Learning to fly can be a little like trying to drink out of a firehose, especially for students with no previous exposure to aviation. With all of that new information, terminology and technique to take on- board, the logical starting point is a good virtual ground school.
Thankfully the online course options are getting better all the time, while providing a potentially cheaper and more time-flexible resource for new pilots. For this article we took a look at eight of the top options for online private pilot ground schools.
Sporty’s Learn to Fly
The Sporty’s Learn To Fly course covers Private, Recreational and Sport Pilot certificates. It uses a modular format, with each of the six main sections focusing on a different phase of training. The main sections are further divided into short video lessons ranging from one to 30 minutes. Most lessons have an associated review quiz that can be retaken as desired. Students can click on the “Explanation” link in the quizzes to jump directly to the part of the video that addresses each question.
The course videos are professional, well-organized and come with a highly useful search function: Typing a word or phrase into the search bar will pull up a list of any course video in which that word or phrase appears. Students can then click on any of the videos that show up in the search results to jump directly to that lesson. A video training study guide and review notes document can also be downloaded. The guide is a companion to the video lessons and does a good job condensing the information into salient points. Videos do not need to be watched in order.
The course allows students to create study tests. Students can review all questions in a selected category or have the program pick a random selection of questions from the desired categories. The course analytics software tracks answers and provides a display of the percentage of questions answered correctly in each of six categories (Aircraft Performance, Airplane Systems, Aviation Weather, FAA Regulations, Flight Operations and Flight Planning) over all sessions, the past three sessions and the most recent session. Study tests can be saved in progress and previous tests can be reviewed. A “smart” study session option will generate questions from a student’s weakest performance areas.
Simulated FAA practice tests are available with similar analytics. Practice tests can also be saved and resumed later. Once a student passes two practice tests with a score of 80% or higher and completes all of the video lessons, Sporty’s will provide an endorsement for the FAA written exam or FAA WINGS credit. Other features include an illustrated maneuvers guide with step-by-step videos, the option to share course progress and test scores via special-use email link, access to an online library of FAA books and materials, and an “Ask a CFI” email address for student questions.
Sporty’s has integrated CloudAhoy’s flight data recording app into the Learn to Fly course. Once a CloudAhoy account is connected, flights logged with CloudAhoy will sync with the Sporty’s course. Each maneuver from the flight will be listed and connected to a corresponding maneuver guide. Sporty’s also has partnerships with Redbird, integrating its Guided Independent Flight Training (GIFT) simulator program, and with ForeFlight to log the written test endorsement on ForeFlight logbooks.
Overall, it’s nearly impossible to find fault with this course. It puts worthy focus on aeronautical decision-making and real-world flying scenarios. Some time is spent on cockpit variations-including glass versus round gauges-and other aircraft differences students might encounter during flight training. The video search feature and test/study analytics make it easy to find information, track progress and highlight areas for further study.
The Sporty’s course is $199.99 and includes free lifetime course updates. It is accessible via computer, Android and iOS apps and Roku. Videos can be downloaded for offline viewing and progress syncs between platforms. For students who complete the course, Sporty’s guarantees passage of written, oral and flight tests. Contact www.sportys.com.
Mzeroa Private Pilot Online Ground School
MzeroA.com’s Private Pilot Online Ground School is organized into 15 lessons. Each lesson starts with an overview followed by a series of short videos covering lesson subtopics. Videos vary in length from roughly two to 20 minutes. Most are short and provide a good mix of animation and real-world demonstrations. After watching, the student can mark each subtopic as complete.
Quizzes are available at the end of each lesson and can be retaken, but the questions remain the same-only the answer order differs. Explanations for wrong answers are given after quiz completion. The quizzes are timed but not time limited. Sixty-question practice tests can be generated whenever desired. The website also offers a 12-module Private Pilot Bootcamp. The bootcamp includes longer video lessons and more quizzes, along with a 60-question Bootcamp final exam. MzeroA provides endorsements for the FAA written test after the final exam is passed with a score of 90% or better.
The pricing structure at MzeroA can get a bit complicated. Membership is purchased via monthly subscription with subscription tiers providing access to different features. Members get access to all of the site’s 500-plus training videos-not just those for any one certificate or license. The Bronze membership runs $97/month and provides access to the videos; Private, Instrument, Commercial and Fundamentals of Instruction ground schools; written test prep; and a members-only forum. The Silver tier costs $127/month and adds access to both live and archived webinars and workshops. In addition, Gold members ($147/month) get access to live question-and-answer sessions, live mock checkrides, additional flight technique videos and a “pass your checkride or they pay for it” guarantee.
