In this post I’m going to share the best online ground schools available in 2023.
The age of online learning is here. While you can’t (yet) take flight lessons from the comfort of your home, there is a ton of learning you can do between flight lessons at the airport.
Online ground schools allow pilots to learn all the bookwork on their schedules with apps and tools that let them learn anywhere, anytime.
But not all online ground schools are created equally.
Many quick test prep programs are designed to get you through the FAA multiple choice exam but do not necessarily help with your flight lessons.
And while passing the written is important, the best courses go a step further. They give you the foundational knowledge you need to get the most out of your flight lessons. That means they help you get your license quicker, with fewer instructor and airplane hours in the long run.
Let’s look at the best online ground school programs out there right now, along with some pros and cons of each one.
Top Private Pilot Online Ground Schools
Top Instrument Online Ground Schools
What Is Online Ground School?
Ground school is a blanket term that describes the aeronautical knowledge training requirements set out in the FARs.
Before taking your private pilot checkride, you must log ground training or pass a home study course covering the following knowledge areas.
- Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), NTSB reporting rules, and FAA publications
- Using aeronautical charts for pilotage, dead reckoning, and using navigation systems
- Radio procedures
- Aircraft operations, performance, weight and balance, and preflight actions
- Aerodynamics, aircraft systems, and engines
- Aeronautical decision making and judgement
- Note this list has been simplified slightly. Refer to FAR Part 61.105 for specifics.
The goal of any ground school program is two-fold.
On the one hand, it’s designed to make you a better pilot by giving you the foundational knowledge you’ll need to proceed efficiently through your flight training.
Skipping through ground school makes for gaps in your knowledge that will become evident as you get closer to your checkride. This will slow down your flight training since your instructor must cover this material again to ensure you have it down.
Secondly, ground school prepares you to take the FAA knowledge exam.
This is a multiple-choice test that you must take in person at an approved FAA test facility.
This test, usually called the written, is the first of three tests you must pass to get your license. Many flight schools have the policy that you must have passed the written test before you can solo. This saves time later because it means you won’t have to pause your flight training progress while completing it.
A passing grade on the written exam is 70 percent or better. Once you pass the written exam, you have 24 months to take the checkride. If more than that time elapses, you must take the written test again.
Complete Ground School vs. Test Prep
Online ground schools simply move the classroom portion of ground school out of your local flight school and allow you to do it anywhere.
It’s nothing new—Sporty’s, King Schools, and Jeppesen had home study courses when they had to mail you VHS video tapes!
One thing you must be aware of is that there are two different products offered for students.
One is a complete ground school—the equivalent of sitting in a classroom with an instructor. The amount of knowledge and detail that these courses cover is pretty immense.
In fact, if you went to a university aviation program, private pilot ground school is usually divided into two classes, each lasting a full semester.
On the other hand, a test prep course is designed for students that have already taken a complete ground school class. You’ve learned the material, and now you just want to help passing the test.
This is like the SAT or ACT prep classes you might have taken in high school. You are given some sample questions, and the course covers only the topics related to the questions—nothing more.
The problem with test prep courses is that they miss a lot of material you need to know to be a pilot.
Learning to fly is about building your knowledge from nothing and connecting all the pieces to make you a safe pilot. The written exam is just one step. If you take only an exam prep course, you might pass the written, but you’ll be ill-prepared when it comes time to take the practical exam, which includes a one-on-one question-and-answer session with the examiner.
Regardless, you must have at least 40 hours of ground school instruction to be eligible to take that practical exam. You can do that time by either taking an in-person course, an online course or doing it one-on-one with your flight instructor.
The online option saves you a lot of time and money and frees up valuable time to spend with your instructor on other things.
If an online course feels too intimidating, check out these ppl books to help you prep for the knowledge exam.
Online vs. In-Person Ground School
I’ll be the first to admit, online study courses aren’t right for everyone.
