A free online ground school is now available, with the goal of offering 21st Century training to create safer pilots.
Launched in December 2017, Fly8MA has already attracted more than 5,700 students, with the roster growing exponentially.
Founded by CFI and regional airline pilot Jon Kotwicki, Fly8MA grew out of Jon’s own frustration.
“We had students coming in for training who had used other ground schools and books and they just had tons of questions and were not understanding the material,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘there has got to be a better way to transfer this knowledge.’”
Using experience gleaned while teaching at the University of Michigan, he started making videos — at first for his own students — to fully explain the more abstract concepts, such as going into Class C airspace or showing stalls by taping strings to the wing.
“That branched into adding short lessons to the videos, building them into more effective lessons plans,” he explains. “It was all for my students. Then I started putting the videos on YouTube and got a whole bunch of feedback from people that was really positive.”
Spurred by that feedback, he decided to build his own online ground school, teaching himself how to write code.
“The whole premise is to reduce GA accidents and fatalities through better instruction and a different approach to flight training,” he says. “We’re trying to bring flight training into the 21st century and use all the awesome technology, especially adaptive learning, where students take quizzes and can actually see where they’re lacking. That helps them focus where they need to study.”
The ultimate goal: Reduce GA accidents and fatalities.
“Ultimately, even if just one guy doesn’t die because of it two or three years from now, it’s totally worth it,” he says.
But Kotwicki has another goal: Bringing new people into general aviation.
Offering the ground school for free helps break down some of the barriers to getting started flying, he says.
The school now has more than 250 videos available, with more being added every day. And the videos are short — ranging from 30 seconds to one or two minutes — since people have a hard time concentrating on longer videos or are so busy, anything longer would become a barrier to becoming a pilot.
While the basic ground school is free, pilots can subscribe to different levels, which open up additional features.
That keeps him from hemorrhaging money, as well as allows him to continuously update the website and pay the CFIs who work for the service.
“To keep it going on forever, I created different levels of membership where people could actually pay and get access to a few more courses. Also, with the higher-level membership, they get access to sitting down with a CFI via FaceTime or Skype where they’ll actually do a full check ride live with the CFI, who will give them the full practice oral, tell them what to expect on the check ride, answer any questions they have from their written, from their training through the ground school. They get that one-on-one with a real person.”
“There’s nothing that can replace a CFI,” he continues. “It doesn’t matter how much awesome technology I’ve put together. A lot of times, students won’t even know how to ask the right question, so Google and YouTube won’t help them. When an experienced CFI can sit down with that person and talk to them for just a few minutes, they can say, ‘Here’s actually what you’re telling me. Here’s what you’re lacking,’ then re-explain the concept in a different way and make it click.
“To me, that’s the difference between somebody going for a check ride and passing or failing or someone going and flying a year or two after their check ride, getting into a situation that they misunderstood, applying an incorrect control input and either being an NTSB report or just getting into a scary situation, landing later on and being like, “Wow, thank God I had that training.”
The different subscription levels range from free to $30 a month to $99 a month.
Many pilots start out with the free account and then move up to a different level, like Dan Beck of State College, Pennsylvania.
Like so many pilots, Beck found his flight training derailed by “life things,” like triplets and careers.
“The kids are old enough now that they are interested in aviation, so I thought I’d start looking into it again,” he says.
He started searching for videos on YouTube and came across Fly8MA. That’s when he discovered there was a full online learning portal.
The videos made learning efficient, he notes. “They just explain things in great detail, with an actual flight,” he says. “If I didn’t understand something I could go back and review the video or even reach out to the forum group on Fly8MA to get answers. Sometimes I’d talk to Jon himself to get more clarity.”
He quickly became “hooked” on the site, finding the learning enjoyable.
“It was very exciting,” he says. “I realized I want to do this. I want to complete this course and finally, after 17 years, I took my written exam this past Saturday and got an excellent grade on it. Now I can move on.”
He’s working with a local CFI, but is still using Fly8MA’s resources to prepare for his checkride.
He heartily recommends the site to other pilots, whether they are just starting their training or getting back into flying after a few years off.
“I have a bookshelf full of books and everything I need to learn this, but I never really grasped it the way I was able to with the digital aspect of Jon’s videos and the clarity he’s provided with the resources online,” he says.
Kotwicki agrees the free online ground school is for all pilots, noting the site’s youngest student is 12, while the oldest is 78.
“It’s for rusty pilots. It’s for guys that are just curious about aviation and have no intention of being a pilot. It’s for guys who fly drones or for guys who fly model airplanes and are curious, guys who play Flight Simulator, for somebody who wants to be a commercial airline pilot and doesn’t know where to start,” he says. “It’s a resource that anyone can use. It will benefit everyone.”