Leonardo Da Vinci said this many moons ago. It’s always sat with me, hungry to learn a skill or piece of knowledge, it always feels relevant. But the landscape of learning has changed significantly, and it’s all too familiar for the team at GoFly Aviation.

My brother and I started flying lessons at the same time. We would take it in turns driving out to the airfield together and for whose lesson went first. We’d always debrief afterwards and have smiles across our faces on the way home. We tried as best we could to stay on the same timeline, but houses, relationships, money and life would throw us off course.

I ended up getting my ticket a bit before him. I’m sure he thought I was competitive – he knows I often am – but I wanted to finish what I’d started and I had a new opportunity to fly a bit for work. When I completed my cross-country, it was all pencils, paper maps and flight computers. I had OzRunways in my pocket, but the RAAus syllabus was yet to acknowledge it. Just a couple of years later my brother was finishing off his training, and his instructor was teaching him to plan, navigate and manage flying apps (as well as paper). Times were changing – I should have known, after all I was combining my Jim Davis books with online practice exams and watching cross-country footage on YouTube to memorise procedures and radio calls.

At the pandemic onset, the team at GoFly Aviation were working hard on online content for students and pilots who were suddenly grounded. RAAus acknowledged how important and invaluable online learning resources were, particularly at a challenging time. Damien laughs now, recalling where it all started for him. “10 years ago, I started the GoFly Online journey by releasing the first Australian recreational ‘Learn to Fly’ DVD box set. Filmmaking was my second passion after aviation, so I figured I could make some videos to assist students with their training.”

Damien admits he was a bit naive about how complicated it would be and how many takes it would require to get each lesson right. He filmed videos with a very large and cumbersome HD camera in a Tecnam Echo, recalling an entire day plus 4 hours of flying, only to realise the microphone hadn’t been working the whole time. “I remember editing the DVDs on my old computer late at night and having the computer crash on multiple occasions.”

Damien’s students loved the DVDs, so he decided to sell them to others as well. Within two years, he’d posted over 1,000 DVD sets to Australia, the UK, the USA and New Zealand. He followed up with a Navigation DVD set, and started to advertise them.

Digital streaming platforms were killing DVDs, but Damien’s tide turned with the encounter of two flight students, Jeremy and Stephen. Stephen owned his own production company and Jeremy was an IT guru, and both helped to create new ‘Learn to Fly’ lessons and an aspirational series called ‘Taking Flight’ for release on Vimeo.

They spent over 12 months creating new videos and improving the platform. At this time streaming services were still in their infancy and while they saw some modest initial sales it didn’t really take off. Both Jeremy and Stephen eventually went on to other projects.

Having the video briefings online for students to watch before they came to the school saved Damien’s team from having to repeat the same lessons over and over. Suddenly the ‘classroom’ time, which pilots like me were used to, was changing in nature. From a business perspective, it also allowed for more flights in a day.

Damien had become good friends with another student, Thomas, the owner of a successful web development company in Brisbane. He and his friend had shown interest in the video lessons and came on board to help film and edit. This time, however, a dedicated website was born called GoFly Online.

Damien and Thomas formalised the company structure, became equity partners and spent some time clarifying roles and responsibilities. Thomas and his team really took the platform to the next level and helped kickstart the online sales. Damien’s wife, Anne-Maree, who was already working for the flight school, also happened to have a background in editing, marketing and filmmaking – with the right mix of skills now at the table, online business was in motion.

GoFly now have a small part-time team of seven, who film, edit, design graphics, update the website and do marketing. It’s a crazy concept, when many of us were sitting in the cockpit just a few years ago, having to pretend that our phones couldn’t do most of the navigation work for us. Using the faces of RAAus students and instructors makes for a much more familiar learning environment. Now content familiar with RAAus specifics has replaced watching US videos on YouTube.

GoFly’s shared content agreement with RAAus in early 2020, driven by COVID lockdowns, meant more free videos were suddenly available to RAAus members, helping with motivation whilst many of us were unable to fly. Neil Schaefer who works in training and development at RAAus, helped to provide content such as the ‘Performance, Weight and Balance’ video in anticipation for the new weight increase to 760kg.

As I sit here now on my laptop, I still have my pen and paper next to me for taking notes. I’m one of those students that will probably always enjoy a textbook. I even like to keep them as trophies on my shelves, sometimes coming back to brush-up. I’ll always consider myself a student, too – with Da Vinci’s words burnt into my brain.

Damien agrees there will always be students who want a physical theory text book, but there are also a lot of students who want a low-cost online version. Online doesn’t just change the format of the content, it can make it more engaging and dynamic. To address this, Damien has an Easy Book project in the making.

He gave up Netflix and studied the RAAus syllabus of flight training, then the CASA MoS (Manual of Standards), about what was required for BAK, Air Legislation, Radio and Human Factors in relation to competencies for the Recreational Pilot Certificate and Recreational Pilot Licence. He began to write easy-tounderstand text books, which would eventually have embedded graphics and videos. This then translates into an online version.

Besides having content to learn 24/7, plus dynamic learning material, the other benefit from my perspective is the ability to ask questions and liaise with other students and instructors. I spend plenty of time following Facebook groups and communities to keep learning and asking questions, too. The GoFly platform presents the opportunity to not only ask a question, but occasionally have it responded to by having more content produced to address the topic. It is community-led, in a way.

Since mid-2021, Damien’s team has created another 400 quizzes to complement the ‘Easy Books’ and assist students in passing their RPC or RPL theory exams. It’s good if you’re learning or if you just want to brush up. Keep an eye out – the Easy Books will be around from April this year at www.gofly.online.

What’s changed since, or during, your aviation adventure? Let us know at editor@sportpilot.net.au