Some students excel with the ability to tune in anytime, whenever they need, wherever they are. Others, however, find it difficult to focus when they aren’t in a classroom with peers to keep them on task. Everyone learns a little differently.
Many people find it beneficial to do both.
The truth is, private pilot ground school is a new experience for many people. It also has a ton of information. Repeating it differently helps you absorb it all and makes pilot training go smoother.
If you take an in-person class and are having trouble remembering it all, an online private pilot course is an effective way to bolster your pilot knowledge.
Pros of Online Ground School
- Complete study hours on your own time from anywhere
- Cheaper than most in-person courses
- Saves time with your flight instructor
- Helps you understand concepts better, allowing you to progress through training faster
- Can get your written exam passed sooner rather than later, saving time and speeding progress in flight training
- Reinforces concepts taught in person from class or during your flight lessons
Cons of Doing Ground School Online
- Some online formats can be boring and lack engagement
- Requires personal discipline and focus to complete the program and use it effectively
- No immediate feedback or way to ask questions (although, if you have a flight instructor, you can bring questions from the course to your next lesson)
Picking the Right Online Ground School for You
There are quite a few online private pilot courses to choose from. Some factors you’ll want to weigh include how engaging it is, how you can access the course, how deeply the material is covered, and how much it costs.
How entertaining is the course to watch, and do you want to keep watching it? This might sound less important, but in the long run, the course you’ll enjoy watching is the most effective choice.
You’ll learn the information faster and be engaged in the process.
Courses differ in the way the instructor’s demeanor and teaching style, the graphics used, and how interactive the online format is.
Ultimately, all of these courses teach the same material for the same test. It’s up to you to find the one that you like watching the most.
Many of us like using our mobile devices for learning since they are always with us. Waiting for a doctor’s appointment or your next flight lesson? Tune in on an app and finish an online lesson.
Others would rather sit and focus on the big screen, with access from their smart tv or home computer.
Think about how and where you’ll log in and how you want to access the information. Some are web-based, while others have dedicated apps. Ensure they work with your devices, and don’t assume they all have the same options. Each course is different.
Depth of Knowledge
All courses reviewed here are full, in-depth pilot ground school classes.
Remember that many products are also available to prep you for the written test, which is different. Those courses are going to be much shorter and less expensive.
Don’t consider only the initial outlay. Some courses are based on a subscription model, where you keep paying but have access to all other classes.
Others are a one-time payment but allow for lifetime access. If you like the product, a company sometimes offers future course discounts. There are as many different payment options as courses to pick from.
Taking the FAA Written Exam After an Online Ground School
To take the FAA written, you’ll need to have an official graduation certificate from the course of your choice. This usually comes after completing all the lessons and taking a handful of practice exams to get you ready for the FAA exam.
The FAA knowledge exam must be taken at an official testing center.
It’s a computerized exam that an approved proctor must give. Some exam centers require appointments, while others allow students to walk in if the proctor is on duty. The FAA keeps a list of approved knowledge testing centers on its website.
Best Online Ground Schools
I’m not going to give you a ranked list of the best online ground schools since each one offers something a little different. But below are the 4 that I consider the top online ground schools currently available.
Maybe you connect with how one company presents its information, or perhaps you like the app interface of another. The best way to make your choice is to watch their sample videos and download any example coursework they provide.
And, of course, talk to students who have used the course! Maybe someone in your flight school has had experience, or reach out on the online forums. These courses are very popular, even if you’re taking an in-person ground school.
Rod Machado’s 40-Hour Private Pilot eLearning Ground School
If you’ve spent time reading Flying magazine or browsing the pilot shop’s bookshelf, the name Rod Machado probably isn’t new.
Machado has been a well-known author and writer of aviation topics for decades. His books earned him a reputation as one of the most entertaining voices in the otherwise dry and dreary world of flight training.
