Aviation's living legends named

January 25, 2010

Aviation honored its own Jan. 22 at the Seventh Annual Living Legends of Aviation awards dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif. The event, an intersection of aviation and Hollywood glitterati, is a fundraiser for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy. Aerobatic star Sean D. Tucker was the emcee for the evening’s black-tie event, which included some 1,000 guests.

Colorado’s Jeffrey Puckett received the Harrison Ford Aviation Legacy Award for his work helping Denver’s religious and community leaders to better understand general aviation. Pilot/actor Ford presented the award through a video introduction because he was in New York City promoting his new “Extraordinary Measures” movie, which debuted the same night as the awards dinner.

GA industry leaders Ed Bolen, NBAA president, and Pete Bunce, GAMA president, presented the Aviation Industry Leader of the Year award to Preston Henne, for his work in designing airfoils for various aircraft, including the Gulfstream V and the new 650.

Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX, received the Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year from Linden Blue, founder of Spectrum Aeronautical. Musk is a physicist who plans to commercialize space travel.

Actor/pilot Kurt Russell caused a stir while accepting the Aviation Mentor Award from movie director/pilot Tony Bill and actor/pilot John Travolta. While noting how tough of a year GA has had, given the economic situation and the flogging the industry has taken from government and media, Russell, accompanied by long-time companion Goldie Hawn, declared: “There’s a big difference between an aviator and a fat cat.” He urged President Barack Obama to make the distinction and urged him to experience real aviation for himself. “You need to be an aviator,” he said to the president.

The Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur award went to Joseph Clark, a long-time Learjet user and cofounder of regional airline Horizon Air. Clark also formed Aviation Partners, which has developed performance-enhancing blended winglets for airliners and business jets. Entrepreneur Steven F. Udvar-Hazy presented the award to Clark.

Aviation icon Bob Hoover presented the Freedom of Flight Award named in his honor to Kermit Weeks. Weeks has long been a collector of War World II aircraft, keeping them flying at his Fantasy of Flight museum in Florida.

Pilot/actor Tom Cruise received the Top Aviation Inspiration and Patriotism Award, delivered by Clay Lacy and Travolta. The award comes in conjunction with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Cruise’s famed movie, “Top Gun.” The movie’s thrilling aviation sequences are credited with inspiring a whole new generation of military pilots. During his acceptance speech, Cruise described how he managed to snag flights with the Navy Blue Angels and other Navy F-14 Tom Cat rides in preparation for the movie; in one of them he ingloriously lost his lunch. Lacy’s company shot the flying scenes in the movie.

Finally, astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin received the First Out-of-This-World Landing & Takeoff Award from Travolta. Aldrin was with Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 when the two became the first humans to walk on the moon—safely landing and taking off “out of this world.”

According to the Living Legends Web site, only 70 legends are permitted at one time. Three legends have died in the last year, Sam Williams of turbine engine manufacturer Williams International; aviation engineer and entrepreneur Dee Howard; and test pilot Hank Beaird, the first pilot to fly the Learjet. Entering the ranks of “legend” to replace them were Amanda Wright Lane, niece of the Wright brothers; Bolen; and Bunce.