July 31, 2009
By Thomas B Haines
AOPA President Craig Fuller (right) accepts a pledge by pilot and actor Harrison Ford to broaden his role in AOPA’s GA Serves America campaign.
At the famed AirVenture Gathering of Eagles dinner July 30, EAA raised more than $1.8 million for the Young Eagles program and bid farewell to six-year honorary chairman pilot and actor Harrison Ford. Ford, however will continue to be active in Young Eagles. The evening’s silent and live auctions featured such exotic items as a flight in a Sikorsky Air Crane by Erickson, an aerobatic experience with Sean Tucker and The Collaborators, trips to high-end resorts in the Caribbean and Lake Tahoe, and a custom, one-of-a-kind AirVenture branded 2010 Ford Mustang. The Mustang alone sold for $250,000.
The glitterati were astounding. Among the aviation elite in attendance were Harrison Ford, R.A. “Bob” Hoover, Tucker, famed racer Jack Roush, car designer Carroll Shelby, country singer Aaron Tippin, and brothers Dick and Burt Rutan. Among those from the aviation industry were EAA President Tom Poberezny and AOPA President Craig Fuller, along with representatives from such iconic GA companies as Cessna, Piper, Garmin, Avidyne, Jeppesen, Cirrus, Socata, and many others.
One of the highlights of the evening was when the pilots of US Airways Flight 1549 appeared together on stage. Capt. Jeff Skiles flew as copilot on the infamous flight that hit Canada geese and was successfully deadsticked into New York’s Hudson River by Capt. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III. Skiles, who lives near Oshkosh, auctioned off the leather jacket and pair of shoes he was wearing that day—the shoes steeped in frigid Hudson River water last January as the crew helped all of the passengers safely exit the Airbus A320. The shoes and jacket fetched $40,000 for the cause, but an Airbus executive at the dinner agreed to double the amount.
At the end of the lively and successful evening, Ford announced that he was stepping down from his leadership position with Young Eagles to allow “new blood” to continue advancing the cause that has introduced more than 1.3 million youth to aviation over the last 17 years. Ford said that he would continue to take young people for their first GA flight. Previous chairmen included Gen. Chuck Yeager and actor Cliff Robertson.
During his closing remarks, Ford noted that he intends to stay involved in GA causes and especially wants to take time to help those in Washington and other influencers understand GA issues.
Earlier in the day, Ford met with AOPA’s Fuller to express his interest to broaden his support and participation in the association’s GA Serves America campaign. Ford has already filmed commercials for the campaign and will be participating in other events later in the year.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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