From parachutists and glider pilots to executives and entrepreneurs, aviation recognized the best of the best at the fifteenth annual Living Legends of Aviation awards ceremony in Beverly Hills, California, on Jan. 19. Actor and pilot John Travolta hosted the black-tie event, a fundraiser for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, at the Beverly Hilton hotel.
Among those inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation was AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker, who was recognized for his passion for aviation and willingness to share it with others and for his leadership in supporting general aviation causes as head of the world’s largest community of pilots.
Other inductees this year included Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from a capsule at the edge of space to become the first human to free fall beyond Mach 1, landing safely under a parachute in the desert. Famed airshow announcer and airline and test pilot Danny Clisham also was inducted—and was the emcee for the evening. Bruno Gantenbrink, a world champion glider pilot and safety advocate for glider racing, also was enshrined into the group.
Dr. Ulf Dietrich Merbold was inducted for his role as the first European Space Agency astronaut to go into space. He also was the first non-U.S. citizen to reach orbit in a U.S. spacecraft.
Businessman and passionate pilot H. Ross Perot Jr. joined the exclusive club, being recognized for his record-setting round-the-world trip in a helicopter, achieving the feat in only 30 days, a trip experts said would take at least 90 days. He also is the developer of the Fort Worth Alliance Airport, one of the largest privately owned airports in the nation.
The Living Legends organization each year also recognizes a number of notable achievers, especially entrepreneurs. Tyson Weihs and Jason Miller, co-founders of the flight planning app ForeFlight, received the Eren Ozmen Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year award. The award is named after the founder of Sierra Nevada Corp.
Aerobatic helicopter pilot Chuck Aaron presented the Vertical Flight Hall of Fame award to Mike Silva, a career helicopter pilot who piloted helicopters for news organizations and firefighting as well as multiple tours in Vietnam, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy presented the award named for him to Jack Dailey, a U.S. Marine Corps general who served for 18 years as the head of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.
Financier Kenn Ricci presented his Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award to Robert Bigelow. Bigelow Aerospace is developing collapsible habitats soon to be launched into space, making it practical and cost-effective to have laboratories—and hotels—in space.
GE Aviation’s David Joyce received the Lifetime Aviation Industry Leader Award for his longtime leadership at the company that has pioneered new turbine engine manufacturing techniques.
Actor and pilot Harrison Ford presented his Aviation Legacy Award to Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma for his advocacy for GA causes in the Senate, especially his opposition to removing the air traffic control system and handing it over to a board dominated by the airlines. The introduction of the award gave Ford a platform from which to blast the so-called “privatization of ATC” legislation. The longtime pilot told the crowd of more than 800 that the proposal would be devastating to GA and rural airports, and he accused the airlines of playing fast and loose with the facts regarding air traffic delays. The airlines themselves are responsible for some 80 percent of the delays. He reiterated Inhofe’s comments that we shouldn’t fix what ain’t broken. His impassioned plea was interrupted numerous times with applause.
The evening also included a moving tribute to astronaut Eugene Cernan, a Living Legend who died just days before the award ceremony last year.