February 1, 2011
By Barry Schiff
Most Hollywood celebrities become actors before becoming pilots. Treat Williams was a pilot first and an actor second. (His first name comes from his ancestor, Robert Treat Paine, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.)
Williams’ high-school football coach was a flight instructor who offered in 1969 to teach him to fly. This was in a Piper Super Cub at Candlelight Farms Airport, a grass strip near Danbury, Connecticut. “I was scared to death during that first lesson,” he says, “but that didn’t last. During my first solo, the Cub exploded off the ground. I couldn’t hear the engine because I was screaming so loudly, so joyfully.”
His acting career also began in high school, where he performed in plays. “After that, it was hard work and luck,” which he defines as “being prepared for opportunity.” Williams says he is a working-class actor who loves good material regardless of the medium. He has performed on Broadway (Danny Zuko in Grease), television ( Everwood), and more than 60 motion pictures ( Hair, Prince of the City, What Happens in Vegas).
The Connecticut-born actor became a private pilot at 21 and added a plethora of ratings, including a flight instructor certificate and a Cessna Citation type rating. He has 8,000 hours, including 1,000 in helicopters.
Williams has owned a Clipped-Wing Cub, a Cherokee 180 in which he got his instrument rating and commercial certificate, a Piper Seneca II, and a North American AT–6 Texan. As his family grew, so did his need for larger wings, which led him to a 1978 Piper Navajo Chieftain. He and his family use it to fly between their primary residence in Park City, Utah, and their summer home in Vermont.
He also uses his airplane to commute to film locations all over the country. The farthest was from Teterboro, New Jersey, to Burbank, California, for his role in Steven Spielberg’s 1941. “That was in the Cherokee,” he says. “It took a million hours but was a fantastic flight.”
Williams will be donating his time to the EAA’s Young Eagles Program and recently wrote a wonderful children’s book that is profusely illustrated by noted artist Robert Neubecker. It is about a father who flies his children to an airshow in the family airplane. The cover of Air Show! (published by Disney/Hyperion) features his beloved Chieftain.
“It is incumbent upon us,” he says, “to pass the torch, to eagerly share our enthusiasm with those not yet addicted to the heady inebriation we feel during every takeoff.”
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