Soaring high above the clouds in a 10-seat Piper Chieftain, Toby Dorn is living his dream. The Hunter Valley-based pilot and engineer first learned to fly as a teenager, spending money he earnt in his part-time job on after-school and weekend lessons. A qualified pilot at 17, Toby then chose to pursue an engineering apprenticeship through VET. Now Chief Pilot, Executive Officer and Head of Airworthiness and Aircraft Maintenance Control for Blue Sky Airways, he credits his grandfather for his love of aviation and VET for delivering the skills needed to turn his passion into a career.
“I’ve always had a fascination with flying and with aircraft, especially vintage aircraft,” says the 29-year-old. “This is the dream job. I just thoroughly love flying and there’s always something interesting happening.”
The skills Toby gained through VET are central to his role. As well as flying and managing the day-to-day operations of Blue Sky’s fleet of 8-, 10- and 14-seat aircraft, it’s his responsibility to schedule the maintenance required to keep the planes airworthy.
“The regulatory compliance stuff—that’s the part of this job that follows on from my VET training,” he says. “A lot of people who hold chief pilot roles don’t really have an understanding of the engineering requirements. We liaise with three different maintenance organisations, so when they’re saying something is wrong with your plane, you can look at it with them and actually understand the problem.”
Based at Cessnock Airport, Toby flies all over NSW and into southern Queensland. On any given week, he runs charters to Sydney, Tamworth, Moree and beyond. Recently he flew a group of doctors to Condobolin then onwards to Lake Cargelligo in the NSW Central West. “I often land in little towns, which is quite fascinating,” he says. “Once I flew a load of passengers into a little place called Hungerford on the NSW—Queensland border and when I landed, I almost doubled the population!”
To date, Toby has had two job offers from the big airlines, but at this stage, living and working in the Hunter Valley—where he grew up—is more appealing. “Maybe down the track that will change, but to be honest, it’s just not me,” he says. “In my own naïve way, I always believed I could have this sort of job and live where I do.”
Toby’s location also lets him indulge in his other passion: vintage planes. He owns a World War II ‘Piper J3 Cub’—purchased sight unseen on the internet—and uses it to train other pilots interested in vintage aircraft. “It’s not my day job, but it’s the side of aviation I enjoy the most,” he says.
The canary yellow plane lives in his hangar at the airport. “Yellow was the colour they used for training,” Toby explains. “It’s a 1940 model, so the skinning is fabric—very similar to canvas—and it’s covered in resin. It’s as tough as anything, but the sunlight does hurt them.”
On his website, Toby explains the appeal of flying older planes: “The Cub has been described as the symbol of freedom, and once you take a flight in it, you’ll understand why. The Cub is slow enough to truly appreciate the joy of flight, with the window down.”
Want a career in aviation? “There are many other options than going to uni,” says Toby. “You can even get your pilot’s license now through VET. You can end up with a well paying and enjoyable career.”