Where MzeroA truly excels is in community building and communication. The live mock checkrides, weekly webinar workshops (including an extensive archive of past webinars) and question-and-answer sessions provide excellent information and great opportunities to explore specific topics in detail-all while being able to ask questions pretty much immediately. Students are highly encouraged to reach out with questions throughout the course and the company’s Facebook page and YouTube channel are regularly updated, active and well-followed. The biggest drawback of the program is the potential cost. Since it works on monthly subscriptions and some of the highest-value learning opportunities only come with the most expensive membership option, it’s possible that a student could end up paying a lot if they don’t make progress quickly. FAA WINGS credit can be earned via the webinars. Contact www.mzeroa.com.
Gold Seal Online Ground School
The Gold Seal Online Ground School Private Pilot course is divided into six topic sections, each containing between two and 14 lesson modules. The 50-plus modules are aimed at teaching both FAA written exam and checkride knowledge. As part of the course, Gold Seal offers webinars and livestreamed flight lessons.
Each video lesson has a clickable outline and is divided into short segments which makes it easy to stop and restart study. The videos are interactive, with opportunities to click for additional videos and images and drag-and-drop activities. The lesson dashboard allows students to take and save notes, access relevant study resources such as e-books, videos and forms via direct links and tag their progress on the topic as “complete, needs some review or needs lots of review.” Lessons do not have to be completed in order.
Each lesson also has an associated quiz. Quizzes can be reviewed and retaken, and missed questions can be printed for later study. Students can also select the number of questions in the quiz. Other features include an option for CFIs to sign up for free to monitor student progress, a “Find a CFI” resource, flash cards with answers and answer explanations, and a library of downloadable resources.
Some-not all-lessons can be accessed on an iPad. After a student passes the course final exam with a score of 80% or better, Gold Seal provides certificate of completion and an FAA knowledge test endorsement. The final exam can only be retaken once every 24 hours, while practice exams can be taken as often as desired.
Overall, the Gold Seal course is well organized, easy to use and provides a good variety of study materials. While it could be improved by better access via mobile devices, the focus on interactive learning makes it a strong program. It also provides great value for its $169/year price tag. Gold Seal offers a money back guarantee that students who successfully complete the course will pass their FAA exams. Contact www.goldmethod.com.
No private pilot course review would be complete without King Schools. The King Schools Private Pilot Ground School and Test Prep Course is organized into 15 topic sections. Each section is divided into subsections containing a series of video lessons. While presented in a logical progression, lessons can be viewed in any order the student wants. After each video, a short review quiz appears. Once the questions have all been answered correctly, the subsection is marked as complete. Video length is typically between one and 10 minutes.
All video lessons and quizzes can be reviewed and retaken. A “Report Card” shows course progress and percentage of correctly answered review questions by topic. Answer explanations are available. The iOS King Schools Companion App allows students to download lessons for offline use. Progress syncs when the device is reconnected to the internet. Other features include unlimited randomly generated private pilot practice tests, phone and email access to pilot and CFI staff for questions, and a graduation certificate.
The course offers an endorsement for the FAA written exam after completion of three practice exams with a score of 70% or higher.
The price is $279 and it comes with a 100% money back guarantee if the student does not pass the FAA written exam. The course can also be bundled with the Private Pilot Practical Test Course (currently available for $398) or in a set with the practical test course and the King Schools Online Library (currently $599). The package deals also include additional pilot skills courses. All courses are lifetime-access with all future updates made available at no additional cost. A notification will appear if the course has been updated since the previous login along with the option to view the changes.
The course makes it easy for the student to pick up where they left off. Progress indicators are clear and the information is presented in an engaging and accessible way. The biggest drawback is cost: It’s significantly more expensive than other courses offering similar features. Also, the app is not available for Android users. The Private Pilot Ground School and Test Prep Course includes approximately 15 hours of video material. Contact www.kingschools.com.
Rod Machado’s 40-hour Private Pilot eLearning Ground School is divided into 26 interactive video modules. An outline along the side of the video window allows students to navigate easily between topics in a lesson. Each video lesson also has tabs that show relevant notes, a glossary and additional resources related to the topics being covered. Modules can be completed in any order.
Short interactive review quizzes are given after each topic section in a module followed by a 100-question review quiz at the end of the module. Minimum passing grade on the quizzes is 80%. Quizzes can be reviewed and retaken after completion. If the student exits in the middle of a lesson, they will be asked if they want to pick up where they left off when they next open the module. The course can also be accessed on iPads and Android tablets. Course materials can be downloaded to tablets only for offline use. For computer use, an internet connection is required.
With roughly 1800 review questions and about 40 hours of video, this aptly named course provides one of the most detailed private pilot online ground school experiences we reviewed. Machado’s quirky humor keeps otherwise dry material fun and memorable. We would like to see courses available for download for computer-only users as well.
