Sporty’s Bret Koebbe—also a contributor to Flying’s Pilot’s Discretion column—first showed us the company’s Learn to Fly course on its new courseware hub in October 2019 at Redbird Migration. With more than 30 courses now collected into one place, the hub demonstrated Sporty’s desire to make training accessible and easy to use for its customers. A year later, the company has driven more user feedback into the hub to increase that user-friendliness to a new level.
Koebbe joined John Zimmerman (vice president of the catalog division and also a Flying contributor) and Eric Radtke (president of Sporty’s Academy) in flying over from Clermont County Airport in Batavia, Ohio, to my home base at the Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland. Like most of us, the team is working hard to stay current during COVID times, and they clearly enjoyed the excuse to light up the engines and make a visit—and demonstrate one rock-solid reason why folks learn to fly: to take advantage of general aviation and its ability to connect us in business and in our personal lives.
With Sporty’s first venture into cross-platform apps about five years ago, and last year’s addition of course delivery via Apple TV, RokuTV, and ChromeCast, the team aims to meet pilots-in-training where they most conveniently study. Because the course is tracked through the hub, a pilot can begin studying on a laptop at the (home) office, take in a few sessions on an iOS or Android mobile device while out and about, and finish up with a review piped through their living-room television.
When it was originally deployed, the courses weren’t all optimized for the various platforms on which they were viewed. The latest releases change that, and scale with a swipe between a full-screen version and mobile version in decreasing size all the way down to a smartphone presentation. “It’s responsive to mobile now, and optimized, rather than previous compromises,” said Koebbe. This is important, because these courses aren’t meant to be “one and done” experiences. When a pilot purchases a course, they gain unlimited access to it indefinitely—and can return to it whenever a review is needed, or the pilot wants to view new video and other updates that Sporty’s drives into the courses each year.
Within the private course that Koebbe demonstrated for me, the focus is not on memorization for the knowledge exam—though that’s still a main reason why customers purchase the course. More than 15 hours of HD video comprise the Smart Study Sessions, which also feature review notes, video transcripts, and quizzes—and these are not based on knowledge test prep but on real-world concepts. The quiz questions are linked to the specific point within the video segment where the concept is covered. Maneuvers sessions go through all of those found on the private pilot check ride. Sporty’s Academy students, in fact, are asked to complete the course prior to beginning an accelerated training program. Radtke mentioned that they’d also included a generic pre-solo exam that can be customized for use by flight schools and instructors accessing the courseware.
For knowledge test preparation, the course features a number of ways to work through the questions—by category, randomized, or by your prior strengths and weaknesses on previous practice tests. A new study session feature uses a flashcard mode to move through the 1,000-plus questions in the Sporty’s test bank. They’ve generated their own questions through interviewing students following knowledge exams, as well as designated pilot examiners and flight instructors. The airmen certification standards are cross-referenced throughout, so that users are exposed to the criteria they’ll need to meet on the check ride from the early stages of their training.
Other features incorporate flight simulation sessions—tied in with flight lessons in the syllabus and including keyboard shortcuts and settings for each plus performance goals —and a nod to the modern tools most pilots will use when flying after gaining a certificate. Zimmerman noted that they’d figured out that you can use ForeFlight in airplane mode to simulate the traditional paper-chart-and-pencil cross-country flight planning method. “We know we’re not the first to figure this out,” he said, but it shows how they are striving to balance what has been done for decades with real-world flying today. Integration with CloudAhoy allows for the course to be used as a debriefing tool, and pilots can upload docs to the hub for building a convenient library. ForeFlight users can export endorsements from the courses directly into their logbooks.
At $249 for unlimited access to the private course and all of the tools above—with more to come—the latest programs on the learn-to-fly hub from Sporty’s offer a compelling and complete solution.