He’s now also the host of his own online ground schools. Like his books, his courses are known to be more engaging and even entertaining when compared to the competition. Paired with the fact that the course is also extremely thorough, the Machado course is worth checking out.
The 40-Hour Private Pilot eLearning Ground School includes information designed to help you get your certificate, not just pass the written. The majority of the course is made up of animations with voiceovers.
In addition to the online private pilot course there are a number of other online learning programs on Rod Machado’s website including How to Fly an Airplane Handbook, Instrument Online Ground School, and The Art of Takeoffs and Landings.
- Witty, engaging, and memorable writing
- A comprehensive course that covers everything you need to know
- Simulator animations and graphics from an experienced instructor
- Some cheesy animations with canned voices
- Slow-paced segments feel a bit tedious at times
Pilot Institute Online Private Pilot Course
Pilot Institute specializes in online ground schools for airplane and drone pilots.
It has fewer options than other providers, but the courses are well-designed and popular. Courses are interactive—not just videos—and have modern productions with great graphics.
The Private Pilot Course includes study groups and support, lifetime access, and a first-time pass guarantee for the written exam.
It has 35 hours of video and animations in an easy-to-use, online or offline format. For the most part, Pilot Institute’s training videos are the instructor talking with slides, which is authentic to an in-class experience.
The Pilot Institute website has several “deep dive” courses you can sample for free. The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Pilot course is a good place to start and will give you a taste of the company’s offerings.
- Lifetime access
- Free courses to try their format out
- Excellent animations and video quality
- CFI can be hard to follow at times
- Mostly “talking head” style instruction
FLY8MA Online Ground Schools
This is another incredibly popular online ground school if you’re preparing for your private or instrument training.
Their premium online private pilot course includes 20 additional lessons on top of their free course that will help you prepare for your practical exam. This course also includes their private pilot written bootcamp to help you prepare for that FAA exam. They claim the average score of their students on the written exam is 93% so if you’re nervous about this test, their course should put your mind at ease.
Like many of the other online ground school programs I’ve included on this list, this one includes the endorsement for your written exam.
One unique option compared to the other online ground schools on this list is a monthly membership program. The gold monthly subscription gives you access to all of the courses which can help you through private, instrument, commercial and more.
The cost of the subscription is significantly less than the individual courses and it’s incredibly easy to cancel once you’ve passed all of your written and practical exams. The other benefit of the subscription is that a number of the extra online courses, such as cross wind landings and weather basics, are only available to subscribers.
- High quality videos and in depth training
- Free preview lessons for written prep and ground school
- Easily accessible lessons on computer or phone
- Pricier than some of the other options
Sporty’s Learn to Fly Online Private Pilot Course
The source of all things aviation, of course, provides an online ground school.
The company has offered video ground schools for decades. But their current offerings are much more tech-savvy. Sporty’s is notable for having the broadest amount of platform support. From Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android apps to even Smart TV and CarPlay, you can view Sporty’s content where ever you are.
Sporty’s has some of the more engaging videos to choose from. Their Private Pilot Course is geared toward preparing you for the whole certificate, not just the written. The course has 4K videos and 3D animated maneuvers. The Sporty’s Triple Guarantee is that you’ll get your money back if you don’t pass your written, oral, and checkride. It’s hard to beat that!
You can also purchase access to all of Sporty’s course materials using a subscription instead of a one-time purchase. For $49/month or $399/year, you can access any course with Sporty’s Pilot Training +. Best of all, you can download a sample and try their course before you purchase.
- Beautiful and engaging graphics, animations, and videos
- Many formats and ways to watch
- Guaranteed to pass written, oral, and checkride
- Material can be downloaded for offline viewing
- Multiple instructors make the course seem disjointed
- Course organization lacks a logical layout that doesn’t clearly meet its objectives
- Some students say it’s overly long and repetitive
King School Private Pilot Program
John and Martha King are CFI legends. They are the only husband and wife team to hold every FAA certificate and rating. Their school began when they flew around the country, giving in-person ground schools. They then put their courses on tape, with VHS cassettes you could order in the mail. They have always used technology to find ways to deliver their content. Modern online ground schools are no exception.
