Captain Steve Cobb, chief pilot with the UK’s Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA), announced in July that he would be retiring, and flying off into the sunset after a decade with the rapid response emergency charity.
He began his career by chance in 1986 – he had been enjoying a successful career in the IT sector when he spotted an advert for a helicopter trial lesson.
“I really enjoyed the lesson,” Cobb said, “and after getting my private licence, I spent the next five years as a self improver, building up enough flying time to be able to fly commercially – working three months in IT and then a month flying.”
Cobb received his commercial licence in 1992, then in 1995 became a full-time charter pilot. “It was really busy, a time when there was a lot of money around and we were flying businessmen and wealthy people to major sporting events, weddings and functions,” he said. He later worked for Northern Helicopters and Helijet, and also did a lot of aerial filming for TV – including the opening credits for farm-based soap opera Emmerdale.
Joining YAA was another chance occurrence – the helicopter landed at Steve’s heliport during an operation, and he got chatting to the pilot. “I started doing 10 days a month for the [YAA],” Cobb said. “It becomes almost second nature.”
Cobb was eventually appointed chief pilot in 2005 and has flown hundreds of missions since, the most high profile of which involved rushing Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond to hospital after he crashed his jet car at Elvington Airfield. He said: “[This] ended up being one of the biggest events for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance – leading to enough money being raised to put a deposit down for our second helicopter G-CEMS.”
Cobb added: “I thought it would be hard seeing people badly injured, but it is amazing to work with such fantastic paramedics and people on the ground are always very pleased to see us. This job is literally the best single thing you can do with a helicopter. It’s been amazing meeting those people who want to come back and say ‘thank you’ … the over-riding thing that sticks with you from the job is how quickly your life can change. It certainly makes you appreciate life.”