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U.K. Pilot Teaches Life’s Flying Lessons

U.K. Pilot Teaches Life’s Flying Lessons

by James Wynbrandt

July 24, 2018 - Motivational speaker Steven Robinson electrified a rapt Theater in the Woods audience with his inspirational presentation, “Anything Is Possible,” on Tuesday.

Admitting off the bat “You can’t run a mile in 20 seconds, you can’t live forever, and you can’t fly by flapping your arms,” nonetheless, Steven told the crowd, anyone can achieve goals that seem impossible “if you’ve got drive and determination.” To prove the point he asked, “Who would have thought it’s possible to build a full-size aircraft and fly it, and live to tell the tale?” But perhaps the best example of his credo is Steven’s own life.

Coming from a disadvantaged, working class background in Leeds in the United Kingdom, Steven lost his right arm in a motorcycle accident at age 18, and with it, much of his prospects for employment in any of the vocational fields his education and station prepared him for. With door after door closed, he determined instead to pursue endeavors he enjoyed, and to confront those that he feared — like horses and flying.

“I had no interest in aviation. I was afraid of flying,” Steven told AirVenture Today before his presentation. “It took me three weeks of therapy to visit friends in Spain.”

But he liked tinkering with mechanical things and computers, leading him to create a thriving business restoring vintage jukeboxes and old slot machines — the latter, he noted with irony, nicknamed one-armed bandits.

Steven enrolled at Leeds Metropolitan University, studying computer science, and graduated first in his class with honors. Meanwhile, he took riding lessons to overcome his equine phobia and now competes in dressage. His conquest of his fear of flying has been even more dramatic, and it began when he saw an advert for free flight lessons sponsored by Flying Scholarships for Disabled People, a U.K. charity funded by Prince Faisal of Jordan. He earned a training slot, but the prosthetic arm the National Health Service made for him wasn’t capable of grasping and maneuvering the aircraft’s stick with sufficient dexterity.

So, Steven did what some might consider impossible: He designed his own prosthetic arm, enabling him to operate an aircraft and earn his pilot’s license.

His exploits made Steven a media sensation in the United Kingdom, and he began spreading his gospel of accomplishing the impossible. But when a popular U.K. television program, This Time Next Year, challenged him to fly aerobatics, he refused. “I said I don’t like aerobatics. They said, ‘Aren’t you a motivational speaker?’ I realized I’d backed myself into a corner.” Another complication: His prosthetic limb couldn’t handle the g-forces imposed by aerobatics. But goaded by producers to live up to his credo, Steven found a 3D printing company that could make a lightweight limb out of nylon, and accepted the challenge.

“It was every emotion at once,” Steven said of his first aerobatic flight. “I was terrified. I was elated that I did it. It was amazing.”

Now Steven flies a two-seat Robin 2160 “on average two to three times a week” from the Sherburn Aero Club in York, often performing aerobatics.

Meanwhile, just as he’s inspired crowds here at Oshkosh, the fly-in has inspired him with another goal: “The next thing, I’d like to build my own aircraft,” he said. “I’d like to learn to do the fabric and the welding — like they teach here.”

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