So You Want To Learn To Fly Part 3-Training Materials, Methods & Cost
Flight training involves much more than getting in an airplane with an instructor and learning how to control it. A pilot has to be familiar with the various procedures, regulations, and rules of the air. This falls under the generic term "ground school." Ground school can involve instruction in a classroom setting with a group of other students, but in recent times computer based instruction has become a popular way to permit student pilots to learn the required information while working at their own pace.
There are three elements to the examination that a student must face before obtaining a pilot certificate: The FAA Knowledge Test (or "written test"), the oral exam, and the practical test (often referred to as the "checkride"). More about the second and third items later. Ground School training prepares a student to take the written test, and that is our focus here.
If you train at a flight school, that school will almost certainly have a particular course or syllabus that all students will follow. It could be classroom training, or it could be computer based instruction. Since it would be impossible to discuss all the various classroom training methods in an article like this, we are going to focus on the computer based programs.
King Schools is one of, if not the most popular source of flight training materials. They cover everything from sport pilot training to things like high altitude endorsements and RVSM certification which are needed only by jet pilots. They offer software based courses that can either be purchased as physical discs or can be accessed through a web interface. Each course is set up so that a small piece of information is discussed and illustrated in a short video, then you are presented with one or more questions to answer about what you just saw. The questions come from actual FAA Knowledge Test questions.
A competitor to King Schools in the computer based training department is Sportys. Sportys offers courses similar to the King Schools courses which can also be accessed online or through the purchase of physical discs. There are other sources for computer based learning for flight instruction, but these are probably the most popular. If you train at a flight school that uses computer aided instruction, you will have to use whichever software the school prefers. But if you work with a private instructor you may be able to choose a course that you like best.
While the two courses mentioned are similar, there are some important differences. The King Schools courses are CD based and are PC only, so Mac users will need a PC emulator program such as Parallels Desktop or you will have to go for the online version. Sportys' course is DVD based and designed to be played on a set top DVD player, so it is accessible to more people. The online versions of both courses provide lifetime access to them, so when the FAA changes any information it is updated in the course. Of course if you don't have a broadband internet connection the online course will not work for you. The prices of the Private Pilot courses offered by these two companies are not terribly different. The King Schools course sells for $279 and the Sportys course costs $249. Both online and physical disc versions are the same price.
If you are going to be doing your training in a Cessna 172 "Skyhawk" or maybe the new Cessna "Skycatcher," King Schools offers another course that is a perfect fit for you. For $349 they have an online private/sport pilot course that has integrated ground training and flight lessons for Cessna pilots. It works like this: You watch the ground training videos and answer the questions for the particular lesson you are working on. Then you watch another brief video that introduces your next flight lesson. They explain what you will be doing in the airplane and they show you through actual flight footage. So when you arrive at the airport you already know what you will be expected to accomplish during the day's lesson.
Next time we'll wrap up this series of articles with a little information about what you might expect to happen in your first few flight lessons, and the sequence of events leading to your meeting with an FAA examiner and receiving your private or sport pilot certificate.