if the student has a device or access to the internet, she or he can study.
We’ve observed students who have done well on the written exam and fly well, but can’t seem to express themselves and have trouble on the oral portion of the practical exam. We think Sporty’s course will help any applicant avoid the deer in the headlights look when it’s time to sit down with a DPE and answer questions
Sporty’s Commercial Pilot Test Prep Course includes two areas of oral exam prep. First is 420 flash cards with questions that may be expected on the oral. They do take a little effort and honesty on the part of the student. Before turning the card over on the screen, the student should answer the question out loud—practice a little public speaking and make the exercise as real as possible.
Once the student has expressed an answer, the card is flipped and the student compares what she or he has just said to the course’s answer (with reference to the appropriate FAA publication) and decides whether he or she got the answer right. That’s where intellectual honesty comes in.
The student self-grades and the software keeps track. Once the student has taken all of the questions, the Smart Review system will pull up and replay the ones missed.
The second portion of the oral review is video by well-known DPE Jason Blair with tips and tricks on passing a checkride. It’s over an hour long and struck us as akin to sitting down with an experienced DPE to get the inside dope on successfully completing a checkride.
The biggest part of the commercial flight test is the maneuvers. They are designed to teach a pilot to get the most out of an airplane, often requiring a pilot to be able to cause the machine to fly a desired three-dimensional track while airspeed, altitude, bank angle and control pressures are constantly changing.
In our opinion, once a pilot is able to visualize a maneuver, she or he is well on the way to being able fly it. For that reason, we like the maneuver videos included with Sporty’s commercial course. They do a good job of depicting, in two dimensions, something that takes place in three. The narration accompanies the flight path of the depicted airplane well, explaining what is supposed to happen and why. It also sets out common errors with each maneuver.
Scrolling down from the video there is text that further describes the maneuver and common errors plus the performance standards for the maneuver from the ACS.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that more than just the standard commercial maneuvers were included in the video library. There is an extensive video on flying complex and high-performance airplanes—with autopilot best practices and engine management tips, a pre-maneuver checklist (we think of the many times we have we heard examiners complain that applicants don’t know what to do to make sure that they and the airplane are ready to perform commercial maneuvers), cross-country departure procedures, how to divert to an alternate airport and lost procedures, to name a few.
We think the videos will be reviewed often by commercial students as they are so data rich that it takes more than one viewing to take everything in.
We were also impressed by the volume of reference material included with the course. We were delighted to see such publications as Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators, GA Pilot’s Guide to Preflight Weather Planning, Mountain Flying, Pilot Controller Glossary, Weight and Balance Handbook and a link to all FAA Advisory Circulars.
We were impressed by what we saw in Sporty’s Commercial Pilot Test Prep Course. In our opinion, it’s among the top tier of test prep courses that we’ve reviewed over the years.