“What am I doing here?” pilot and Grammy-winning jazz saxophonist Kenny G wondered aloud at the podium of the Living Legends of Aviation Awards ceremony Jan. 18 in Beverly Hills, California.
Named a Living Legend, he received his award just after famed parachutist Col. Joe Kittinger accepted his Legend medal. “I’m just a guy with a Beaver and a saxophone,” Kenny G joked, noting Kittinger’s record-setting jump from more than 100,000 feet in 1960.
The famed (and funny) saxophonist was just one of numerous aviation notables recognized at the sixteenth Living Legends of Aviation awards ceremony. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was inducted for his work on the Blue Origin commercial space system. He also won the Kenneth Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award. During an interview session on stage, Bezos laid out his vision of a lunar colony where manufacturing and space launches could occur, propelling humans farther into space, setting up colonies and massive space stations—all designed to allow the species to continue to flourish without overwhelming Earth.
Meanwhile, Ricci himself was inducted as a Living Legend. He is the principal of Directional Aviation, which owns Flexjet, Sentient Jet, Private Jet, Nextant Aerospace, Stonebriar Commercial Finance, Reva Air Ambulance, Simcom, and Constant Aviation.
Rick Fiddler, vice president of aviation for Amway Corp., also was inducted, in part for his role in serving on the board of the West Michigan Aviation Academy (WMAA), a tuition-free public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that gets students a private pilot certificate before they graduate. Dick Devos, former CEO of Amway, won the Changing Lives with Aviation Award for his work in founding WMAA.
John Leahy was inducted into the society for his work in helping Airbus grow into the major aircraft manufacturer that it is. Leahy has served in executive sales positions at Airbus for decades.
Brian Barents was also inducted and won the Industry Leader of the Year Award for his leadership at Aerion Corp., which is designing and planning to certify a supersonic business jet. He has held executive leadership positions at Cessna, Learjet, and Galaxy, among others.
The Legends Technology Award went to Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss balloonist who co-developed the Solar Impulse aircraft that flew around the world on solar power only.
International journalist Stefan Aust was recognized with the Wings of Help Award for his coverage of aviation’s role in humanitarian relief efforts around the globe.
Actor and pilot John Travolta emceed the event and presented Qantas Airlines with an award as the “world’s safest, longest continuous operating airline.” Travolta earned a type rating in a Qantas Boeing 747-400 and conducted an around-the-world flight with the famed airline.
Jean Rosanvallon, CEO of Dassault Falcon Jet, won the Lifetime Aviation Industry Award for longtime leadership running the U.S. operation for the French manufacturer.
In a surprise move, actor and pilot Harrison Ford presented his Aviation Legacy Award to airshow and aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker for his work in starting the Bob Hoover Academy in Salinas, California. The academy brings youth with troubled paths into aviation, helps them graduate from high school, and gives them the opportunity to earn a pilot certificate. “You’re not relevant unless you’re giving back,” Tucker reminded, encouraging others to help youth recognize the opportunities in aviation.
The dinner is the primary fundraising effort for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, which works to introduce children to aviation.