October 1, 1998
It's a rainy night in Copenhagen. A Lear 55C taxies up to the VIP spot on the FBO ramp, its lights diffused and glowing in the damp mist, and its sleek skin shining as the rain flows down its sides. A large press delegation walks out to the airplane as the door opens. They are here to greet the passenger, a prominent director and producer of award-winning films. The door sighs open, and the dim lights within form a halo around the door. The greeters look toward the passenger cabin, where their guest will be showing himself, but he appears not from the cabin, but from the cockpit.
The man is Sydney Pollack. His films have won 46 Academy Award nominations and seven Oscars, as well as many other prestigious awards throughout the world. But why did he step out of the front of the airplane? The powerhouses of Hollywood ride in the back of their jets, working on scripts and movie deals. But this man is different. He is a type-rated jet pilot, an accomplishment as important to him as a major film award.
Pollack attends recurrent training at FlightSafety International every six months. He's at the airport two hours before a flight to brief the trip with his partner and mentor, Ed Connelly. So, why not, as do most of his colleagues, arrive at the airport at the last minute, walk aboard, and go to work?
The answer is that Pollack loves flying as much as he loves the film business. He is as passionate about jet performance as he is about the nuances of a screenplay or the framing of a scene. As he says, "I don't have other hobbies. I've never been on a golf course, I don't play cards, and I don't collect art; but I love to fly airplanes."
Pollack is a veteran in the entertainment business. He started in New York, studying drama. Later he taught as he pursued an acting career. Next came directing. In 1975, Pollack formed his own production company, Mirage Productions, and produced several highly successful films, including world-famous titles such as Out of Africa, Tootsie, and The Firm.
The abuse that came with global airline travel grew to be too costly, both in energy and in lost time. He began chartering airplanes and saw the return in time and efficiency. In the process, Pollack was introduced to the world of corporate jets, and that's when he first flew a Learjet.
The next step was his own airplane, a Lear 25. With a few hundred hours' flight time accumulated over the years, he committed himself to learning to fly his new jet. First he recruited Ed Connelly to fly him on a European film promotion tour. With the transatlantic crossing under his belt, Pollack attended the Learjet Initial Training Course at FlightSafety, earning his type rating in the time allotted for far more experienced pilots.
What drives this man to be such a professional? To answer this, one has to know Pollack, a man who, in spite of his prominence on Academy Award's night, is completely unpretentious. He is a self-made man who, after all, began his career as a teacher. As a mentor of actors, Pollack learned to take apart the complicated, subtle concepts of the theater so that he could rebuild them in the minds of his students.
The teacher in him is fascinated with the complexities of flying jets. Pollack attacks his training with a fierce enthusiasm, questioning the formulas for computing flight data and probing the assumptions that lead to design decisions.
Pollack says it best himself: "I'm not a professional pilot, and I never will be, but when I work and study with professional pilots, it's up to me to work as hard as I can to meet their standards. So I take lots of notes at FlightSafety, and I study hard so that I can keep up with these high-time guys. I love to spend time with pilots, real pros who take pride in what they do."
After a couple of years, Pollack decided that his travel would be more productive with a larger airplane, and the 25 was replaced with his present airplane, the 55C.
There's a mix of good business sense and boyish fascination with Sydney Pollack and his Learjet. His film projects require long trips to scout out-of-the-way locations. Shooting schedules demand frequent trips back and forth between locations and Los Angeles. The Lear pays for itself over and over again with the flexibility it gives Pollack and his production company in the heat of a developing film project.
Pollack's enthusiasm has spawned new flying activity in Hollywood. After directing Tom Cruise in The Firm, Pollack convinced the Top Gun star that he should learn to fly. Already the owner of his own corporate jet, Cruise took to the skies in his own small airplane and has now earned his multiengine and instrument ratings. Harrison Ford, Pollack's star from Sabrina, manages his film career from his own corporate jet, and he now owns a new Bonanza and several other aircraft.
With this contagious enthusiasm, there will be more famous pilots and airplane owners around Pollack. His personal influence has generated more than 20 airplane sales in the last 10 years. NBAA and GAMA could well seek his counsel on how to advance the cause of general aviation. He has the answers, not only to mega-star status in the film world, but to the questions of why an airplane makes good dollars and sense and, maybe, after all the financial analyses are done, why flying is really a lot of fun.
Learn to Fly,
Pilot Youth and Introductory
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