Working Week: Clay Lacy

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Clay Lacy is owner and chief executive of Clay Lacy Aviation, founded in 1968, a full jet service FBO based at Van Nuys airport, California, which operates a FAR 135 air taxi charter and aircraft management with a fleet of 65 jets. With 50,000 flight hours, Lacy claims to have spent more time flying jets than anyone in the world

pic credit: Clay Lacy Aviation

Have you always loved aircraft? At five, I loved aircraft and at seven had my first plane ride. Looking down at the organised, clean city, and the freedom I felt, it was flying for me.

You started as co-pilot of a DC-2? I was hired by United Airlines in January 1952 - UAL was hiring 20 pilots a month at the time. In 1954, I took military leave of absence to attend USAF pilot training. The Korean war was on and we had a mandatory draft. My draft board was in Wichita and at 20, I was eligible. My reason for going to USAF pilot training was because I would have been drafted into the infantry. I found out the Air National Guard had pilot slots in the air force and I was able to join the Air National Guard and apply. I was accepted and went to USAF pilot training on January 2, 1954, and completed it in August 1955, at which time I returned to UAL and the air guard.

In 1964 you managed Learjet sales for California Airmotive?

Being on the leading edge of business jets was the most exciting time of my life. Working with Bill Lear, Allen Paulson and all the people I met demonstrating the Lear was wonderful. I gave hundreds of people their first ride in a business jet.

Why go off on your own with a single Learjet?

In 1968, Bill Lear sold to Charlie Gates, of Gates Rubber Co. Gates wanted factory-direct sales and bought our distributorship. I loved the Learjet and wanted to stay associated so I started Clay Lacy Jet Charter. I did not leave UAL and continued all my activities while flying for UAL another 24 years.

Was it hard?

Yes. I say if I had it to do again and drove within the speed limit, I would be a year behind. I would jump out of an airliner at LAX and race to Van Nuys or Burbank for flights or demos.

Is air racing more fun than flying for Hollywood cameras?

I have loved both. I have loved all phases of aviation and believe my only claim to fame is I have participated in more phases than anyone I know - airline, air force, test flying, aerial photography, air racing, corporate business jets and lots of general aviation. I have flown more than 300 types, but there are hundreds I have not flown.

What are your current duties?

I am active at Clay Lacy Aviation and continue to carry out photo flying, check rides and personal trips.

What do you most/least enjoy about your job?

I love being around aircraft, love flying and love the business. I do not like the fact that the US Federal Aviation Administration has turned into a paper mill which requires so much unnecessary paperwork that does not improve safety. Also, dealing with the LA airports is no fun.

Can anyone today have a career as colourful as yours?

No one can ever have the fun I have had being a pilot. Regulations, restricted areas and government control has taken much of the freedom out of being a pilot today.