Aviation Safety, Inspiration, Historical
First Teen "Round the World" Flight
In 2013, 19-year-old Ryan Campbell departed solo from Australia in the Spirit of the Sapphire Coast, a single-engine Cirrus. He returned 70 days later, having flown 24,000 nautical miles around the world, logging 180 hours of flying. Ryan made 35 stops in 15 countries, the multiple fuel tanks taking four hours to refuel.
In 2015, 21-year-old Ryan Campbell's life was changed in an instant. He became a paraplegic when the engine quit after takeoff. From the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows that few of us experience, Ryan's determination is remarkable.
At age 19, after two years of planning, training, and fundraising $250,000, Ryan successfully flew solo around the world. This expedition broke the world record for the youngest pilot and first teen to circumnavigate the globe solo in an airplane. Among some of the tense moments of his adventure, he said one of the scariest was coming out of the clouds over the glaciers of Greenland to discover that his wings were icing up. Ryan’s world flight brought adversity, though his true test would come two years later. A normal day's work turned into a pilot’s worst nightmare when his engine quit shortly after takeoff, leaving Ryan in the hospital, fighting for his life. Six months of hospitalization and over a year-and-a-half in rehabilitation with ongoing struggles of living with a spinal injury transformed Ryan into a different person.
First Teen Round the World Flight Aviation audiences will enjoy Ryan's talk about his flying. He shares the challenges and surprising moments of his around-the-world flight. It's a funny story how, at 17, he was deep into planning his adventure before informing his parents of his global flight plans. He also speaks about his engine-out accident in the Tiger Moth.
General audiences will enjoy his talk Staying the Course. Ryan takes his audiences on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. From achieving a world record, shaking hands with royals and accepting awards across the globe, to spending every day for six months in a hospital rehabilitation facility coaching his legs back to life, all by the age of 23. Though he was doing everything within his power to learn to walk again, it was not enough. Ryan wanted to fly again. His journey of acceptance, drive and willingness to adapt, led him back into the air and into a whole new adventure.
I'm now an incomplete paraplegic—when I stated I was a complete paraplegic. “From the waist down there was no movement and no feeling," Ryan says. After surgeries and months of physical therapy, "I can now move and feel the front of my legs, fronts of my thighs and my knees, but I can't feel my feet or the backs of my legs; anywhere I sit—I can't feel. So it's repaired to some extent." This means Ryan can't fly about 95 percent of the general aviation fleet because he can't operate their toe brakes, but he can fly helicopters and some modified planes.
In between countless appointments with doctors and physical therapists, in just six weeks, he went from his first helicopter lesson to becoming a commercial helicopter pilot as an incomplete paraplegic.
Ryan was born and raised in an Australian coastal town. His introduction to aviation began with an airline trip at age six. He still remembers the feeling of being pushed into his seat by the engines’ thrust. After a flight deck tour at 35,000 feet, Ryan delared his intention to become a Quantas jumbo jet pilot. Flying was soon be the dominant feature in his life. As a 14-year-old fixated on becoming a pilot, Ryan worked after school at supermarkets, oyster farms and washing trucks to finance his flying lessons. He soloed on his 15th birthday (the earliest AUS rules allow), even before learning to drive. He earned his private pilot's license at 17 and, thanks to an AOPA scholarship, earned his commercial license the following year. Soon he was researching the lofty—and never-before-attempted—goal of flying an airplane solo around the world as a teenager.
The next two years would be transformative. Ryan grew in both wisdom and experience as he personally fundraised $250,000, followed by training and planning for his world circumnavigation flight.
Ryan made international headlines as he flew his way around the globe. His epic flight was a feature story on 60 Minutes, followed by countless television appearances, radio, and print interviews. Ryan’s life blossomed as he was named one of Australia’s 50 Great Explorers, the 2013 Australian Geographic Young Adventurer of the Year, and finalist for Young Australian of the Year. Life after the world flight was all about awards, sharing his story through speaking engagements and writing his book, Born to Fly. The young kid from a normal Aussie family even met The Royals. Life was great.
In 2015, two weeks before his 22 birthday, Ryan’s life changed dramatically. Flying a Tiger Moth, the engine quit immediately after takeoff with only trees ahead. The passenger, also a pilot, tragically did not survive the crash landing. Ryan survived against all odds. He was admitted to a spinal rehabilitation ward as a complete paraplegic with no movement from his waist down. With five breaks in his back and broken bones ranging from his face to his feet, Ryan needed to tap into everything he learned during his global expedition and more. A master of adversity, Ryan is an ardent believer that life is won and lost above the shoulders. Your mind can be either your most powerful asset or the determinant of your failure. He proved his mental fortitude by not only making history as a record-breaking pilot but demonstrated his mastery by learning to walk again and by fighting his way back to the sky. Few have encountered such extreme polar opposites of success and tragedy as Ryan, especially at such an early age. Ryan’s experience provides a platform from which to share his approach of leveraging adversity to inspire success and supply the tools and techniques to fill your mindset toolbox.
An ambassador for young pilots, Ryan Campbell and World Youth International, have launched the Dare to Dream scholarship, to encourage young Australians to volunteer overseas and help others in the global community. “Not only am I trying to inspire youth to take flight, but for their dreams to take flight too, in whatever field that may be.”
Ryan's great-grandfather was on one of Kingsford Smith’s famous flights and, though he remained skeptical about flying, his joy-flight inspired his son to become a pilot. Ryan’s uncle is the owner and operator of Merimbula Air Services AUS. His father and two brothers also fly.
Ryan recently moved from his home in Australia to Tennessee in order to share his unique story with American audiences. His days off are spent either flying his modified PA18 Super Cub named Doug—named after WWII fighter Ace “Sir Douglas Bader” who flew brilliantly even after he lost both legs, or driving his two-and-a-half ton pink Cadillac built nearly 35 years before he was even born. Why? Because these things make him smile.