These 16 Celebrities are Also Pilots
One of the things that makes aviation so great is the diversity of the people who fly. The "flying bug" doesn’t discriminate - rich or poor, black or white, young or old, celebrity or commoner - the airplane doesn’t care how rich you are or how old you are or whether you’re male of female or somewhere in between. And likewise, the airplane doesn’t care how famous you are. Celebrities who want to get a pilot’s license have to go through the same rigorous process that anyone has to go through.
To obtain a private pilot license, a person must obtain a minimum of 40 hours in the airplane, at least 20 of which must be with an instructor. All of these celebrities have accomplished this, and more. They’ve accomplished the 40 hours, the 20 hours of dual instruction, the 10 hours of solo flight hours, and the five hours of solo cross-country time. They’ve done their 10 night landings, their three landings at a controlled airport, and at least three hours of basic instrument flying. They’ve taken the written exam, obtained an aviation medical certificate and have otherwise obtained all of the requirements set forth by the FAA. And, of course, they’ve passed a check ride with a designated pilot examiner (DPE), proving that they are safe and competent pilots.
These pilots are part of the club, which makes them seem just a little bit more like real people.
They are real people, right?
It’s reported that Angelina was inspired to fly while watching airplanes at the airport with her son Maddox. Later, during an interview on Inside the Actors' Studio, she said about flying, “It’s the best feeling. They say it’s better than sex. It is so much better.” She’s been photographed flying her Cirrus SR22, and made news when she had a run-in with the FAA for failing to renew its registration in 2013. More recently, rumor swirled that Brad and Angelina were in the market for a new seaplane.
Possibly the newest celebrity pilot, country music star Dierks Bentley not only has a Private Pilot certificate, but in November 2015 he also earned a multi-engine rating - at least according to the Twitter account for Harmony Air, a flight school in Nashville. Dierks has been an advocate for business aviation, as well, and was a guest speaker at the NBAA convention in 2015.
If a Cirrus SR22 is a good enough airplane for Angelina, it’s good enough for Tim, right? It also seems to be the airplane of choice for country music stars. Tim’s Cirrus SR22 is customized, of course, with embroidered seats and a “Faith” sticker in the window.
Tim stays true to aviation when he says, “For me, I love being up in the air, not having to think about records, not having to think about movies, not having to think about who I didn’t call today, any of those things."
Harrison Ford is perhaps the biggest celebrity advocate for general aviation. He’s been at all of the major air shows, including Oshkosh, and has worked with the Aircraft Owner's and Pilot's Association as a voice for general aviation.
Ford was apparently 52 years old when he first started flying, but he didn't waste any time becoming a proficient pilot. He owns a variety of airplanes, and has occasionally made the news for walking away from airplane crashes unscathed. He's crashed both his helicopter and his vintage WWII era Ryan PT-22 Recruit.
He also reportedly has a Cessna 172, a Waco biplane, and a Citation. And as if he couldn't be more of a hero, Ford also acts as a volunteer search and rescue pilot on occasion.
Clint Eastwood has had his pilot’s certificate for more than 40 years now. When asked what he likes about flying, he responded by saying, “Just the freedom to be able to go where you want to go. I’ve landed in friend’s front yards.” And he adds, “You’re just a number in the sky. Everybody pretty well leaves you alone.”
Kurt Russell says his grandfather had one of the first float planes to exist in Maine. He says it was a big decision to start flying, “I always thought dying in an airplane would be a bad thing, when you could have taken a car or a bus.”
But now he says he can’t live without it, even though it took him a while to learn.
“The love of airplane for pilots, I think, is almost inexplicable. It’s the experience itself. It’s the fact that you can’t explain it, I think, that makes you feel the way you do about it. This is something that can change your life.”
Jon Travolta is possibly the most famous of the famous pilots. He started flying at age 22 and now owns several airplanes, including a former Qantas Boeing 707 and a Challenger 601. He also has a 7,500-foot runway on his property in Florida. He goes so far as to say that flying is his second “profession” after acting. Travolta is type-rated in 11 different airplanes.
The latest voice for general aviation is Morgan Freeman, whose face you’ll see (and voice you'll hear) in AOPA media and in the aviation scene at places like EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. Freeman served in the Air Force as a mechanic but always had an interest in aviation and eventually, at the age of 65, learned to fly. According to Fox News Freeman owns a Cessna 414 and a Citation 501.
Tom Cruise recently bought a P-51 Mustang. According to People Magazine, he claims he carried a photo of a P-51 around with him as a child and that it’s always been his favorite airplane. He also owns a Gulfstream IV. Tom reportedly obtained his pilot’s certificate in 1994. He was most recently spotted flying a helicopter in London.
Dr. Phil McGraw
Dr. Phil McGraw, better known to the general TV-watching public as “Dr. Phil,” has a private pilot certificate and an instrument rating, making him one of the few celebrities who has gotten the more challenging IFR rating in order to be able to fly in the clouds.
Dennis Quaid’s role in the famous and highly respected aviation movie “The Right Stuff” inspired him to become a pilot in the early 1980s as a way to prepare for his role as Mercury astronaut Gordon “Gordo” Cooper. Quaid, once admittedly afraid to fly, says Clay Lacy helped him face those fears and get him in the air.
Since then, he’s embraced aviation. He now owns a Beechcraft Bonanza, a Cessna 421 and a Citation II.
Jimmy Buffett was first exposed to flying through a college buddy, but he didn’t start flying right away. The flying bug stayed with him though, and he obtained his private pilot certificate in a Lake Renegade amphibian at age 29.
Buffett went on to obtain a commercial pilot certificate and both single- and multi-engine land and sea ratings. According to his website, he also has an instrument rating and type ratings for the Citation 500, the Falcon 50 and Falcon 900, as well as the Grumman Albatross. The famous Albatross, which made appearances at some of his concerts, is now on display at Margaritaville in Orlando. Buffett also owns a variety of other airplanes, including a Grumman Goose, and a 2009 Caravan on floats.
As a bonus, Buffett has a departure procedure named in his honor, called the BUFIT ONE Departure. How cool is that?
A college graduate with a Master’s Degree in English Literature, Kris Kristofferson may have been an unlikely choice for the Army. But in the 60s, Kristofferson became an army helicopter pilot and also went through Army Ranger school.
After leaving the army, he worked for a short time as a commercial helicopter pilot for Petroleum Helicopters International (PHI), based in Louisiana before launching into a music career.
Actress Hilary Swank was inspired to become a pilot when filming the movie Amelia, in which she portrayed the infamously long lost Amelia Earhart, who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the world in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra in 1937. Amelia was lost at sea, never to be found again.
Hilary Swank starred in the movie about her life. She started flying while filming. It's unclear if Hilary ever finished her license, but she did go on Oprah to help a viewer overcome her fear of flying.