When Ryan Campbell was just six years of age he knew he wanted to grow up to become a pilot. When he was 19 he became the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the world in a single engine aircraft. Now he is inspiring other young people around Australia to pursue their own dreams. But Greg Ellis reports on how he still sees himself as a normal young bloke who thinks anyone can do anything they set their mind to.
In 2015 the Wollongong community is marking the centenary of the death of Lawrence Hargrave.
As Councillor Leigh Colacino calls for Sydney’s second airport to be named after the aviation pioneer, it is also worth remembering the achievements of a young South Coast pilot who has inspired people around the world.
Ryan Campbell is in fact the grandson of a man who caught the flying bug after he and his father were taken on a flight with Charles Kingsford-Smith.
That love has passed down through the generations and when he was 19 Campbell became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe in a singe-engine aircraft.
He started and finished at Illawarra Regional Airport and has become a mentor to many other young Australians.
Campbell decided to do that flight five years earlier at 14 when he read a local newspaper article that mentioned it was possible to get a licence at 15. By 18 he had secured his commercial pilots licence. At 19 he made international headlines when he became the first teenager to circumnavigate the world in a solo flight in a single engine aircraft.
He became an Australian aviation hero and is on a first name basis with people such as Dick Smith. Campbell is now living on the Gold Coast but is still a very down to earth young man with his two feet planted firmly on the ground.
The young commercial pilot moved to Queensland in 2014 but came back to speak at The Illawarra Connection after Illawarra Sunrise Rotary Club member Tony McAdam, of Wave FM, traveled to Merimbula for the launch of his book (Born To Fly).
Mr McAdam had met Campbell prior to the young aviator spending 180 hours in a small aircraft flying around the world. The shortest leg was 20 minutes and the longest 15 hours.
The Illawarra Connection invited Campbell’s parents Lindsay and Joanne Campbell, of Merimbula, to that dinner at the Novotel and they shared many insights afterwards about what it was like for them. It was also their first chance to hear their son tell the full story to a large audience.
‘‘It is really good to be back in Wollongong near where my flight finished and started at Albion Park. To be back sharing stories with familiar faces in the place where it all happened is really, really exciting,’’ he said.
Campbell started his talk by saying he was not a trained public speaker and would probably get lost and say “um” a lot. But he never lost his way or hesitated when he was flying around the world. Everyone present soon realised he had become a great role model for what young people can achieve if they are willing to give their dreams a go.
‘‘I am just a typical young guy,’’ he said.
‘‘That is what I want to get across. I am just a 20 year old dude. I hate making my bed. But what I am hoping to do tonight is share a story. One that changed my life in so many different ways. And one that I believe has changed the lives of others. And one I hope can continue to inspire and open the eyes of people who have a challenge.’’
Campbell’s heart is always on the South Coast and Shellharbour will always be a special place. And it is appropriate that near where his epic adventure started and finished there has been a replica of Kingsford-Smith’s Southern Cross being rebuilt.
Campbell sees himself as just a normal young guy who had an idea to fly around the world solo in a little white one engine plane with lots of stickers. But it did involve many challenges.
“I want to try and illustrate how something like this can change someone’s life. I was able to fly a Cirrus SR22 24,000 nautical miles, which is 45,000kms, to 34 destinations in 15 countries and four continents. That was between about 180 to 200 hours in the airplane.”
Campbell said the aircraft was not designed to fly for 15 hours. Normally it would run out of fuel in six. So they took out the seat and put a “big soft bag” in the back as a fuel tank.
“There was 650 litres in the back seat. So we had about 1000 litres of fuel. That would allow it to fly for 17 hours..and take on the long legs across the oceans.’’
There was little room for anything else except a life-raft and limited other equipment. The journey was considered so epic that Charles Wooley, of 60 Minutes, flew to the USA and Sri Lanka and visited Wollongong to cover the story about the boy from the Sapphire Coast. Now Campbell inspires and acts as a mentor for other young Australians such as Lachlan Smart, 17, who wants to break his age record. He will leave in mid 2016.
Campbell said planning was important. But he also carried something for luck. An old piece of cloth taken from the wing of Charles Kingsford Smith's Southern Cross. The fabric was given to given to Dick Smith when he was setting out to fly solo around the world in a helicopter. It was also lent to Gaby Kennard and Jessica Watson.
Looking back on his life Campbell thinks he was born to fly when he came into the world at Cooma in January, 1994.
Campbell’s Great Grandfather used to say if people were meant to fly they would be born with wings. But when he was convinced to take his family on a flight with Charles Kingsford-Smith it sparked a love of aviation in Campbell’s grandfather that saw him clock up 222 hours flying time. Ironically, Campbell did almost the same in one round the world mission. But after serving on the Kokoda Track, and a busy life on the farm, his grandfather’s limited opportunities were enough for flying to get into the family blood.
Ryan’s uncle Andy Campbell, is a commercial pilot, and the owner-operator of Merimbula Air Services. Father Linsday was learning to fly when his 14 year old son’s interest was sparked by a local newspaper article about a boy who had just flown solo on his 15th birthday, making him the youngest ‘pilot’ in Australia. Older brother Adam now has a commercial pilots licence and middle brother Chris also learnt.
Campbell’s interest in becoming a pilot started at six when he flew to Vanuatu with his family. Being pushed back into his seat on take off and being shown around the flight deck at 35,000 feet..left him in no doubt about what he wanted to be. His trial introductory flight confirmed everything when a smile didn’t leave his face for days. He knew flying was what he was born to do. But admits it took him a little time to work up the courage to tell his parents about his goal of flying around the world at 19. His mother said they knew they could trust his judgement. And if he thought he could do it, they did as well. That does not mean they were not nervous as their youngest son pushed himself and his machine to the limits. The route taken can be seen at https://youtu.be/q8VTWqSflXA.
Campbell said there were many incidents and changes in plans. Such as wings icing up over glaciers to political unrest forcing him to bypass a stopover in Egypt. There were magnificent sights from the air such as Niagara Falls and molten lava flowing into the Pacific. He was well prepared to meet every challenge because of the confidence he gained from mentors such as Dick Smith, Ken Evers and the late Jim Hazelton. Fundraising was involved and brought him to speak to Sunrise Rotary prior to his mission. As a result Mr McAdam became one an avid supporter and followed his journey with great interest. When he picked up his book he was unable to put it down for two days.
See a story on the Centenary of Lawrence Hargrave year at http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/3298490/centenary-of-flight-pioneer-takes-off/.
See a story on The Illawarra Connection’s most recent guest speaker who is also about to take to the air at http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/3532803/nothing-is-impossible-as-sam-bailey-prepares-to-hit-the-skies/.