The extraordinary life of Clay Lacy – the world’s most experienced pilot

February 12, 2022
Clay Lacy

Entrepreneur, airline captain, military test pilot, air race champion, aviation record-setter, and aerial cinematographer, Clay Lacy has accumulated more hours flying jets than anyone on Earth.

He has logged 50,000 flight hours in more than 300 aircraft types, set 29 world speed records, and performed over 3000 film missions.

While still a pilot at United in 1964, Lacy earned his Learjet rating and became the Learjet salesman for the western United States. Lacy leased a Learjet in 1968 and founded Clay Lacy Aviation, the first executive jet charter service west of the Mississippi.

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Growing up in Wichita, Kansas Clay Lacy began flying at age 12 and had 1,500 hours under his belt in January 1952 when he joined United Airlines as copilot on the DC-3 aircraft.

During his career at United Airlines, he flew the Convair 340, DC-3, DC-4, DC-6, DC-7, DC-8, DC-10, Boeing 727, and Boeing 747-400. He retired seniority No. 1 in 1992 after more than 41 years of incident-free flying.

In 1953, Clay joined the California Air National Guard at Van Nuys Airport, where he flew the F-86 fighter jet and became the officer in charge of instrument training.

In 1962, Clay and fellow Air National Guard pilot Jack Conroy, founder of Aero Spacelines, made the first test flight of the Pregnant Guppy, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser modified to carry the Saturn rocket booster in support of the nation’s space program to put a man on the moon. Overall, he has made first flights in five new or heavily modified airplanes.

In 1964, Clay flew the first Learjet into Van Nuys Airport as a demonstrator for Pacific Learjet, distributor in 11 western states, shaping a new era in corporate air transportation and mobility.

Four years later he founded Clay Lacy Aviation as the first jet charter and executive jet management company on the West Coast, now recognized as the world’s most experienced operator of private jets.

An acclaimed aerial cinematographer, Clay helped pioneer the development of the Astrovision camera system he has utilized to film over 2,000 projects, including movies such as “Flight of the Intruders,” “The Great Santini,” “Armageddon” and “Top Gun,” and nearly every airline commercial featuring air-to-air photography ever produced.

Clay was the 1970 National Unlimited Air Race champion flying his P-51 and holds 29 world speed records, including a 36-hour, 54-minute, 15-second around-the-world record in 1988 flying a Boeing 747SP that raised $530,000 for children’s charities. He has flown more than 300 aircraft types, logged more than 50,000 flight hours, and accumulated more miles flying jet aircraft than anyone on Earth.

In 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration presented Clay with a Wright Brothers Master Pilot Certificate in recognition of his aviation expertise and safe operations for over 50 years. The same year, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame for his legendary achievements as an air pioneer.

Clay Lacy has achieved worldwide acclaim for his indelible and lifelong contributions to aviation and is the recipient of many other prestigious honors and awards.