Sky-high Steve: the Chuck Yeager 
of St Annes

Test pilot at BAE Steve Long
Test pilot at BAE Steve Long
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Although he’s a self-confessed geek, Steve Long doesn’t quite fit the stereotype.

The man has seen action across the globe, flying vital missions for the Royal Air Force in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and the 2003 Iraq War - risking life and limb for his country.

Now he works for BAE Systems as a test pilot, flying some of the most world’s most sophisticated new weapons of war to straighten out any niggles which may have befallen them during their construction.

What first strikes me when we meet at BAE’s Warton airfield is how unbelievably laid back Steve is for someone whose career history reads like a strip from The Hotspur comics of yesteryear.

I ask him how he came by his current role, which can see him jetting around Wales (“it’s just like your back garden”) at 420mph.

“I’d been to war three or four times, got shot at a lot and dropped a lot of bombs - I’d been there, seen that, done that and I just wanted a new challenge.”

The line is delivered with casual nonchalance, as though this is the kind of cliche which reels off the tongue of candidates at any old job interview.

That new challenge either meant becoming an instructor to raw young charges in the air force, or testing new planes for a living.

He opted for the latter, spending a year in America learning his new trade on exchange with the US Marine Corps.

The decision, he says, was not difficult.

“Being an instructor would’ve been as much fun as sticking pins in my eyes so I thought I’d get a bit more variety.

“It was just the best year of my life so it was really an obvious choice. If you’re a career boy it’s career suicide because you’re basically putting your hand up saying you’re a geek, but I just like flying for flying’s sake.

“That said after a few years getting credible you get a pretty good pay rise, so that’s what I did.”

Blazing around in some of the world’s foremost fighting machines hardly equates to the activity of your average nerd though.

In June 2011 he came out of the RAF after being headhunted by BAE, a move he hasn’t regretted.

So what is the average working day for a test pilot once he’s commuted in from his home in St Thomas’ Road, St Annes?

“By the time you’ve done your planning and briefing and got dressed and got flying, it’s pretty much a day of your life done.

“There’s a couple of corridors we run down the Irish Sea, or you can take the plane out to Wales and see if it wants to save your life before your self-preservation genes kick in.”

Just the avearge nine to five then.

So what happens if and when, and due to the nature of the job it frequently is when, potentially fatal faults occur within the plane.

“They’re tremendously exciting events, I wouldn’t say they’re particularly hairy.”

Doesn’t he ever get scared though?

“When you go and rent a car you don’t get scared by a car.

“You realise all aeroplanes work fairly samey, some fly pretty nicely and some fly pretty badly - but I’m pretty happy sitting in most aeroplanes.

“There’s not many things in an aeroplane that can kill you in five seconds that you can’t get right in five seconds.

“The best thing you can do is take two deep breaths, say a few Hail Marys and think clearly.

“When the adrenaline’s running through your body it’s common to get things wrong, if you’ve still got one engine that’s a bonus.”

And what do Steve’s family think of him jetting through the skies at hundreds of miles an hour day in, day out for a living?

“My dad loves it because his childhood heroes were Neville Duke and Bill Bedford.”

“He can’t believe I’m doing what he always wanted to do. My mum has no idea though.”

And the wife?

“She’s a bit of a Top Gun groupie - she still likes to call me a fighter pilot.”

So what next for Steve, could retirement from the cockpit be on the cards for the 41-year-old pursuing this Boy’s Own adventure of a career?

Not a chance.

“You do have to keep pinching yourself that you’re doing your dream.

“I can’t think of anything better to do, it beats working for a living.

“I’ll keep doing this as long as my boss lets me and my body lets me too.

“This is all I ever wanted to do for a living since I was a little boy.”