On a night when Hollywood stars and aviation luminaries came together to celebrate the wonder of flight, AOPA President Mark Baker was honored Jan. 16 with the Harrison Ford Legacy in Aviation Award at the Twelfth Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards.
“It’s obviously a very proud moment to have that kind of recognition,” Baker said of receiving the award named in honor of the actor who has served as a spokesman for AOPA’s GA Serves America campaign and as chairman of EAA’s Young Eagles Program.
“Anytime you can bring a spotlight to aviation and what it can do for people is healthy,” Baker said. “I like to believe for those [attendees] that aren’t members of AOPA, this [award] reminds them how important this organization is and that it represents the largest part of general aviation by far. It’s about the importance of having an AOPA since 1939 and protecting the freedom of flying.”
There are 89 “Living Legends of Aviation” who have been recognized for their outstanding accomplishments and contributions to aviation. The event is produced by Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, a nonprofit organization that introduces children ages 5 through 11 to flight through the Kiddie Hawk Trainer.
The event is considered the Academy Awards of aviation, not only because it is held at the Beverly Hilton, which always hosts the Golden Globe Awards a few days earlier, but because the Living Legends honors the remarkable accomplishments made by aviation and aerospace entrepreneurs, industry leaders, innovators, record breakers, astronauts, and pilots who have become celebrities as well as celebrities who have become pilots.
Harrison Ford presented what he called “the awkwardly named” award to Baker, whom he has known through their work to preserve California’s Santa Monica Municipal Airport, as well as flying the backcountry together. Ford spoke of how the legacy of aviation has made an extraordinary contribution to our nation, but it is in jeopardy.
“We are in danger of losing the gains that we have made in aviation, especially in the general aviation area,” Ford said. “The recipient of this year’s award is in a position to do something very constructive about that. Mark Baker is a longtime pilot, new president of AOPA, and has the opportunity, the wit, and the capacity to make a great contribution to the aviation community in the general aviation area.”
The evening began with John Travolta, the official ambassador of aviation, inducting three new Living Legends—Southwest Airlines founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher, who also was recognized with the Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award; FlightSafety International President, CEO and Chairman Bruce Whitman; and Maj. Gen. Carl McNair (Ret.), a West Point graduate and decorated combat helicopter pilot who directed and oversaw the Army’s Aviation Branch.
Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner, B-24 bombardier, and Japanese POW who inspired the book and movie Unbroken, was named an honorary Legend. His daughter Cissy Zamperini accepted the award on his behalf and said Louis would want it with his other memorabilia at Zamperini Field in Torrance, California.
Other award winners included Michimasa Fujino, founding president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Co., who was recognized as the Aviation Industry Leader of the Year; and Elling Halvorson, chairman of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, who was honored with the Vertical Flight Hall of Fame Award for his pioneering efforts in the helicopter tour industry.