12th - 14th September
Stables 3, Howbery Park, Wallingford, OX10 8BA
After a nice early commute to beat the traffic up to lovely Oxfordshire, I arrived at Howbery Park, an old estate house turned modern business park. Nestled away in one corner of the estate you’ll find ‘Stables 3’, the home of Aerial Motion Pictures (AMP) and the location of their ‘Fly ICARUS’ course. Despite being 45 minutes early, I was welcomed in and treated to an assortment of refreshments whilst I waited for the other course members to arrive. No sooner had they arrived than the conversation turned to the reason we were all there – drones! Each of us came with a different level of experience, but the obsession was a common theme. There were hobbyists, like myself, professional videographers and even an engineer. We all hustled into the lecture room and found ourselves a desk (complete with our course material for the next three days). Note: there was even a free pen!
A short time later, our suited-and-booted instructor, Matt Williams, entered and introduced himself as the Managing Director, Head of Training and Flight Operations for AMP. Let the swotting begin! The course spans three days - the first two are assigned to teaching, and the third was a revision/exam day. We needn’t have been daunted by the comprehensive course booklet, because Matt (an experienced ex-RAF pilot) proved himself a professional yet informal lecturer, with an approach that allowed us to understand complex information with ease. His open question policy allowed us to ask him all manner of things, and most times these questions evolved into full class discussions; something Matt enthusiastically encouraged. Lunch was provided, and was prepared for us by the estate cafeteria – the selection was incredible (salads, sandwiches, hot meals), and my wife was more than a little bit put out, on the second day, that her offer of a packed lunch was so vehemently declined! The lunch break was an excellent time for us to sit around a table together and discuss the day’s learnings, as well as enjoy a little bit of general socialising amongst a bunch of people from such varied walks of life. At all times, there is an Operations Manual made freely available for perusal, as well as a selection of flight reference cards. These are a goldmine of information and I can strongly recommend that you have a good look at them, especially as they comprise the main documents that you’ll need to produce after the theory section of the course is complete.
Enter: exam day! The first half of the morning is spent revising – for us, this was Matt summarising each topic that we’d been taught, and then time for more questions and discussions. Once Matt was happy that we were happy, we spent the next 60 minutes in complete silence, heads bowed over our papers. One by one we completed the paper and made our way to the break room, where the customary exchange of “what did you answer for so and so?” was made. After the candidate finished, Matt retired to his office with our papers to have a swift glance over them before they were collated and sent off to the CAA for official marking. Several cups of tea later, we made our way back to the lecture room and were told that we had all passed the exam – huzzah! The day ended with giddy relief, and much discussion about what each of our futures in the drone industry would bring. Our esteemed leader (Matt!) then briefly discussed what we should expect when we came back for our Operations Evaluation and, lastly, we were given an opportunity to give as little or as much feedback as we felt necessary.
Class was then dismissed! We ended our last day of this great experience by congratulating each other, exchanging contact information and then going our separate ways – no doubt all equally fired up for the road ahead. All that remains to be done now is to write an Operations Manual with Flight Reference Cards, and then practise, practise and practise some more flying, to get ready for the Operational Evaluation. This can be carried out within 12 months of the theory course, and is the final stage of the process to accreditation.
My three days with the Fly ICARUS team were educational and highly enjoyable. They were professional, knowledgeable and passionate about the industry in which they operate, and were keen to pass on all the information they could to us (beyond the minimum requirement set by the CAA). Learning is so much more effective, and fun, when it is done in the correct environment, with the correct atmosphere, and Fly ICARUS has it spot-on. It was also a pleasure to spend the three days with like-minded people, exchanging both experience and knowledge…oh, and our shared, badly-disguised drone obsessions!