THERE was a tumultuous welcome at Merimbula Airport on Sunday, September 8 for round the world solo pilot, Ryan Campbell of Merimbula who has broken the world record to become the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the globe.
By 10am hundreds of people expectantly lined the barrier at the airport and soon afterwards Ryan overflew the runway accompanied by two other aircraft.
Airport manager, Ian Baker put the control tower communications through a loud speaker so that everyone could hear Ryan’s final approach.
As he landed he passed under an arch of water cannons from two Rural Fire Service trucks while his dad, Lindsay Campbell waved the batons to bring him to a stop.
The cabin door opened and the crowd roared its welcome home to a young man they have got to know as their very own hero.
Hundreds of cameras clicked and videos were made as Ryan stood on the wing while the plane was towed to its parking spot, led by a local, kilted piper.
There was emotion and immense pride on the faces of mum and dad, Joanne and Lindsay Campbell for everything their son had achieved, not just for flying the aircraft around the world but also for the fundraising, planning and coping with the problems that came up in the latter part of the journey and the associated stress.
There were emotional speeches too from Ken Evers, Ryan’s mentor, his voice cracking as he said: “Only one teenager has ever flown round the world and he’s standing right here. This requires resilience and strength and I am very humbled to be part of your team.”
The crowd eagerly waited to hear Ryan, who confidently talked about the two and a half months of “doing something you didn’t think you could do and going somewhere you didn’t think you could go”.
He admitted that he had to stay on the ball and just take one leg at a time.
“The first big realisation I had done something was landing in California. I had been in the air for 16 hours when I touched down at Van Nuys,” Ryan said, laughing about the fact that he was too young to hire a car.
“Landing in Broome was great, I finally got a hire car and got to have a drink; there were so many moments that got your heart racing.”
In a reference to his landing at Wollongong the previous day, Ryan said: “I’ve been thinking of that landing for years. It’s been a wild ride and seeing the team get emotional shows it’s not just about me and an aircraft but a team of about 1000 people in it,” Ryan said.
“To see Tathra Wharf, Montague Island and whales off the coast I was a very happy little man.”
Immediate plans were about going surfing. “We live in the best place in the world. We’re so used to the area and can take things for granted especially as young people. I’ve seen a lot of countries and we don’t have anything to complain about. We live in the coolest place in the world,” Ryan said to cheers from the crowd.
Ryan also took time to thank his family and friends, the support team, the airport crew and Frogs Hollow Aero Club for all their support.
As he stepped down from the makeshift stage Ryan was soon mobbed by both young and old wanting to congratulate him, have their photograph taken with him and get a signed autograph.
Ryan at 19 years and 237 days, has broken the world record held by American, Jack Weigand, aged 21 years and seven days. Jack set his record the day before Ryan left for his journey that became known as the Teen World Flight.
The new record will be submitted to the Guinness Book of Records but the important one for Ryan is the Federation Aeronautique Internationale which holds details of the aviation world records.
After a brief chance for some downtime, there are a number of speaking engagements lined up for Ryan including at the AusFly air show, Narromine, later this week and with a number of schools and the local Rotary Club.
It was at AusFly that Ryan first revealed his dream of flying around the world, according to mum, Joanne Campbell.
But she admitted that Ryan was in need of some rest.
“He’s very tired. Even the interviewer on 60 minutes (the Channel Nine program that brought Ryan’s story to the small screen on Sunday evening, September 8) didn’t realise and after seeing what Ryan went through they had a whole new respect for him.”
Joanne said that Saturday and the arrival at Wollongong had been overwhelming. “It’s so great to have him home and at the same time it’s the end of something special. I’m glad to have him home but it’s a strange feeling of mixed emotions.”