Pilot, general aviation advocate, and actor Harrison Ford said he was humbled to receive the Hoover Trophy named for test pilot and aerobatic showman R.A. "Bob" Hoover, an aviation mentor who inspired countless others. Ford accepted the honor for GA greatness and then lavished praise upon another aviation legend—the 2017 winner and award presenter Sean D. Tucker—during the third annual R.A. "Bob" Hoover Trophy Awards hosted by AOPA in the historic Terminal A lobby of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C.
AOPA President Mark Baker noted that the trophy is presented to an “aviator who exhibits the airmanship, leadership, and passion for aviation and life demonstrated by Bob Hoover.”
The instrument-rated fixed-wing and helicopter pilot, aircraft owner, and longtime AOPA member said the recognition was a “great honor, but it’s embarrassing to be here” surrounded by other aviation luminaries, including Tucker, who founded the Bob Hoover Academy in Salinas, California, an after-school program that teaches disadvantaged youth about aviation.
Ford’s acceptance speech was a platform that highlighted the “metaphor of flight to create social justice” through the Hoover Academy, and he expressed admiration for Tucker’s program that was established in an area known for a high percentage of youth homicides.
The academy introduces aviation careers to youth who might not have considered it as a career path. “It’s an amazing thing to see,” said Ford. He added that “aviation can be used to save lives.”
An equally impassioned Tucker recalled “how much Bob loved and respected you, Harrison.”
Hoover agreed in 2016 to have his name memorialized as a tribute to those whose airmanship, leadership, mentorship, and passion for aviation inspires a love of flight. The showman died in 2016 at age 94 after an illustrious aviation career, and his videotaped message to introduce the honorees appeared to be an emotional moment for both Ford and Tucker.
AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden, a former commander and flight leader of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, presented the inaugural GA Safety Award to Van’s Aircraft founder, pilot, and engineer Dick VanGrunsven. “Dick’s work stands as testament that excellence and safety go hand in hand,” said McSpadden.
VanGrunsven, whose homebuilt aircraft manufacturing company recently celebrated the 10,000th completed kit, pledged to work with the safety institute and other aviation entities to further the safety for builders and operators of homebuilt aircraft.
Baker also presented the Sharples Award to Alaska Airport Support Network volunteer Ron Dearborn. The retired engineer, private pilot, and Bellanca Scout owner was instrumental in coordinating several initiatives at Fairbanks International Airport. Dearborn wielded a paint spray hose during an innovative runway marking plan, developed an airport watch program, and fostered more open communication between pilots and air traffic controllers.
Dearborn explained that the “Sharples Award recognizes many partnerships” including building relationships with the airport and with the FAA. “All of our successes have been based on relationships,” he added. The award was named for AOPA’s first chairman of the board, Laurence P. Sharples, and recognizes those who don’t work directly in aviation but have made “extraordinary contributions” to GA.
AOPA presented additional awards to lawmakers and individuals who have contributed to the aviation community.
The Joseph B. “Doc” Hartranft Jr. Award, named for AOPA’s first president, was presented to Reps. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) and Ralph Abraham (R-La.) for their leadership and support of GA in Congress. Baker thanked the representatives who “spoke out on behalf of general aviation in the fight against so-called privatization when it mattered most.”
Russell said he began his “journey to fly” a year and a half ago and quickly realized the challenges of an aviation industry that served all types of aviators—both GA and commercial pilots. “Airspace belongs to ‘We, the people’—it doesn’t belong to anybody else,” he said.
Abraham concurred, adding, “It takes a village and Steve and I are proud to be part of that village.” He was referring to the battle to divest air traffic control from the FAA, which failed on Capitol Hill. He said, “It was a fight and thankfully, we prevailed.”
Past Hartranft honorees include Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), and Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
AOPA also presented Freedom to Fly Awards to four dozen members of Congress for their dedication to preserving GA.
During his remarks, Ford summed up the freedom of flight in the United States as “a legacy” that was “particularly American.” He closed by saying, “We have a responsibility to provide safe aviation for all future aviators. God bless America.”