Thomas Daly, proprietor of the Malverne School of Self Defense, has many defining characteristics. “I’m told I have one of the oldest businesses by the same owner in Malverne,” Daly said before one of his classes last week. “I’m going on my 43rd year here.”
But that distinction barely scratches the surface of what defines the 69-year-old.
He is also a Geico Skytyper, who travels America’s East Coast, from Florida to Massachusetts, performing daring stunts in a squadron of six vintage World War II planes. His most recent appearance was the Ocean City Air Show last weekend. He was also part of the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach on Memorial Day weekend. Daly estimates that he performs 90 shows each season, from May to November.
When the Skytypers aren’t doing shows, they write advertising messages in the sky. “We can do 40 to 50 messages on a Saturday or Sunday,” Daly said. “We’ll travel down the Jersey Shore and write messages there, and then advertise Mohegan Sun up near Fenway. So, in an afternoon, we might do the whole tri-state area.” Daly said the Skytypers will “type” messages at 10,000 feet in the air, and the messages are usually 6 to 8 miles long and can be seen from as far away as 15 miles in any direction.
But maybe that’s not really Daly. Maybe it’s his 34 years with the Nassau County Police Department, including 32 years spent flying a helicopter for the department’s patrol and air and sea rescue unit. “All that stuff you see on television — chasing the bad guys, pulling people out of boats — all of that is actually true,” said Daly. “Just not as often as you see it on television.”
He is also known for his time as dean of Dowling College, his alma mater. After graduating in 1971, Daly returned to the college when he retired from the NCPD in 2006, and taught aviation safety. He eventually became dean of student affairs and dean of aviation until the college closed last year.
Perhaps motorcycle-racing enthusiasts would say that Daly’s land speed records with the Loring Timing Association define him best. Over the past three years, he set records in Maine on his production vintage 750 Harley, with an average speed of 126.217 mph; on 1000 Buell, with a speed of 137.547 mph; and on a 1957 Chevy.
Daly also spent many decades competing in international martial arts, and has ninth-degree black belt status in the Chinese Goju Association.
His involvement in extreme sports started when he was a child. “I decided when I was 8 years old that I was going to be a pilot,” Daly said, adding that his father was also a source of inspiration. “My dad was a gunner in the Flying Fortress during World War II,” he said.
In 1967, when Daly was 19, he began studying the Chinese Goju style of karate, and attended many training centers until he found a vacant building in Malverne and opened his own studio in 1974. The building owner, who was an Eastern Airlines pilot, became a friend. Today, Daly rents the same studio from the pilot’s son.
Though he lives in Garden City, Daly considers Malverne his home. “I have lots of friends who live here,” he said, noting that he teaches the children of the children he taught years ago. “When I start seeing their grandchildren … maybe then it’s time to stop,” he said. “But I’m a failure at retirement, so who knows?”