- About Us
Dreams of flight took persistence to acheive for local man
"Defford Taylor remembers showing a co-worker a photo of his beloved grandmother and watching the man's forehead wrinkle in confusion.The co-worker's eyes bounced between Taylor's chocolate brown face and the older woman's much lighter face - the color of coffee liberally filled with cream - before stopping on him. But she's white, the man said. The comment annoyed Taylor but he understood the confusion. As a boy, he never doubted his relation to the loving, impish woman whose frequent giggle seemed to emerge deep from her gut and who taught him how to grow vegetables. But once he was old enough to notice the difference in their skin colors, he, too, wondered about it and why his uncles looked more Hispanic than black. Until he was 18, nobody in his family ever explained and it became an unspoken thing that seemed to grow heavier and darker the longer it remained a secret - I thought there was something wrong.Only at 18 did an uncle explain that his grandmother, Ada Anderson, who was originally from Texas, was the product of a white father and a part black, part American Indian mother. Her father had essentially kept two families - a white one and a black one - but the black one had been a secret. Although Anderson had married a black man, her children inherited some of the features of the white side of the family.The years of silence trouble him still.The most frustrating thing about it is there's a whole side of me I can't acknowledge, Taylor said. If you looked at me, you wouldn't think I was biracial but I am. There's this whole part of me I have to ignore all framed by someone else making a decision about who and what I was.He worries about the assumptions people will make about his three daughters, who are half black and half white. The 42-year-old Federal Way man learned early on about the ease with which people make false assumptions. Those assumptions bother him, whether it be people's presumption that he couldn't be related to someone with peach-colored skin or the presumption he could never be an airline pilot.It wasn't until 1963, when he was 5, that airlines first began hiring black pilots as a result of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, according to The Organization of Black Airline Pilots, Inc. At 18, when his desire had evolved from a childhood wish to an adult goal, there were still only about 80 black pilots nationwide. But from the time he could look into the sky and recognize the jets soaring overhead, Taylor has wanted to be in the air with them. He recalls studying flying magazines at the store from the time he was 3 and cutting photos of airplanes out of his aunt's encyclopedias.His cousin once tore apart his pedal-powered jeep toy but avoided a clobbering by yelling, Airplane and gesturing upward. The other boy ran away while Taylor scanned the sky for the promised but non-existent plane.When he was older, Taylor riffled so often through the pages of The Observer's Book of Aircraft he ripped the cover to shreds and tore some of the much-turned pages.Family members made it clear they would prefer if he chose to be a pastor or a doctor, professions deemed more attainable for a black man in the '70s.Black people didn't do that, Taylor said of his desire to fly planes.But he didn't let that assumption deter him.Absolutely not, he said with a vigorous head shake.When he was about 12, he joined the Civil Air Patrol, and began learning to fly. He soloed in 1974, when he was 16. His family began supporting his efforts, including paying for his lessons. Strangers weren't always so supportive. When he was 18, Taylor tried to get a piloting job at a company but was told he didn't have enough experience. That day, a white friend with less flight experience walked into the business and asked for work, and got a job.I start tomorrow, he told Taylor.Again, Taylor couldn't be persuaded to rethink his career choice. If anything, that experience with racism made him even more determined to achieve his dream. At 19, he got his first job, flying turbine-powered twin Otters for Era Helicopters in Anchorage. In 1979, the Federal Aviation Administration began looking for minorities for a flight inspection pilot program and Taylor, who was 22 at the time, became the youngest pilot ever hired.He left the FAA four years later and joined Alaska Airlines. Since then, he's worked as a pilot for several airlines and accumulated more than 14,000 flight hours. He's worked as a 757 pilot and trainer at the Las Vegas-based National Airlines since April 1999.In a typical month, he flies 13 to 15 days. Flying planes provides its scary moments, such as the flight from New York in June when he and the pilot whose performance he was evaluating smelled an electrical odor. They strapped on oxygen masks and declared an emergency, landing in Amarillo, Texas instead of their Las Vegas destination. On the ground, they switched airplanes.But the thrills outnumber the potential spills. Although he's been flying for years, he still feels exhilarated when he slowly draws the yoke toward him and the plane's nose begins to lift. When he gently pushes the yoke away to level out the plane, that excitement remains.Taylor's wife, Andrea, whom he's been married to for eight years, said his passion for flying has been a powerful force in his life. He subscribes to several plane magazines, and collects books about flight and airplane models.Some people who are pilots are real technical, Andrea said. He's not. He's more of the artist. He wants to fly because it's an art to him. He lives and breathes airplanes. He has a hard time understanding people who don't have that drive. His excitement for his profession increases when he mulls the tenacity it took him to get there. It's a perseverance he learned from his grandmother before she died at the age of 93.If you don't let me in the front door, he said. I'll go in the window or I'll kick in the back door. "