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My Good Friend, Don Taylor

By Brett Hahn

December 2015 - I feel sad, tired, and hollow. This week I learned that my good friend and mentor Don Taylor passed away.

Among the many wonderful, smart, and experienced people at my Chapter 555, Don stood tall. He was always smiling and was eager to shake the hand of a young newbie pilot like myself. Don was keen to know what was going on in my life, how my wife was. “How goes the flying, Brett, the restoration?” he’d ask. It was never about him.

Don spent many hours helping all us Chapter 555 young pups figure out this “flying thing”; guiding us through the nuances of weather and instilling in us the ability to make safe-and-sound judgments. He possessed a level of knowledge unlike anyone else I had ever met. He was an aviator who had walked the walk.

Whether it was a flying question, or a life question, you went to Don. Don would know the answer.

Chapter 555 president and Cessna 140 pilot Wes Baker remembers: “He gave me an awful lot of encouragement right after I became chapter president, especially in the dark days after another of our leaders, JR Billstone, passed away. Don was always looking for ways to get new people into flying. A couple of years ago, he offered to pay the Chapter 555 dues for a few of the local college kids who came out to the hangar and became interested in airplanes. We thought that was such a great idea, we decided instead to just let them all join our chapter for free!”

But it was all about him. Don changed the  viewpoint on the safety and performance of flying experimental category airplanes. Don scratch-built an all-aluminum low-wing Thorp T-18, and then flew his Thorp around the world in 1976. Solo. (Don was the first to circumnavigate the world in a homebuilt aircraft. His T-18 is on display in our EAA AirVenture Museum.)

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Don went off to sea at age 17 and had traveled around the world by the time he was 19.

He came home deciding that college was better than being a bellboy on the high seas, but his plans were interrupted when, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps in December of 1941.

Don became a fighter/bomber pilot in World War II, flying P-40s in the China Burma India Theater. Postwar he was stationed in Germany during the occupation and later trained in jet fighters. During the Cold War era, Don commanded the Thor Missile Maintenance and Operations training for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in central England.

After retiring from the Air Force, he became immersed in sport aviation as a builder, pilot, instructor, and adventurer. Don scratch-built and flew a high-performance two-seat Thorp T-18 he named Victoria ‘76, setting many Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)-recognized world records in his weight class.

Demonstrating the performance and reliability of experimental category aircraft, Don was the first to circumnavigate the world (in 1976), fly from Hawaii to California, and at the age of 64, flew from Oshkosh to the North Pole and back (1983)—all before e-mail or GPS navigation.

In 1986 Don was part of the mission control team for Rutan’s Voyager around-the-world flight. Finally at the age of 90, Don Taylor stopped flying. At age 97, retired Lt. Col. Donald Taylor U.S. Air Force slipped peacefully away to heaven on December 2, 2015. Don was preceded by his cherished wife of 58 years, Lois, and is survived by his son Wil and his daughters Dorothy and Susan-Fay (and grandchildren Peggy and Kathy, and Kathy’s children).

Per his wishes, only a private family memorial was held.

Ever humorous and effacing he had remarked, “I don’t want any grieving or anyone telling tall tales about what a great guy I was.”

In lieu of flowers, the family requests you make a donation to your favorite charity or to Mesilla Valley Hospice, 299 Montana Avenue, Las Cruces, NM 88005.

Read more about Don Taylor’s life and accomplishments, and how he achieved his around-the-world flight.

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