Harrison Ford: Promoting Aviation through Young Eagles

Harrison Ford: Promoting Aviation through Young Eagles

Featured in Airport Journals in 2005

0804032_1.jpgIt’s July 28, and Harrison Ford is getting ready to fly in the lead AeroShell Aerobatic Team T-6 at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005.

“One of the few pleasures of celebrity is rides that have come my way, like this morning,” Ford says, as the pilots perform pre-flights nearby. “I’m really looking forward to flying with the AeroShell team. I’m riding everything from an F-16 to the Tiltroter. It’s been a wonderful experience to fly those machines for a brief period of time.”

Although he loves flying his de Havilland Beaver to small airports around Wyoming, Ford’s aversion to large crowds kept him away from gatherings like AirVenture. But this is the second year he’s participated in the happenings in Oshkosh, and he seems to have acclimated nicely.

“It’s a stunning experience for anybody—pilot or non-pilot—to come here and see this huge array of different airplanes and so many people behaving so well,” he said. “You put this many people together, you’re bound to have problems, but never here.”

Ford believes that’s possible because aviation “fosters good citizen skills.”

“Look around you; there’s not a scrap of paper anywhere on the ground,” he said. “They leave this place clean as a whistle. Five thousand volunteers put this convention together! That’s extraordinary.”

Ford says one of the things he loves about aviation is the company of other pilots, whether at a gathering like Oshkosh or when he lands at small airports around the country.

“There’s a special kinship,” he said.

A vital group of people within the Experimental Aircraft Association is responsible for Ford sitting in a tent at Oshkosh, talking about his second experience at the annual convention, attended by approximately 700,000 people this year. When Greg Anderson, serving at that time as EAA senior vice president of development, first asked Ford to take on the role of chairman of the Young Eagles program, Ford hesitated with his answer. But it wasn’t because he had doubts about the program.

“I became acquainted with Young Eagles in Jackson (Wyo.),” he said. “I have a number of friends who’ve been involved with Young Eagles for years, and they pressed me into service. I really loved it.”

The actor said his hesitation wasn’t about time either, although his acting career does limit the amount he can devote to Young Eagles activities.

“It was a daunting prospect, taking over from Chuck Yeager, who was a wonderful representative for the program,” he explained. “But for years, I’ve been enthusiastic about the program, so I thought it would be a little payback to spend some time helping promote aviation.”

Once he said yes, he found the task an easy one.

“It was no different than what I’d been doing,” he said. “It’s just that on paper, I was suddenly the chairman of the Young Eagles program.”

When he officially took on the role in March 2004, Ford had already piloted flights for more than 80 Young Eagles passengers.

“He’s a natural fit to help lead us to even greater achievements, as EAA members prepare the next generation of aviators,” EAA President Tom Poberezny said when Ford became chairman.

Ford, who is involved with an EAA chapter in Driggs, Idaho, talked enthusiastically about a recent Young Eagles Day.

“We flew 290 kids,” he said. “I had the pleasure of giving rides to 43 kids in my de Havilland Beaver. No pleasure in the world compares to seeing the excitement in a kid’s eyes when he or she gets that first taste of general aviation.”

He said that pilots get involved with Young Eagles to “share their enthusiasm for aviation with a generation of young people,” and that the most important lesson a pilot can teach a child is that flying involves more than “freedom and the excitement of flight.”

“It’s our responsibility, as people who have enjoyed the freedom of flight, to pass on, as our legacy, that opportunity and that experience to the children of today,” he said. “One of the wonderful things about aviation is that it exposes kids to freedom and responsibility. They’re able to see the world in a three-dimensional way. We can give them a sense of the possibility that they might enjoy that freedom themselves, if they work for it.”