A cast of characters talks aviation

From doctors and baseball players to animated airplanes

October 11, 2013

Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr. tells his flying story.

AOPA President Mark Baker greeted Friday morning’s audience with an apology that one of the scheduled speakers from the FAA—Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker—would not be attending AOPA Aviation Summit. “But I can share with you that the FAA assures me safety is its top concern,” Baker said. Baker also said that the FAA is concerned with keeping the certification process simpler, which was met with applause from the packed convention center ballroom.

Baker then introduced Jonathan Sackier, surgeon and representative of AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services. The British-born pilot told the audience why he emigrated to the United States. “When I heard Sean Connery was retiring, I offered to step in as the next James Bond,” Sackier quipped, “but that didn’t work out. Then I tried the RAF but my eyesight wasn’t up to par. I was so enamored of the American bravado, I wanted to be an American pilot.” Sackier admonished the audience not to let American aviation be “eroded and destroyed” as it was in Britain.

NTSB board member Earl Weener then took the stage and said he wanted to assure pilots that the NTSB is “aviation friendly.” He had to apologize also that much of what he wanted to present was not available. “You may have noticed. The government is shut down.” Safety alerts Weener had hoped to offer attendees are available on the NTSB website.

Next up was AOPA Senior Vice President of Media, Tom Haines, who introduced baseball legend and pilot Ken Griffey Jr. Asked why the baseball star became a pilot, Griffey said, “I wanted to go see the kids [at college] and still be home for dinner.” Griffey first flew with his father who had gotten his certificate when he was 36. He and his father spent much quality time in the aircraft together and Griffey Jr. also ended up earning his certificate when he was 36. He flies a Cirrus—“My wife said I could have the one with the parachute”—and is on his fifth aircraft. “Baseball was good to me and I am fortunate that I can buy an airplane. I like cars and I like planes—even my golf cart is street legal.”

Haines asked Griffey what he thought would bring kids into aviation. “I compare this to Major League Baseball and the NFL—they show kids the fun side,” he said.

Greg Coleman of Walt Disney Animation Studios then discussed the creation of the movie Planes with Haines. Coleman is a new private pilot and is justifiably proud of the movie, which he says is the product of much research. “It was important to keep the characters believable.” Director Klay Hall has an aviation background and part of the DVD release in November will feature Hall’s personal journey in making the film. “He wanted the authenticity to make it believable,” Coleman said.

Julie Summers Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Director of Publications, Managing Editor for 'AOPA Pilot' and 'Flight Training'

AOPA Director of Publications and Managing Editor for AOPA Pilot and Flight Training, Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.