: Capt James Anthony Tan is on cloud nine. And for good reason.
Born with dyslexia, the 21-year-old Malaysian pilot managed to fly half-way around the world in a tiny, single-engine Cessna 210 Eagle aircraft, an achievement which is no mean feat, making him the first Malaysian and the youngest pilot to stamp his mark.
Tan soared into international acclaim and fame although, as he put it, it has nothing to do with aviation but everything about inspiring people to do the impossible.
His 20,000km flight - crossing the world in a tiny aircraft alone at the age of 21 - began in Langkawi, Malaysia on March 26 and ended at Teteboro, USA on Saturday. The route to the USA was via Subang, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Russia and Canada.
Upon landing the aircraft called 'The Spirit of Malaysia', Tan was given a rousing welcome at a reception in New York.
The reception, hosted by the New York office of Tourism Malaysia, was held at the Malaysian Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
The mission, called '1Malaysia Round the World', embodies the "Malaysia Boleh” spirit, as many young Malaysians were saying at the reception.
In an interview with Bernama before the reception began, Tan, who is expected to return to Malaysia on or before May 15, retraced the steps leading to his incredible journey across half the world in the Cessna aircraft.
“I have been a lucky guy, you know. I got whatever I wanted even as a child. I met a little boy suffering from Down's syndrome last year. I saw in his eyes the emptiness of life...he had no passion, no dream...I considered myself lucky.
"I decided to do something and inspire people. The main purpose of my mission is about inspiring people...it’s not about aviation, though I realise that it is quite a feat crossing the world in this aircraft at the age of 21, which in itself sets a record, according to (the) Guinness (Book of Records).
"This is about inspiring others, and motivating them to pursue their dreams,” he explained.
There has been one Carlos Smith who set the record of flying around the world at the age of 22, a year older than Tan who has received a confirmation from the Guinness Book of Records and he will be officially acknowledged on providing evidence or alibi of recorded statements by witnesses, photographs, etc. taken during his various stops.
Tan maintains a tracking system on his website which indicates the progress he has made on his journey. However, he also faced some challenging moments during his journey.
“I had some moments of concern...about adequate fuel, whether I was on the right course, etc. But I was really scared when I flew across Russia to Alaska.
The ocean below me was frozen...I even saw frozen waves! What would happen if something went wrong with the plane as I flew this long stretch of airspace. It was scary..." he exclaimed.
Tan said that the purpose of his expedition was to “inspire the world’s youth to explore the world”.
Having been born with dyslexia, he is trying to raise awareness about the problems faced by children with special needs, and empower them to “chase their own dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem”.
He avoids flying at night.
Tan, who has a pilot’s licence from Australia and the UK authorities, is not only the youngest pilot to fly alone around the world in a single-engine aircraft but will also achieve this feat in the shortest duration among other record holders in this category, recognised by the World Record Academy.
He has already been inducted into Malaysia’s Book of Record for his previous expedition of 13,000 nautical miles from the United Kingdom to Bangkok, and back in 2012.
At the reception, where the chief guest, New York City Comptroller John C. Liu, presented Tan with a “special proclamation” for his unique feat, accolades were heaped on the young pilot.
Liu, who called Tan a “young hero”, said: “We expect bigger and better heroics from this young man who is an inspiration, not just for young people but for people of all ages around the world.”
Tan also received a New York State Proclamation Award given by Senator Martin Golden who praised the young pilots’ passion for flying and for overcoming life’s hurdles.
The suave and media-savvy Tan, who addressed the large gathering at the Malaysian Permanent Mission, fielded questions from the media and the Malaysian community with ease, a characteristic which even seasoned diplomats lack.
When one female asked him if he was married, Tan replied: “I am married to my work.” This provoked ripples of laughter amongst the guests who rewarded him with a loud applause.
Another male guest wanted to know which country he had visited was the most beautiful. “Malaysia,” Tan replied, unleashing another round of loud applause from the gathering.
Syed Bakri Syed Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian consul-general in New York, said the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office and the Malaysian tourism ministry had both supported Tan's mission.
Wisma Putra had helped obtain visas for Tan for his stops in various countries.
The event was also attended by Ahmad Johanif Mohd Ali, the vice-president of Tourism Malaysia’s New York office.
Representatives of the Malaysia Association of America, including its chairman, Kim Bong, and chief executive director Jack Liaw, as well as several Malaysian students, were also present at the reception. - By Manik Mehta