Not many people know the full story behind Flyby Technology and how we got into the drone pilot training business. It is a fascinating story and one worth following as we begin to evolve with the industry.
In 2012 I broke my neck in an accident which was a real threat to my job as an airline pilot. I had lost the use of my left arm through nerve impaction in my neck, and I was struggling to make ends meet. Thankfully my employer was excellent and paid for me to have an operation to restore some function back to my arm. Sadly a few months later I suffered some associated heart problems which gave me another year without work.
I am a single father, with 2 children at home, and I was needing another income in a hurry. Having been a pilot for 37 years at the time, and having flown radio controlled aeroplanes and helicopters for about the same time, I seemed ideally suited to a career as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) pilot. I did my research and found what was then the best training school and enrolled....My journey had begun.
I went on the course and I was appalled at the poor content, delivery and breadth of the product. I believed that I actually knew less after passing the course than before I started! It was confusing and did not resemble any training that I had done in all of my years in aviation. I joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a pilot in 1985 and I was lucky enough to serve as a fighter pilot. I did 3 tours as an instructor and one of which was as the Executive Officer of the Instructor Training Squadron on the Hawk. In that role I was taught how to design training systems and courses. After leaving the RAF I had set up a company to help Lockheed Martin to design the flying training for all 3 armed services.
I spoke to the UAV training provider about my experience and I was invited to set up a company to deliver their training after a complete redesign. I went back to experienced executives in the training organisations of the RAF and asked who they might recommend to help redesign a wonderful course that would set the standard in the new industry. I left with a list of the best instructor pilots, possibly in the World. At this point though, it became obvious that the drone training school had no intention of acting in good faith and we needed to go our own way.
I needed good people. Before I could fly the Sea Harrier with the Royal Navy I had to learn how to be comfortable flying an aircraft with no forward speed, and I was sent to fly a helicopter for 5 hours at RAF Shawbury. My Instructor for that course was Warrant Officer Chris Keane from the British Army. He was a no-nonsense type of guy who filled the room with personality and charisma, but he also gave that air of knowing what he was doing. I had left that course incredibly impressed with Chris, and when I was helping Lockheed Martin, I asked Chris to help me with the helicopter courses.
He was now becoming an obvious choice for the role of Flyby Technology Chief Pilot. I knew he had a background in radio controlled aircraft and so I decided to give him a ring. We chatted on the phone and he recommended another helicopter pilot, Dicky Bird, who was a drone builder and pilot and had run a standardisation unit in the Royal Navy. I knew another pilot, Dan McAuley who was a safety consultant to the nuclear power industry. He had also held an executive post on the training unit for the RAF Chinook Force. I asked them all to meet me.
Hinckley Island Hotel
We decided to meet in Central England at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire. We sat in the bar and I gave the guys my ideas for starting our own drone training school and asked them for their input. In 4 hours we covered all of the aspects which meant the most to us and we agreed that if we were to create this thing, it should be the best in terms of quality, scope and delivery. For that to happen we needed the very best instructors, the best flying sites and a support system that would make the customer experience stress-free. Over the next 9 months we assembled an amazing team of guys and built industry-leading courseware. We were ready and in possession of a truly amazing product.
The Journey so far
Since training our first customer in July 2016 we have continued to grow in size and experience. We have always had a standardisation unit which is responsible for the quality of instruction. Every instructor must graduate out of "Standards", and is checked at frequent intervals, to make sure you get the quality of instruction you deserve. Our course incorporates all of the lessons we have learned from manned aviation that apply to flying drones. We also teach our students how to operate a number of drones in one location, at the same time, with multiple pilots. One other important feature is that we write your operations manual with you, not leaving you in isolation to struggle on in the dark. This way your Operations Manual is bespoke, unique but more importantly well-written and you understand everything in it. Our processes and procedures are now becoming highly regarded by many companies, particularly those in the Oil and Gas industry.
As we have seen recently, with the major airport disruptions, the level of training you receive is going to be of increasing importance. What matters now is the confidence a customer or corporation has in their professional drone pilot. If that pilot has obviously been trained by professionals and the processes and procedures they use are professional and consistent, a customer will have enormous respect for your operation. That enables a pilot to build a lasting relationship bringing in future business. Word of a good pilot travels fast, news of a poor one travels faster.
Professionalism is infectious and the future for the industry is about to reach the next level. Large corporations are looking for pilots and there is never a better time to join an industry than close to the start of it. As we have seen with mobile phones the technology moves at an incredible pace. We are working with drone manufacturers to make sure drone pilots needs are designed in from the outset. We are getting involved in Artificial Intelligence and augmented reality for inspection drones of the future. We are also embedded into a team looking to design concept vehicles for taxi drones. All of this will soon be possible and we are so excited to share this success as it happens.
A huge thank you to the Flyby family, instructors, staff and graduates for making Flyby Technology such a success.