Earlier today, I posted an article featuring James Stewart, the movie actor.
During my research, I came across the account of Harrison Ford who crash-landed his vintage aeroplane whilst taking off from Santa Monica airport on the 5 March 2015.
Now, I have always had a lot of admiration for Harrison Ford, and as a fellow pilot, I feel a lot of sympathy, as I know how easy it is for a situation to develop, and rapidly get out of control.
Mister Ford is a keen pilot, and holds both single engine and twin engine licences, together with a helicopter licence. He owns a number of aircraft, and is in love with flying to the extent that – in his words “I will fly up the coast for a cheeseburger” – and I don’t know any fellow pilots who have not done this…
As an aviation enthusiast (anorak) I love any films related to flight, flying, or aeroplanes. My film collection is littered with films such as Top Gun (which must be the seminal aviation movie for the 80s) Air America, The Great Waldo Pepper, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and the Flight of the Phoenix.
I decided that it would be interesting to see how many other Hollywood stars who appeared in such movies actually had piloting experience.
There are one or two well-known high-profile pilots, such as John Travolta, who owns a number of aircraft, and has a home on an air park in Florida. Up until recently he owned and operated a Boeing 707 bearing Qantas livery, which he used to fly as a goodwill ambassador for Qantas. He has recently donated this aircraft to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, which is part of the Australian Aviation Museum in Illawarra, Australia, just outside of Sydney.
His nearby neighbour in California, one Clint Eastwood has been a qualified helicopter pilot for over thirty years, as well as being a keen environmentalist.
Fellow actor and songwriter, Kris Kristofferson was also a helicopter pilot, having been taught by the U.S. military, and serving in Germany. Leaving the army in 1965, he became a commercial helicopter pilot, serving oil platforms in Southern Louisiana for three years before making it big in the music industry, and then more latterly, the movies
The diminutive Tom Cruise, who played the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the film Top Gun is a pilot in real life as well. Having qualified in Canada, he owns a P51 Mustang, and a Pitts Special. Not content with just flying aircraft, he also likes to jump out of them, and is a keen parachutist. This, in my opinion, makes him a certifiable lunatic – but, hey, each to his own.
Morgan Freeman also flies, and holds a Private licence. He too has experienced the thrill and freedom that flying offers. As a younger man he was an aircraft engineer in the USAF, and had aspirations of being a fighter pilot. I think he made the right choice, because as a successful movie star he can afford to fly whatever he likes….
The late, great James Stewart was a full Colonel in the USAF, and flew many combat missions during the Second World War, and was a highly decorated pilot. He also appeared in the famous film The Flight of the Phoenix, and appeared in the starring role in the biopic of Charles Lindbergh. However, his wartime experiences affected him profoundly, and he was averse to appearing in war films.
Now, let’s move on to Star Trek. Stark Trek epitomises the pinnacle of what aviation could become; flying in what is effectively four dimensions. The cast of this show is positively filled with an abundance of pilots.
James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer “Scottie” flew during the Second World War as a liaison pilot, flying Taylorcraft Auster single engine aircraft, liaising with Canadian Artillery units. He was a natural and exuberant pilot, and was apparently reprimanded for slaloming his aircraft between telegraph poles in around Salisbury Plain, whilst operating from RAF Andover.
Creator and director of the Star Trek franchise, Gene Rodenberry was a bomber pilot during the Second World War, flying B17 Flying Fortresses in the Pacific theatre. He flew 89 combat missions, and was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Medal, and the Air Medal. He retired from the USAF holding the rank of Captain.
Subsequently, he went on to work for Pan American, flying Lockheed Constellations. Strangely, he left his aviation connections behind and before creating the series, he enrolled as a police officer in the LAPD.
Michael Dorn, (Lieutenant Worf) is an accomplished and experienced pilot too. – and has owned a number of classic American ex-military jets, including a T33 trainer, and F86 Sabre, and a Sabreliner. He is also very privileged to have flown with both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.
Kurt Russell, joins the ranks of celebrity aviators. The star of films such as Backdraught, and Vanilla Sky, and long-time partner to Goldie Hawn holds a private licence for both single and multi-engine aeroplanes. He is also heavily involved in the aviation charity Wings of Hope.
Action man Steve McQueen was also a very keen aviator. Having had a very dismal and fractured childhood, Steve developed a love for motor racing, fast cars and motorcycles. He owned a collection of both, and performed a lot of his own stunts. He is particularly renowned for the motorcycle chase sequence in The Great Escape, and for the high speed car chase in the film Bullit.
It must be a hand-eye coordination thing, because he also fell in love with aviation.
Or it could possibly be because his natural father was a stunt pilot with a Barnstormer Flying Circus!
Steve owned and flew a 1945 Boeing Stearman biplane, a Piper J-3 Cub, and a very rare Pitcairn PA-8 which was used by the U.S. ace Eddie Rickenbacker when he flew for the U.S. postal service.
George Peppard of “The A Team” fame was a talented pilot, and flew most of the aerial sequences in the film “The Blue Max” in which he starred as a German Air Force pilot. He also piloted his own Lear jet, which he used for commuting.
Jack Pallance, was selected by the USAF for pilot training, but a serious aircraft crash, which severely burned his face prevented him from flying thereafter.
It’s also important not to forget the ladies in aviation.
Angelina Jolie is a qualified private pilot and flies a Cirrus SR-22. The model Giesele Bundchen has gained her wings, as has the British TV personality Carol Vorderman.
Hilary Swank who, coincidentally, played the part of Amelia Earhart has also got a licence.
It’s not just the movie and TV personalities that have been gripped by the thrill of flying.
Country Singer Alan Jackson has a private licence for both single engine and twins, and ex Van Halen rocker Dave Lee Roth has a helicopter licence.
Gary Numan, the Techno-Pop icon of the 1970s and front man of Tubeway Army is passionate about flying. He qualified as a pilot and operated a North American Harvard for 15 years on the UK Airshow circuit.
Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of heavy rock group Iron Maiden is also a flier. However, his enthusiasm took him one stage further than most of his contemporaries, who are, in the main, private pilots.
He decided that he would gain his commercial licence, and in fact flew for the now defunct UK based airline Astraeus, flying Boeing 757/767 types. He now owns an aviation company based at St Athan in Wales.
Probably the most famous musician with a licence is John Denver. During a musical career that spanned a couple of decades, he too fell in love with flying. Taught to fly by his Father, a record breaking USAF officer (who flew a B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber) he also owned and operated many different aeroplanes, including a Learjet, a Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane, and a pair of Cessna 210 utility planes.
Many of Johns songs were about aviation or space travel.
John died too early in an air accident, when flying his recently acquired Rutan Long EZ which crashed on a Californian beach, killing him instantly.
So, next time you watch a film, and think that the actor or actress is a “Lovey” and a soft shrinking violet, you may be doing them a great dis-service. Not only may they be doing a good percentage of their own stunts, but they may be better qualified than you are!