Pilot on a mission to help youth find their wings

Mon, 29th May 2017

Flying school operator who followed his dream is giving away a scholarship to help a budding young Coast pilot to do the same. 

Damien Wills
Damien Wills

Seven years ago, Mooloolaba’s Damien Wills left an unfulfilling but secure corporate position to follow his dream to start his own flying school. Today, he owns GoFly Aviation at Caloundra, which has become one of Australia’s busiest recreational flying schools. After starting with only two aircraft and himself as the only instructor, the school now has five planes, employs six instructors and is about to launch a world-first virtual reality training program.

This week he’s launching GoFly 360, an innovative learn-to-fly program that uses virtual reality technology to allow students to do their flight training at home before they even set foot in a plane.

“We have a purpose-built VR 4K camera,” Wills says. “Students wear a special headset and watch the footage from all angles as if they are sitting in the cockpit as a real student. They can learn about take off, landing, wind speed, etc. in the safety of our office – or their own home if they purchase the online course.

“This will speed up the learning process and also save them money before they even climb into a plane. This is the first VR flight training to be offered anywhere in the world.”

Damien believes everyone can transform their lives and do work they love and to that end, is also launching a GoFly Cadets Scheme, which will offer low-cost flight training for students aged 14 to 18, supplemented with Virtual Reality simulation training.  

Perhaps most exciting for budding young pilots is the offer of a cadet scholarship worth $10,000 to train one Sunshine Coast student from a low income background through to pilot certificate level.

“We’ve had a lot of young kids who are working hard and want to start flying but their parents were doing it tough and didn’t have the money for lessons, so we thought we’d offer a scholarship,” Wills says.

“They’ll have to write a letter and explain what hardship they’ve experienced and why they want to become a pilot and we’ll have a judging panel of three people. We’ll give them 20 hours of flight training, which is equal to 40 cadet lessons and they’ll earn a recreational pilot’s licence. Those hours will count towards a commercial pilot’s licence.

Wills has trained 40 pilots in the past seven years and two of his Sunshine Coast students have become Jetsar and Virgin pilots.

“Flying to me is secondary to helping people with their dream,” Wills says. “If someone walks in here and they’re not sure if they can do it or not, we help them with their self-belief and guide them through the course. Knowing they can not only do it, but go on to be an airline pilot, that to me is the most rewarding aspect of the job.”

Wills hit on the idea of virtual reality lessons after he realised much of what his school teaches is repetitive and could be filmed. When he began to post videos on social media, a film production company approached him to make a reality TV show about learning to fly.

“The director wanted to overcome his fear of turbulence and was also interested in making a show, so we’ve created the show Taking Flight.”

The show has received good reviews and been promoted by Recreational Aviation Australia. Over the six episodes shot so far, the storyline shows students learning, overcoming failure and eventually succeeding. 

Six new episodes are set to be filmed, which show not only the challenges of learning to fly, but the day-to-day operation of a flight school. To watch, visit takingflight.tv.