Last week, Denver received a visit from an ambitious young pilot. Twenty-one-year-old Captain James Tan, from Malaysia, is attempting to become the youngest pilot ever to fly solo around the world in a single engine aircraft. But Tan—who was born with dyslexia—isn’t just out to secure a spot in the record books; he wants to inspire special needs children to chase their own dreams, no matter how daunting they may seem. I caught up with Tan via email to chat about flying and how his journey is going so far.


5280: How old were you when you started flying?

Tan: I stated flying when I was 18. First in Australia, then the UK, and finally America.

5280: When did you start to think that you might try for a world record?

Tan: I was born very lucky in life. I was traveling around the world previously for pleasure. One day I met a young man. He suffered from Down syndrome and I saw from his eyes what no man should ever [see]: No dreams, no passion, no inspiration. He was empty—there was nothing in him. And that really scared me. I knew if I was not so lucky, I would have been him, because I have dyslexia. I decided to do something about it, and the only way I know how is to fly. This expedition is not purely [about] aviation. This expedition is to inspire the pioneering minds of youth to go for their dreams regardless of background.

5280: Why do you like flying? What about it resonates with you?

Tan: Aviation is the ultimate form of freedom. The world opens up and nothing is beyond your reach.

5280: How has your journey been going so far? Anything that stands out that you would like to share?

Tan: Many [things] to be honest! Mechanical issues, weather, and the whole change of environment when traveling around the world. When I was in Russia, I saw an active volcano and a frozen ocean—even the waves were frozen solid. I meet so many interesting and inspirational people and learn from their experiences. I’ve tried many different foods, and I saw a live brown bear!

5280: Are you ever scared?

Tan: I have the prayer and spirit of everyone I have met with me. Yes, I am scared—but I never let fear stop me from doing anything in life. We must never stop moving forward.

5280: Where in the world do you most want to visit (and why)?

Tan: This is a tricky question. But Malaysia is my home. We have many things to see and even in a lifetime, I [would] not be able to witness all the wonders of my country.

5280: Can you tell me a bit about your family? Any other pilots in your family?

Tan: My dad is Malaysian and my mum is Welsh. I have three older sisters. Life was not easy growing up. Had four mums protecting [me], and to be honest: Hell has no fury like a woman scorned! I am the first pilot in my family.

5280: Part of why you’re doing this trip is to raise awareness for special needs children. What do you want people to know about people with dyslexia, or other special needs?

Tan: I want people with special needs to believe in their own ability. We must never fall into self-pity. I don’t want any special passes. We must progress knowing that we made it by our own human will. Being special is a gift, not a curse. Never use your gift as an excuse not to succeed in life.

5280: Have you been to Denver before? If not, what have you heard about it?

Tan: No, it was my first time. It’s the place for outdoor activity—unfortunately time was not on my side. But I would have loved to have visited Royal Gorge Bridge, and of course, Rocky Mountain National Park.

5280: Was it difficult to navigate the Rocky Mountains?

Tan: I was very lucky—I had a perfect day crossing it. In bad weather, the Rockies are not for the faint of heart—but the views are breathtaking.

Follow Captain Tan’s journey on

—Image courtesy of Tourism Malaysia

Follow digital assistant editor Davina van Buren on Twitter at @davinavanburen or on Pinterest.