The price for Rod Machado’s 40-hour Private Pilot eLearning Ground School is $279. The course is currently being offered with free copies of Rod Machado’s Private Pilot eHandbook and Rod Machado’s Private Pilot eWorkbook eBooks, which are great additional resources. Contact www.rodmachado.com.
Asa Online Ground
The ASA Private Pilot Online Ground School is organized into three stages subdivided into topics. Each of the eleven topics includes a learning objective, written material, a video and a test prep overview. Video length varies between approximately 30 minutes and 1 hour 40 minutes and takes a more traditional lecture format with illustrations, discussion and demonstrations. The test prep overview outlines important information from the lesson. Students can mark each component complete once they have reviewed it. Stages do not need to be completed in order.
Each topic also has an associated study session and quiz. Both are made up of 25 multiple choice questions-quizzes are timed while study sessions are not. Answer explanations are available. Study sessions and quizzes can be retaken and questions vary each time. Scores are recorded and previous results can be viewed. There are also options to chart all recorded scores for comparison and email scores to selected recipients. Students can also make their own custom quizzes from an extensive question bank.
Although ASA says an internet connection is required to access course materials, we were able to download videos for offline viewing. The course is compatible with Android and iOS operating systems and progress will sync between devices. Other features include a great virtual CX-3 flight computer, searchable online FAR/AIM, the ability to follow a specific instructor to access quizzes they have put together and a clickable study guide.
ASA’s Private Pilot Online Ground School is a solid, well-organized course with some nice options. It’s easy to use, but the video content feels a bit dated. The course costs $179.95 for 24-month access and offers approximately 11 hours of video content. Students are eligible for FAA WINGS credit and an endorsement for the FAA written exam after successful course completion. The written endorsement can be requested after passing two tests with a score of 80% or better. Contact www.asa2fly.com.
Gleim Ground School
The Gleim Online Ground School: Private Pilot course is broken down into two stages containing 11 units. All units in a stage must be completed-in any order-and an end-of-stage test passed with a score of 70% or higher before the student can move on to the next stage. Units start with a five- to nine-minute audiovisual presentation followed by a written outline reviewing the subjects covered in the presentation. The outlines also include links to more detailed information on individual topics. All units have accompanying quizzes in which wrong answers are noted and automatically marked for review. The same questions are then given again-in a different order-in a study unit test, which must be passed to complete the unit.
Once all of the units in both stages have been completed, an End-Of-Course test becomes available. After passing the test with a with a score of 70% or higher, five additional practice tests are unlocked for further practice.
Other features include a downloadable aviation acronyms sheet and a testing supplement that includes links to relevant FAA publications. Gleim says average course completion time is 35 hours.
The course overall is well-organized and clear, but the design lacks features that might make it more engaging. The biggest issue that we see is that quizzes and tests cannot be retaken or viewed after completion. According to Gleim, the company is working on a significant update to the course, which is expected to be available by the end of the year.
The Gleim Online Ground School: Private Pilot course costs $109.95 for twelve-month access. An additional 12-month course extension can be purchased for half price and course updates are automatically incorporated. There is also a Part 141 version available ($129.95/12 months). Students are eligible for FAA WINGS credit and an endorsement for the FAA written exam after course completion. Gleim offers purchase price refunds for students who successfully complete the course but fail to pass the FAA knowledge test. Contact www.gleimaviation.com.
The Jeppesen Private Pilot Online course is composed of three stages subdivided into twelve lessons. Lessons are further ordered into topic sections. Each section includes several short video presentations with follow-up questions. Besides the two end-of-course exams, which can only be taken once the course has been completed, lessons can be viewed in any order.
Each topic section has an associated evaluation test. Once passed, the tests can be reviewed, but not retaken. All lesson evaluations and exams must be passed with scores of 80% or better. The course offers an endorsement certificate upon successful completion. The program tracks and displays both overall curriculum progress and individual lesson progress by percentage. In addition to the end-of-course certificate, course transcripts can be printed at any time.
The course is conducted as a series of lectures with simple videos to illustrate. The in-lesson review questions have a good real-world focus, including things like identifying the correct parts of the airplane in a photo. While the course information is current and well-presented, the format feels dated.
We would also like to see study quizzes that could be retaken. According to Jeppesen, a course redesign is in the works. The release date for that project has not yet been announced. Cost for the course is $239. Contact www.jeppesen.com.
An Easy Win
Of the courses we reviewed, our top pick is the $199 Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course. Its content is engaging, intuitive, highly portable and provides the greatest number of study options for all aspects of initial training.
MzeroA gets an honorable mention for its unique approach to learning, its robust content and its interactive style.