KICKING BACK WITH HARRISON FORD
When I was trick-or-treating with my son this Halloween, I saw a young boy dressed as a miniature Indiana Jones. It brought back fond memories of my young self, actively pretending to be Indiana Jones in my parents’ backyard, running around and swinging from the trees by a whip they had bought for me. I never thought that I would one day be sitting across from the man that portrayed this iconic hero, interviewing him about one of our shared greatest passions: aviation.
Harrison Ford is my aviation mentor. He has done a great deal for aviation, serving served as the chairman of the Young Eagles program for 5 years before handing over the reigns to Captain Chesley “ Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles. He is also the spokesperson for AOPA and the GA Serves America campaign. DOWNWIND owes a tribute to Mr. Ford, and I was honored that he took the time out of his busy schedule to sit down with myself and Mike Cimino (owner, Pilot Shop), to talk about our passion for general aviation.
We all think we know Harrison Ford from his movies. He’s played great characters such as Han Solo, Jack Ryan, and Indiana Jones, but now lets get to know him in one of his greatest roles Harrison Ford, Private Pilot.
Richard Edelson: When was your first flight?
Harrison Ford: After graduating from Ripon College in Wisconsin I took about 3 lessons in a TriPacer at Wild Rose Airport, and then had to stop because I ran out of money. I didn’t start flying again until I was 54 when I realized I was getting bored sitting in the back of my Gulfstream. I got excited about flying again and asked Terry Bender, the pilot of my Gulfstream, to teach me to fly. Terry is a 20,000 hour Gulfstream Pilot, but he got back into flying smaller aircraft, got his CFI, and we have had a lot of fun since then.
Why did you start flying?
I was never the best student. Part of the reason why I wanted to learn to fly was because I felt like I had not learned anything in a long time and wanted to see if I could learn something new. I wasn’t sure if at the age of 54 that I still had the capacity to learn something that I saw as very complicated and difficult. I was so identified with what I did for a living, and I enjoy it, have respect for it, and love the freedom and responsibility that acting provides; however, flying gave me the opportunity to create an identity other than Harrison Ford, the actor. I admire the ability to fly and always loved the sound of airplanes and was curious about them.
People ask me what is it about flying that you love, why do you love going to the airport? What is it that you love about flying?
A lot of things. The curious blend of freedom and responsibility that flying offers. Pilots like to be responsible for their lives and are willing to train hard to do the work required to faithfully discharge the responsibility other people put in them. I enjoy the pure freedom, and the beauty of the third dimension when you fly. We live in two-dimensional world when our feet are on the ground, and getting in the sky is a rare experience that re-invigorates your perspective on things. Flying is always an adventure. I always enjoy the company of other pilots but like to fly alone too, although it’s nice to have someone along to admire my landing.
In earning your ratings do you feel that the examiners/instructors were less strict with you because of your celebrity status?
I don’t think so. They treated me no different than anyone else. I think I took my checkride in Blackfoot, Idaho. The examiner was an old crop duster. It was a funky day and we only had 3,500 ft. to work in, he put me through my paces and I felt that he treated me like anyone else. He was unimpressed with my celebrity status in the nicest way as I hope it would be in all my aviation relationships
What was the first aircraft you purchased? How soon after receiving your private did you get it? How many hours do you have?
I think it was a 172 or a 182. I purchased it before I got my ticket because I wanted to take lessons in own my own airplane. I have about 3,000 – 4,000 hours.
Of all the ratings you have, which one do you enjoy the most? I just started flying a Jet Ranger and find it hard to decide whether to fly an airplane or a helicopter, which do you prefer?
That’s like trying to say which is your favorite child. I enjoy all the ratings I have earned. I love flying the Bell 407, but I never had a flight I did not enjoy. I love working within the system and flying any airplane.
Are any of your children pilots?
My son just asked for flying lessons for his 40th birthday. He just went up with Sean Tucker’s team and it was a great experience for him. Our other son Liam’s first word was airplane (applane).
Who’s on your top 3 list of aviators?
I never really had heroes. However, Sydney Pollack, the film director and also a friend, is very passionate about aviation and encouraged me to fly as well as a number of others. I am lucky to have good instructors and people who have inspired me.
AOPA has started the GA Serves America Campaign. What exactly is it and what are they trying to accomplish? How can we help them?
GA has become a political football that started with the financial crisis and well-paid CEOs of companies that were not realizing profits for their shareholders. The egregious behavior of a very few has been irresistible to politicians on a certain level. Commercial airline operators also decided to target GA, and Jet Blue ran a series of ads that downgraded GA, especially corporate aviation. I think people were looking for an opportunity to find negative targets. They didn’t realize that we are all in this together. The GA community is made up of hardworking and honest people, it employs many with valuable skills, and the technology that it developes filters its way into commercial aviation paid for on the backs of GA. GA has found its way into everyday non-flying life, and supports many jobs that depend on it. For instance, air ambulances, EMT helicopters, and all the other life saving entities such as Search and Rescue. We need to take back the sky, get out there and let our leaders know that we are a community that can come to together to defend it. People are trying to close airports. Everyone has a right to their point of view and to protect their interests and its great, but we need to come together as an aviation community and do what we can to protect the freedoms and legacy of aviation that is different in this country than any other country.
I started DOWNWIND with the goal of getting more people interested in flying. Do you have any advice for us to help get people in the air?
The coalition is just forming. I don’t have a firm plan for you, but your passion for aviation will show you a multitude of ways to become involved.
What do you carry in your flight bag?
Everyone starts out with a big flight bag. Whenever I go to a pilot shop I always walk out with more than I needed. But with the way cockpits are outfitted today you really don’t need as much. I don’t move headsets from one plane to another and the Garmin 696 and electronic charts make it so that we do not have too much to carry around.
Just one question about Harrison Ford the actor. I know you have been working on two films Crowly and Morning Glory. Can you give us a synopsis of them?
I just finished Morning Glory. It was a very positive working experience and I had a great time doing them both. I hope people will enjoy seeing them.
I know a question all pilots would like to know: how much rudder trim was needed on the Millennium Falcon?
That was Chewbacca’s job not mine. He handled the rudders.