Saturday, November 13, 2010

VFR Communications from Sporty's

Last week I received a free review copy of Sporty's newest instructional DVD in their "What You Should Know™ Series, VFR Communications. The DVD was completely updated in September 2010. It is available from Sporty's and costs $34.95. The program is also available as a video download, also priced at $34.95.

I'm glad to have the opportunity to review this DVD, as I purchased the previous version of their VFR Communications program last year. That older version was not something I would have highly recommended. Content was somewhat limited in my opinion; it consisted mainly of short in-flight video segments of a pilot in various airspace classes without very detailed explanations. Consequently, I loaded the new DVD into my player with tempered expectations but hoping for a much-improved product.

Menu navigation is well thought-out. The main menu presents eight sections - Introduction, Non-Tower Field, En Route, Non-Standard Communications, Class D, Class C, Class B, and Communication Failures. When you click on a section, a sub-menu opens up with a short description of what content is inside and a button to play the video. As with most Sporty's instructional videos, narration is done by popular airshow announcer and pilot Rob Reider.

The video begins with an introductory chapter that does a great job of covering the basics needed for content in later chapters. Both the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and Pilot/Controller Glossary are referenced as important places to find proper phraseology. The phonetic alphabet is explained and that leads into numerous examples of pronunciation - altitudes, call signs, magnetic headings, speeds, etc. I think this is critical information that reduces confusion for someone new to the language of aviation and am glad Sporty's chose to dedicate the introduction to it.

Screenshot from Chapter 1 - Introduction / General Information

Following the introduction, the video moves right into non-towered fields. I particularly liked how they have a recorded AWOS broadcast and supplemented the audio with a text transcription on screen. It seems like it would be very useful for a new student to hear both the sound and pace of an automated weather station before climbing into an airplane. The video also makes use of many helpful graphics and visualizations of the aircraft's location during various radio calls - especially in the pattern.

Communications with Flight Service (regarding VFR flight plans) and Flight Watch (regarding in-flight weather) are each given a couple minutes of good explanation in the En Route portion of the program. The simulated radar animations of an airplane's track superimposed on a VFR Sectional chart do a very nice job illustrating the usefulness of VFR Advisories, also known as Flight Following. I also thought the short segment pointing out locations where a pilot can find the proper radio frequency to call ATC for Flight Following was very well done.

The sections on airspace (Class B, C, and D) are all structured similarly. The airspace itself is first given a brief explanation and then a flight into and out of the airspace is simulated along with all requisite communication. All the radio calls appear to be simulated and the rate of speech is noticeably slowed compared to what you'll usually hear when talking with ATC. This is good for student pilots trying to learn proper communication but I do feel that it lends a slightly unrealistic tone the video.

Graphics overlaid on top of VFR Sectional charts are again used heavily and to good effect. However, I do take issue with the lack of in-flight video. The previous version of VFR Communications was chock full of in-flight video at the expense of graphics and explanations. This version tilts heavily the other direction - too far in my opinion. I think Sporty's needs to strike a better balance between in-flight video with actual radio calls and animations and graphics used to illustrate the process.

Screenshot from Chapter 7 - Class B Airspace

Even though the video covers proper radio phraseology, I really appreciate the fact they it also spend a few minutes covering non-standard communications. Lord knows every pilot has heard all sorts of gibberish over the radio before; I think it's important to expose new pilots to both the good and the bad! Similarly, a bit of explanation of Instrument procedures helps clarify what the folks out practicing approaches are talking about. While on this topic I should mention that I found it somewhat peculiar that every example in which ATC calls out traffic and the airplane does not have it in sight has the pilot saying "looking for the traffic" whereas the proper response is "negative contact" according to the Pilot/Controller Glossary.

On a small personal note I have to mention that it's kind of nice to have Sporty's in your backyard. My home drome is only about 25 miles from Clermont County Airport in Batavia where Sporty's is located. So it's neat and useful to see all the example radio calls in the video to Dayton and Cincinnati Approach plus flights to LUK and DAY - all facilities I talk to frequently! I also have to commend Sporty's for admonishing the often-heard but thoroughly unprofessional and annoying "any traffic in the area, please advise" radio call in this video.

An additional benefit of this video is the fact it qualifies for credit in the FAA Safety Team's WINGS program. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it is a safety program that encourages pilots to attain additional training beyond the basic requirements spelled out in the FARs. All you have to do is go to the Activities search section on the WINGS page and search for 'VFR Communications' and you'll see the link for the Sporty's video. Click the button to Enroll in Course and you can then take a short exam to receive WINGS knowledge credit. You may also qualify for a discount from your aviation insurance provider by watching this video.

Overall, I was satisfied with this video and have to say that Sporty's had definitely improved over the prior version. They have posted a short video clip from VFR Communications online that you may view by clicking here. I think the program does a good job explaining the variety of radio communications a VFR pilot will experience and is easy enough for a new student to understand. As mentioned above, I do take issue with the total lack of in-flight video in some segments. While the animations and illustrations are excellent, I believe actual footage of operations at Class B, C, and D airports with real radio communications would be even more beneficial. with this release. In the end, I recommend VFR Communications and consider it a fair value at the list price of $34.95 when you factor in the WINGS credit and possible insurance savings.

Rating: 4/5 Cubs


  1. Good review!

    I used the Comm 1 for VFR and IFR, it was ok. It did provide the info and at least let you hear the back and forth required for the communications.

    I haven't tried any of the Sportys DVD's. Maybe for my Commercial work.

  2. Thanks Gary!

    I always planned to buy Comm 1 during my primary training but never actually purchased the software. Seems like it would have been helpful since it's interactive, though.

    This DVD from Sporty's was pretty good and I think it would certainly be useful to someone new to aviation or getting back into flying after a long hiatus. However, as a recently new pilot and someone who talks to ATC whenever I can - it didn't provide much new information.