Aviation Icon Lands at Palomar
If you’re interested in aviation, you probably have heard of Clay Lacy. If you don’t know the name, here’s a short recap of his accomplishments. Began flying at age 12, solo and pilot’s license at 14, flight instructor at 16, and at the tender age of 19, became a United Airlines pilot. Over the last 70 years, Lacy has logged 50,000 hours in more than 300 types of aircraft and established 29 world speed records. In short, Clay Lacy is a pilot’s definition of a great pilot.
For most aviators, a career with a major airline along with private and military flying would fill their life’s logbook. Lacy not only checked off those boxes, he helped Bill Lear get his Learjet off the ground, established a jet charter and aviation services company that has grown to be the largest and most comprehensive on the West Coast, and pioneered Astrovision, the air-to-air filming system used in movies from Top Gun and Night of the Intruder to filming Air Force One and major airlines. In his spare time, Lacy won the 1970 National Championship Unlimited Class at the Reno Air Races in his P-51 Mustang.
When the young, yet experienced Lacy joined United Air Lines in January 1952, he was stationed at Los Angeles International Airport as copilot on DC3 aircraft. Two years later, Lacy took a military leave to join the California Air National Guard at nearby Van Nuys Airport where he flew F86 Sabre jets and rose to officer in charge of instrument training.
Lacy retired from military service in 1962 after a year’s active duty during the Berlin crisis, but the Van Nuys Airport would remain in his future. In 1964, Lacy flew the first Learjet into Van Nuys to launch business aviation in the West and in 1968 founded Clay Lacy Aviation, the West Coast’s first jet charter company. A half century later, the company bearing his name has a diverse fleet of 80 aircraft, more than 300 employees, and operations from Seattle’s Boeing Field to its newest facility at Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport.
The Next Fifty Years
While Lacy was building his aviation business in Southern California, up in Seattle, second grader Brian Kirkdoffer was earning extra income teaching classmates karate. The budding entrepreneur started a lawn care business at 12 and a pioneering windsurfing business at 14. A year later, family friend Lacy taught young Kirkdoffer to fly.
Kirkdoffer shared Lacy’s love of flying and continued to hone his craft at Boeing Field, earning a flight instructor’s certificate. He launched a specialty wear company while a business administration major at University of Washington, further proving his entrepreneurial credentials. When Kirkdoffer graduated, he wanted to tour Europe, but Lacy paid a visit and offered, “Why spend money to travel when I can pay you to travel?”
Kirkdoffer joined Clay Lacy Aviation in 1990 and, along with flying around the world, grew the company’s aircraft management business to 60 aircraft in 12 years. After serving as president of the company, Kirkdoffer recently became the majority owner of Clay Lacy Aviation. He still works alongside his friend and mentor who, at a youthful 83, was recently filming air-to-air footage for a major airline customer.
The new Clay Lacy Aviation facility at Palomar offers full charter services, sales and maintenance for all major business jets, and the authorized service center for Embraer Phenom business aircraft. (858.381.2529, www.claylacy.com) Brian Douglas