Toni B. Mensching
At the end of 2014, there were an estimated 593,499 active, licensed pilots. So it’s not surprising that you find out people from many different walks of life are airplane pilots, from celebrities to senators, athletes, and even Presidents. And many of us have heard that Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise are pilots. But here are some surprising celebrities that you may not have known are pilots.
The 90’s sitcom Full House is returning to Netflix with significant fanfare. And part of the cast includes Uncle Joey, a funny and loving part of the family. Most people are unaware that the comedian who plays this character, Dave Coulier, is an accomplished pilot. He owns a Beechcraft B35 Bonanza, which he loves to fly his family around in. He earned his pilot’s license in 1979, later added an instrument rating, and is currently trying out a Cirrus SR-20 to stay current with his flight training. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see him demonstrate his talent on the screen in new episodes.
Down in Mississippi, Clarksdale once held the rank of poorest city in the United States. Presidents have visited Clarksdale Mississippi for this very reason alone. At a small airfield not far from the tiny town center, there is a reasonably sized hangar, a paved runway, and a few very nice aircraft. Clarksdale is also known for being the home of one of the most distinctive voices of the big screen. Morgan Freeman was born and raised in the blues-saturated delta town of Clarksdale. And it is in Clarksdale that he learned to fly. There is no mistaking his voice on the frequency when you’re buzzing around in those parts. Always professional, Mr. Freeman may not reply if you try to engage him in idle chatter while in the sky, as he is strictly business when it comes to flying. Interestingly, Freeman proved that it’s never too late to pursue a pilot’s license, earning his at the age of 65.
Female pilots make up only six percent of the overall pilot population. And one of the more famous females out there who also happens to be a pilot is Angelina Jolie. After becoming more involved in aid work, Jolie started taking flight lessons in 2004, hoping to help ferry aid workers and supplies to destinations around the world. She not only got her private pilot certificate, but also her instrument rating, which allows her to fly in less than perfect weather conditions. Getting an instrument rating is no small task and Angelina displayed an impressive amount of knowledge making it through the training. On top of that, she learned to fly in the U.K., passed the tests there, then came to the U.S. and passed the tests here as well. She owns a Cirrus SR22 (known for the parachute which can be deployed if the aircraft has trouble) and a Cessna 208 Caravan. Way to go, Angelina.
There are airplane pilots who belong to every minority and majority and groups to support them, such as the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals who represent the African-American pilots in the U.S., the Women in Aviation, International association who represents female pilots, and a group for LGBT airplane pilots, the NGPA (National Gay Pilots Association.) One of the more notable pilots in this group might be known to you as Caitlyn Jenner. Up until about a month ago, Caitlyn was listed at the FAA as “Bruce Jenner.” As Bruce, Jenner trained and was certificated as a private pilot with an instrument rating years ago. After a change in identity, Caitlyn was medically certified as a pilot regardless of gender change specifics in late 2014. In March, a legal name change registered with the FAA showing Caitlyn Marie Jenner as the name on her official pilot certificate.
The first President to earn his certificate was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who soloed in 1937. But George H.W. Bush may be the most decorated. He learned to fly and earned his wings shortly before he turned 19 and flew a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber during in the Pacific theater during World War 2. On a mission over the Bonin Islands, Bush’s Avenger was set ablaze after being struck by enemy flak. He continued with the attack, dropping his payload and scoring several damaging hits before heading for the ocean. He managed to stay airborne long enough to reach open water before bailing out. He was rescued by a submarine, and returned to service, flying missions until his squadron was sent home. For his 58 combat missions, Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals, and shared in the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the crew of the San Jacinto, the aircraft carrier he served on.
Here are a few more surprising pilots: supermodel Gisele Bundchen earned her helicopter pilot license, learning to fly in a Robinson R44 Helicopter. Pro-golfer Phil Mickelson has his license, following in the footsteps of his father, a retired airline pilot. Golf legend Arnold Palmer was also a pilot (he retired from the cockpit in 2011) and had over 20,000 hours in the cockpit. Bruce Dickinson, the frontman for Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden, has a commercial pilot’s license and has flown his band around on tour. And musician Jimmy Buffet has been flying for a while now, earning his license just before his 40th birthday.
As you can see, people from all walks of life have proven highly capable of becoming airplane pilots. There are specific associations out there to support the nuances of each challenge to becoming a pilot. At Upper Limit Aviation you’ll have all these resources available to you plus highly experienced instructors which train pilots to the highest FAA standards.