Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another dedicated pilot helping to grow aviation: OpenFlightManual.org brings the open source concept to flight training

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

In my continuing series on pilots who are devoting their valuable time to projects designed to move GA forward, Cedar Rapids, IA pilot and CFII Casey Hansen (@kchansen on Twitter) is developing an idea he says will "make flight training materials freely available and accessible to all" through an online depository of aviation information that he and a team of volunteer "experts" will maintain.

When you look at Hansen's credentials, this project seems like a perfect fit: 
"I currently work in the online marketing world," Hansen said, "but previously I was a full-time flight instructor. I started flying when I was 16 years old and quickly obtained my Commercial license w/instrument rating, then added my CFII and multi-engine ratings. I worked as a flight instructor for about four years and obtained my Gold Seal Flight Instructor status before moving on to my current career. I've always been fascinated by the idea of a group of experts putting their minds together for the greater good. Obviously, aviation is in my blood, so I put those two passions together and came up with the idea of making flight training materials freely available and accessible to all. I thought it would be a perfect way to share my love for teaching people about flying and my love for technology/community building online. I also enjoy open-source/non-profit projects as most people involved are in it to improve the product/service itself and not just for revenue - in many instances, that makes for a stronger product."
That, my aviation friends, is what I'm talkin' about. One guy with one idea, doing all he can to lend his strength to the mighty push that GA currently needs to climb out of the doldrums back to prosperity. So what exactly IS OpenFlightManual.org (OFM), how will it work, and what does Hansen hope to achieve if/when it explodes with PR and popularity? Here's the heart of the program:
"OFM will be an online training manual for pilots of all levels," explains Hansen, "that is built and maintained by a team of aviators in an open source manner. Anyone can help write/maintain the content and the manual will be free to use by students, instructors and flight schools for all types of pilot training at a variety of pilot levels. The hope is that is will become known for accuracy and as a way for everyone to have complete access to aviation training as they need it, where they need it. Student current pilots will be able to use the site for initial and on-going training. The resources OFM will be made available for flight schools and flight instructors so they can implement the material into their training. And, it is very important in today's tech-driven world that all OFM content will be usable/viewable on any device out there today."
Casey Hansen and his 1950 Piper Pacer
Sounds like a very cool idea. But my first question was, how is the material generated, and how accurate can it be? It is easy to think OFM might be another online "pedia" crowdsourced so that any Joe Blow can edit it at will,. But with something so critical as flight safety, that scenario would quickly morph into a cesspool of misinformation. Luckily, Hansen is all over this answer:
"The content for OFM won't be edited "on-the-fly" by our volunteers like Wikipedia. Instead, we'll have weekly "sprints" of work in which content will be written or updated via Google Docs and then thoroughly reviewed by the team for accuracy. Through this process, we'll weed out any inconsistencies and incorrect information before it goes live on the site. Accuracy of the content is extremely important. As the team grows, I hope experts will emerge in various categories such as airspace, aerodynamics, maintenance, and more to ensure the quality of what we produce."
The idea of the project, says Hansen, is to "keep all content and resources generated completely free and open. While training materials aren't necessarily the main cost for flight training, they certainly enter into the equation, so I hope this project can help grow the student pilot population by making it more affordable and easier to access from anywhere."  But if this all seems like a giant mega-project, you start to wonder how it will come together. Again...one guy...one idea:
"Right now, there's three of us working on the process of getting the word out, me, myself and I," jokes Hansen. "Volunteers are needed to help build the content, but we'll need all sorts of volunteers for site maintenance, marketing and more. It can truly be a group effort - and you don't have to be an expert in aerodynamics to contribute. There are no rules for being on the team, and you can devote as much or as little time as you want to the project. We'll use free online collaboration tools to work together."
Where does Hansen see OFM going in the future? Into the flight levels, of source:
"I've definitely had some contact with folks on Twitter and Facebook and the response has been great - it seems there is an interest in this type of thing for aviation. I think we can all agree that quality training is huge for pilots, so having access to consistent, accurate training materials is a popular idea. In my wildest dreams, I'd love to see it morph into something as big as the Khan Academy. I'd like to have a growing team of volunteers that is able to produce content of all types (text, video, interactive) on all types of aviation topics - not just primary training."
Like many projects out there that share the common goal of increasing membership in our aviation family, OpenFlightManual.org is an idea to watch. It needs your support to flourish and grow, so visit any of the following sites and pass these URLs around to get this hard-working pilot some "ink":

OpenFlightManual.org

OpenFlightManual.org on Twitter

OpenFlightManual.org on Facebook