July 29, 2011
By Thomas B Haines
A highlight of the evening was the auctioning of a one-of-a-kind 2012 Ford Mustang themed on the Navy Blue Angels, in honor of the 100th anniversary of naval aviation.
Enthusiastic bidders pushed the total take of the EAA Gathering of Eagles fundraising dinner to $2.2 million. The dinner included a silent and live auction as well as lively interaction with a number of celebrities, including actor and pilot Harrison Ford and filmmaker George Lucas.
A highlight of the evening was the auctioning of a one-of-a-kind 2012 Ford Mustang themed on the Navy Blue Angels, in honor of the 100th anniversary of naval aviation. The Mustang design team, famed car performance specialist Carroll Shelby, and race car team owner Jack Roush who assisted in the design, were on hand to describe the chrome blue car emblazoned with a Blue Angels emblem. The 624-horsepower supercharged Mustang, donated by Ford Motor Co., rides on a custom suspension and stops on specially designed brakes. Shelby reported that some $80,000 worth of silver was used in making the unique paint finish, which seems to glow under lights. In the end the car sold for $400,000 and included a Blue Angels flight helmet signed by the current flight team.
A flight with famed aviator Sean D. Tucker and lunch with Bob Hoover totaled $40,000; lunch and a flight with Harrison Ford fetched $50,000. Other items included trips, experiences, and gear.
All in all, the Gathering of Eagles auctions over the last dozen years or so have raised some $14 million for the EAA Young Eagles project, which has provided first flights for some 1.6 million kids, 70,000 just this year. Some 10,000 of the Young Eagles have signed up for the Sporty’s Pilot Shop online flight training program provided at no cost to Young Eagles students.
The Gathering of Eagles organizing committee honored former Cessna CEO Jack Pelton with a $100,000 challenge grant to support the cause. The $100,000 gift was funded by personal and industry friends of Pelton, who left Cessna earlier this year. Pelton served as the Gathering of Eagles Chairman for the last seven years, raising millions for Young Eagles. Audience members answered the challenge by tripling the value of the gift after only a few minutes of encouragement from EAA President Rod Hightower. Past chairmen of the Young Eagles program on hand included actor Cliff Robertson, Gen. Chuck Yeager, and Harrison Ford. The current chairmen are Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles, pilots of the Miracle on the Hudson airliner that Sullenberger deadsticked into the Hudson River after a bird strike caused the engines to flame out.
Among the more moving moments of the nights was the preview of Lucas’ film Red Tails. The film, based on actual events, tells the tale of the challenges faced by the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American U.S. Army Air Force fighter pilots during World War II, and the successes they achieved once allowed to engage the enemy. Lucas said the film is a 20-year project that Hollywood studios did not want to release because they felt there was not an interest in a film about World War II airplanes. As a result, Lucas said he will release the film himself in January 2012. At the banquet, representatives of Ford Motor Co. said the custom Mustang created for next year’s Gather of Eagles auction will be themed Red Tails. The Tuskegee Airmen painted the tails of the P-51 Mustangs red.
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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