The young airline pilot who juggles with fire

By Debbie Jackson
BBC Scotland

Image source, Loganair
Image caption,
Robbie Cockburn is Loganair's youngest pilot and an accomplished street performer

Pilots have to juggle a lot of skills when it comes to flying planes but Loganair's youngest first officer can also juggle clubs, knives and flaming sticks.

It is not part of the Scottish airline's job description, instead Robbie Cockburn has an unexpected second job - as a street entertainer.

Robbie, who is just 22, has just finished performing on the Royal Mile during this year's Edinburgh festival, where he could often be seen on a 7ft unicycle, juggling dangerous objects, and even contorting himself to squeeze through a squash racquet.

Robbie fits his performances into his busy flight schedule by taking holidays and unpaid leave.

Image source, PA

'Bitten by the bug'

Robbie's love of flying started when he was a teenager and his parents bought him a voucher for a flying lesson.

He told the BBC Scotland news website: "I was 14 and it was a gift experience voucher.

"I flew at Cumbernauld airport and my flight instructor that day was a man called Paul Monaghan who ended up being a captain at Loganair and we now fly together.

"I was bitten by the bug after that. Lesson by lesson I built up towards the various pilots licences."

Image source, Loganair
Image caption,
Based at Edinburgh Airport, Robbie Cockburn flies to the Highlands and islands

Robbie, from Kirkliston in West Lothian, started busking to try to make money for flying lessons.

A stroke of luck saw him taken under the wing of established magician Gazzo who agreed to train him.

Robbie ended up doing his high school work experience week as a magician's apprentice.

Image caption,
Yes, he really does squeeze himself through the racquet

He said: "I didn't expect to fall into performing as a career. It was just pocket money to save for flying. I never thought I would get to perform professionally throughout the world.

"But I kept at it and did some amazing gigs in Adelaide, Australia, and Saudi Arabia and for big corporate clients in Edinburgh and the Middle East."


When he was just 20, Robbie got his first full-time flying job at Loganair. He was the company's youngest pilot and two years later he still is.

He said: "It was my first job interview and I believe my street performing gave me the confidence to get the job.

"The company have been so supportive. Even at the interview they told me to keep doing it because it's what makes me me."

Image source, Loganair
Image caption,
The finale of Robbie's act is when he juggles fire on a 7ft high unicycle

Robbie has just finished a stint performing in Edinburgh at the festivals.

He is back in the skies, flying from Edinburgh to Scotland's Highlands and Islands.

Image caption,
Robbie performs for thousands of people at festivals on his days off

His dream is to continue to perform and to progress his flying career.

He said: "I'd like to perform for as long as I can. I am first officer at Loganair and I am aiming to be a captain in the near future.

"I wouldn't be a pilot without my performing career so I would love to keep doing it."

Image source, Loganair
Image caption,
Pure magic: First officer Robbie with captain Paul Monaghan, the instructor who took him for his first flying lesson at the age of 14

Robbie has performed a show for his Loganair bosses and he has been recognised a handful of times as he boarded his plane.

But passengers are unlikely to see his act mid-flight. Robbie won't be juggling knives or fire down the centre aisle anytime soon, but he would love to mix both of his worlds in a massive performance.

"I would love to do something with work, like making a plane disappear by magic," Robbie said.

"But obviously I'll bring it back!"

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