Harrison Ford - Aviation's Advocate

  • Feb 11, 2014 8:19am GMT

There’s no question the general aviation industry has been under tight scrutiny since those fateful moments of 9/11. Even after the dust had settled, new challenges arose that would place the freedom of flight in jeopardy. From user fees to budget cuts, both political and privatized, the trend of new pilots taking to the skies has plummeted in numbers due to the increasing cost of private flight.

For the majority of the general public, exposure to general aviation only comes by attending a local air show. Very few are able to experience flight in a small private plane let alone understand the fundamentals of air travel and its impact on the local and national economy. As intimately familiar as pilots may be with these challenges, most lack the ability and character to connect with the non-aviation community.

Someone with whom the public could trust and respect would need to step up and promote general aviation in a cohesive and personable manner. Who better than the man who epitomized characters displaying adventure, rebellion and determination on the silver screen? Hollywood aside, these traits flow deeply within the persona of Harrison Ford.

Fascinated with aviation at a young age, Ford made a valiant effort to chase his dream. “I wanted to pursue my pilot’s license back when I was in college, just three lessons I think,” Harrison notes. “I think it cost about $11 an hour for a plane and an instructor, I just couldn’t afford it,” he explains. His eventual success in movies gave him the means to buy a Gulfstream G2 and later a G4 for whom he employed Terry Bender as his head pilot. “One day about 17 years ago Harrison came up to the cockpit talking about going after his pilot’s license again,” Terry recalls, “and he asked if I would be his instructor.”

“I never lost the ambition to fly. I just hadn’t found the time,” says Ford. Acquiring a pilot’s license at the age of 53 at first seemed daunting. “I hadn’t before challenged myself to learn something that could be so formidable. I had great training, and it came in stages.” Starting with a Cessna 182, Ford mostly flew out of Jackson, Wyoming, and Teterboro, New Jersey, learning both demanding environments. “I love flying and, I love the airplanes themselves.” Since acquiring his private pilot’s license in 1996, Ford has amassed more than 3,500 hours of flight time in both rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft, and he holds Floatplane, Single Engine, Multi Engine, and Instrument Rating certificates along with being Type Rated in the Cessna Citation Sovereign 680. “In my life I have two roles,” he emphasizes. “One of them everyone knows about. It provides a means to the other, which I prefer.”

It goes without saying that certain films have had an impact on his flying interests. He recalls the making of Six Days, Seven Nights where the script originally called for a Stinson Reliant as the aircraft of choice. Ford felt the deHavilland Beaver was a better choice and took the director to see one. The plane was recast. Initially the insurance companies forbade Ford to fly in the movie, but Ford persisted and finally met all of the requirements enabling him to log nearly 120 hours of flight time in the deHavilland before the movie’s completion. Though Ford says the five deHavilland aircraft used in the filming were “not the finest examples of the breed,” he managed to find one in Seattle that he had restored and has owned for about fifteen years.