What makes King Schools unique is John and Martha. Their personas and methods of explaining the material are time-tested in a way that no other online school provider can claim. While the videos may seem dated and rigid, their methods are effective. Most King School videos are filmed like TV weather forecasters, with John and Martha teaching in front of a green screen.
The Kings have historically been very popular with the pilot crowd. And if you’ve ever seen the couple give a live talk, you will be impressed at their ability to engage their audience. Their website claims that nearly half of every pilot learned with King Schools at one point or another.
King Schools has an online ground school, test prep, and checkride prep options for the Private Pilot certificate. You can also bundle components and courses. King Schools offers an incredible array of courses to pick from, with everything from Sport Pilot to ATP—and even mechanics ratings.
- Excellent teaching methods, organization, and explanations with useful memory aids
- Presented by the most experienced educators in the industry
- Many course options and bundles
- Lifetime access, guaranteed results
- Dated green screen “talking head” format feels like sitting in a classroom
- Sections are updated as changes happen, so parts of the course are much older than others
Other Programs to Consider
The programs above are some of the best-known, full-featured courses on the market. But plenty of others are out there, all offering slightly different formats and features.
Angle of Attack
An engaging, fully online program that uses lots of in-cockpit footage shot in Alaska and excellent graphics and teaching aids. It’s also worth checking out instructor Chris Palmer’s YouTube channel.
If you like watching bush planes do bush planes things, it’s a pretty fun to watch online private pilot course.
Another modern online program, Gold Seal has wonderfully thought-out interactive graphics and well-made video lessons.
They pride themselves on not being talking heads and keeping the content engaging. You can test drive the Private Pilot course on their website.
Part Time Pilot
Part Time Pilot’s ground school is more directly aimed at passing the written exam.
The overall mission is to help pilots who are part-timers that need to complete the written quickly. The result, however, is a robust test prep course instead of an in-depth ground school.
This might be a great option if you’re looking for a product to help reinforce what you learned in an in-person ground school or to recap if your written has expired. Check out the school’s many YouTube videos and podcasts for a sample of their work.
If your flight school uses the Jeppesen training syllabus or textbooks, you might be interested to know that you can purchase an online format for the ground school.
A subscription costs $239 per year and may be included as part of your enrollment at the school. Part 61 and 141 options are available. Here at Thrust Flight our Zero Time to Airline students receive this with their program.
Aviation Supplies and Academics has produced excellent test prep materials for decades. Their books and apps are great for getting ready for your checkride.
The ground school program is app-based and a bit text-heavy compared to other options. But it has helpful graphics and videos and a no-nonsense approach to learning the material.
Like ASA, Gleim is known for the test prep materials. They’ve also put together a full-featured private pilot ground school. You can try their course online to see if you like it.
Are Online Ground School Courses Worth It?
Online courses offer incredible value for every flight student. Every hour with your flight instructor costs between $50 and $80, but this is just the start of the savings.
What online courses do is help you understand the material more fully. You’ll hear things from a different perspective, from a new instructor with a different way of explaining things.
Getting you ready to pass the written exam is the bare minimum of what ground school should cover. The best courses make you a well-prepared flight student who gets the most out of every hour they spend with their flight instructor.
Yes, they may save you from going to a classroom ground school, but they can also save you thousands of dollars of one-on-one instruction.
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Brian is an experienced digital marketer who joined Thrust Flight in 2022 as the Chief Marketing Officer. He discovered a passion for aviation at 10 when he went for his first flight in a Piper Cherokee and enjoys helping others discover a career path as a professional pilot. He is an experienced marketing consultant helping brands with a variety of marketing initiatives. Brian received a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Brigham Young University.