Just a month after graduating from high school, Taylor De Ley is taking off on the journey of a lifetime. The 17-year-old from Anaheim, Calif., plans to fly the perimeter of the United States in the RV-4 he completed with his father. It’s a flight he’s been planning for four years.
“One of my goals is to hit all four corners of the U.S., that is, Southern California, Washington, Maine, and down to Key West,” he said.
Stops along the way include New York City, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Kitty Hawk, and Kermit Week’s Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Fla. He’s also planning his first-ever visit to Oshkosh for AirVenture. He estimates the trip will take between five and six weeks. He’s created a Facebook page, The Trip Around The Country — Taylor De Ley, where you can follow his journey. He’s hoping to get 1,000 followers for his trip, which is scheduled to begin July 9.
In the months before the flight, De Ley was busy creating his flight plan, as well as contacting friends and family around the country for places to stay during his epic journey. “I can save a lot of money from hotels this way,” he said, noting he is getting some help from sponsors to fund the trip. A quick look at his Facebook page shows many offers from followers for hangar space, as well as places to stay.
That dream took flight when he signed up for soaring lessons at the Lake Elsinore Soaring Club at Skylark Field Airport (CA89) in Lake Elsinor, Calif., when he was just 13. “After several months of flying every weekend, I was able to fly solo, and what a joy it was,” he recalled. “If I had any doubt about becoming a pilot up until that point, it was definitely gone.
“Since I was only 14 at the time, I had two years that I would have to fly solo before I was eligible for my glider license,” he continued. “To help offset the cost, we put together a program that would allow members to work the line at the airport for a day in exchange for two 3,000-foot tow credits. As an enthusiast in the program, I volunteered to run it and train new members. This was awesome for me as it allowed me to fly at a relatively low cost and have a blast at the same time.”
Just before De Ley’s 15th birthday, his dad, a private pilot, took him out to Corona Municipal Airport (AJO) and introduced him to a guy he had talked to a few times. “My dad knew that this man was an instructor, but was not close friends with him,” De Ley said. “Little did I know he would change my life.”
That was when he met his mentor, long-time instructor Dave Stevenson. “Now that he’s retired, I guess you could call him an airport bum, but he’s not one to sit around all day and talk about the past, rather he enjoys the here and now,” De Ley said. “I don’t think I have ever met someone with a more interesting background. He has been a crop duster, B-52 crew member, business owner many times over, flight instructor in anything and everything, skydive pilot, and various other flying jobs. What caught me was not only his contagious passion for flying, but his willingness to share the experience of flight.”
As time went on, the young pilot spent more and more Saturdays at AJO, hanging around with Stevenson. “With his exceptional flying career everyone at the airport trusts him to fly their airplanes, so if someone needs to get checked out or needs a test flight flown after some maintenance, Dave is the one to go to,” he said. “Whenever he got the chance to go flying, he let me tag along. Consequently, I have been able to log time in about 35 different types of aircraft over the years. Some of these airplanes include the Beech 18, deHavilland Beaver, Boeing Stearman, PT-22 Ryan, BT-13, Cessna 401, Marquart Charger, and the T-18 Thorp. Initially however, most of the time was spent in an old Super Cub. That is what I would consider to be the plane I learned to fly in. Meanwhile, I still spent every Sunday out at Elsinore, preparing for my check ride.”
In the midst of all this, De Ley’s father ran across an “exceptional deal” on an RV-4, which was about 95% complete. “We bought it on Easter Sunday and trailered it over to Corona,” De Ley reported. “That spring and summer, we spent every afternoon working on it to get it ready for its maiden flight. After about five months, it was ready to fly. Of course, my dad didn’t feel comfortable in a tailwheel airplane and I was still only 15, so trusty Dave came through and put the first flight on it.”
“Two days later, I went to the DMV to take my driver test and failed,” he said. “What a day that was. I could officially say that I was legal to fly an airplane, but not drive a car. Luckily, it was for a rather absurd reason and two weeks later, on my second attempt, I passed with no problems.”
The following summer, like the previous summer, De Ley would ride his bike every day 14 miles out to the airport, flying with Stevenson or waxing airplanes in exchange for flight time. “Before I knew it, my 17th birthday was fast approaching and it was time for my airplane check ride. Going into it I had logged over 230 hours, and when the examiner saw that, he had no worries about me passing. And I did pass, which was amazing because now for the first time, I have been able to take friends up and share the joy of flight. Recently I was able to make a deal with a friend of Dave’s that I would keep his Stearman waxed and spotless in exchange for a checkout. So a few weeks ago I had the rare opportunity to solo a 1942 Stearman at the age of 17.”
Of course during all this time, the young pilot also was in school, taking Advanced Placement classes — which count towards college credit — and competing on the school’s cross-country team. Many a day he would run 11 miles in the morning before heading to the airport, he recalled.
Doing well in his AP classes — he graduated with a grade point average of 4.4 — was critical to De Ley’s future plans. “This will allow me to graduate college in three years,” he said. “This is because with my AP courses, I will be able to knock off a full year of college. This will allow me to graduate at the age of 20.”
The reason he’s so focused on getting through college so quickly is because he knows that in the airline industry, seniority is king.
To that end, he plans to take several classes at California Polytechnic State University in Pomona in the summer, finishing up his general education requirements by next spring. Part of his plan is to join the Air National Guard on a ground handling crew while he finishes up his college courses. Then he hopes to secure a spot as a pilot in the Air National Guard. Next stop: The airlines.
With such an ambitious plan, De Ley said he thought a trip around the nation’s perimeter “would get me out of my hectic world before college started and give me a chance to not only enjoy flying, but to see the country and share the joy of flight along my way,” he said. “It also will also allow me to have a time all by myself to be independent. As an only child, my parents tend to hold my hand through most new parts of my life. This will give me a chance to do something all on my own from the early planning stages to going through with it.”
He notes that his dad is “all over” his planned trip, but his mother is — understandably — apprehensive.
During his trip, De Ley hopes to share the joy of flight and promote teenage aviation around the country. To that end, he’s already contacted several media outlets for interviews along his route.
He’ll also make daily updates on his Facebook page during his flight, and regular posts before.
Want to help? He has some sponsors, but is hoping for more. Go to his Facebook page — you don’t have to be a member of Facebook to check it out — to learn more about his journey.
How can we change this?
While De Ley has accomplished so much in aviation in such a short time, he reports that his friends “don’t care about my flying career.”
“They just don’t get it,” he said. “When they hear airplane, all they can think of is a 737.”