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International Pilots' Day - April 26th 2022


Steve Durcan, Experimental and Instructor Test Pilot

Aircraft fleet

What got you interested in flying?
I saw a Space Shuttle launch on TV when I was 5 years old and announced to my Mum that ‘I was going to do that’!

What has been your career highlight?
Whilst serving in the Royal Air Force, I got the opportunity to work for 4 years as a Test Pilot for the United States Air Force, living and flying on the beach in Destin, Florida. It was a great hardship!

Is there anyone who you admire or has inspired you to take up a career as a test pilot?
I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Richard Browning (from ‘Gravity Industries’) who gave a fascinating insight into designing and testing the world’s first usable jet pack. While I was already a Test Pilot, I admire what he and his team have achieved in such a short time, and the countless number of young ‘rocketeers’ they have inspired along the way.

What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome to become a test pilot?
‘Timing’ and ‘luck’ have a part to play in any career. It took a number of attempts for me to be selected to attend Test Pilot School and my path to that selection, and everything that has followed, has always had an element of good timing and a little bit of luck. I’m not entirely certain you can plan or train for those factors.

What is the best advice you have received?
The best advice I ever received from a Test Pilot was ‘ask 3 questions’. Make sure they are sensible, relevant, and informed questions. Chances are, by the time you are finishing the second question you will already know if everybody around you has an understanding of what is going on. If they don’t, well that’s probably a good time to pause and work out why.

What are the best and worst elements of being a test pilot?
The best part about being a Test Pilot is the variety in the job. It is somewhat cliché to say, but no two days are the same. One day is flying supersonic test points in a redesigned F-16, the next is experiencing what it’s like to fly an Osprey (V-22) at 50ft over the Gulf of Mexico.

The worst part of the job is also one of the most challenging parts of the job, and that is to try and strike a balance between the challenges of the projects you are working on, and the importance of spending more time with friends and family.

If you weren’t a test pilot, what do you think you would have been?
A Formula 1 Driver (second on the grid behind my son, but definitely ahead of my brother)

If you could say anything or provide any advice to an aspiring test pilot, what would it be?
Chris Hadfield (Canadian Test Pilot and Astronaut) describes it best when he talks about ‘putting yourself in the best position to be selected’. Don’t plan a life around achieving a goal in 20 years’ time. Be aware of what is required to get to where you might want to be, work hard at those things when you are given the opportunity (including STEM subjects at school), broaden your horizons through sports, travel, and other interests, and enjoy the route and people that meet along the way. If timing and luck play their part, you will be well prepared for what follows…… if they don’t, you will have had a tremendous adventure, with amazing memories, and plenty of stories to tell (well into the late hours!).