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The Flying Accountant

Leventhal alumnus pilots around the world spreading a message of peace

December 13, 2020

There’s a reason Robert DeLaurentis (Accounting, ’89) is known as the “Zen Pilot.” His message of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity” has literally been taken around the world.

After graduating from USC, DeLaurentis spent 14 years in the Navy—4 years of active duty including service in the Gulf War and 10 years in the reserves—ending as Lt. Commander before pursuing a graduate degree in spiritual psychology.

He always wanted to fly, but there never seemed to be enough time or resources to make it happen. Then, thanks in large part to the solid business foundation he gained at Marshall, his real estate business took off, ultimately funding his 2015 trip, an equatorial circumnavigation in a plane called Spirit of San Diego. 

But he wasn’t content with that feat. He wanted to pursue the impossible—a pole-to-pole circumnavigation—even though that would be expensive. His foundation, the DeLaurentis Foundation, served as the biggest sponsor of trip, but he also needed to rely on outside support.

He leaned into skills from his Marshall communications classes and his creative, entrepreneurial spirit, approaching the ask as a businessperson. He let potential funders know that sponsoring his flight would help not only their community involvement but would also improve the planet. His “mission of many” eventually included 95 companies including Honeywell, Red Bird Flight Simulations, Shell, and Lightspeed.

Around the World

In November 2019, DeLaurentis set out from San Diego in his twin-engine Turbine Commander 900 named “Citizen of the World” on an ambitious trip to 26 nations using only biofuels. He also took with him two experiments, one from NASA (a Wafer Scale spacecraft) and one from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (a test for plastics pollution in the atmosphere).

Along the way, he interviewed members of the Zulu tribe, triathletes, and even a dog musher. He asked each one what it meant to be a citizen of the world and discussed what unites us as human beings: family, love, compassion, kindness, safety, security.

Sometimes during his journey things didn’t go so well. Like when he lost his navigation system for several hours over the South Pole. Or when he got stuck in Spain for more than a month because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. But through it all, he was well prepared, knowing the universe was going to throw things at him he wasn’t expecting. “I chose faith over fear,” he says.

In addition to flying, DeLaurentis is also the author of several books including Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life, which takes the concept of spiritual psychology and applies it to the business world.

Through it all, DeLaurentis has continued to look for opportunities to get the story of his flight and his message of peace out into the world. “There’s a lot to be done,” he concludes.

You can read more about his remarkable journey and where he plans to go next here.