Like many pilots, flying got Morgan Freeman into trouble when he was in high school.
“I started flying at my desk in school,” the award-winning actor said during a visit to AirVenture this year. “My English teacher would see me ‘flying’ an F-86 Sabrejet at my desk and ask, ‘Morgan, what are you doing?’”
Like so many who grew up in the 1940s, Freeman became enamored of flying through the movies. “I went to the movies all the time,” he said. “I saw all the movies — ‘God Is My Co-Pilot,’ ‘Flying Tigers,’ ’12 O’Clock High’ — if it had an airplane in it, I saw it.”
Those images of flight were reinforced during the Korean War, he noted. The Mississippi native said he wanted to fly so much that he tried to join the Air Force before he finished high school. “They told me to go back and get my diploma,” he said.
But after logging all those hours at his desk, Freeman’s dreams of flight never took off in the Air Force. He became a radar mechanic after realizing that he didn’t actually want to be a fighter pilot and shoot at people — he wanted to “pretend” to be a fighter pilot.
Perhaps that epiphany that he just wanted to “pretend” to be a fighter pilot spurred his ultimate career choice. Soon after he left the Air Force he made his way to Hollywood to break into acting, the ultimate game of pretend.
He eventually made it to New York, where he had his first big break in a play in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he spent six years in a children’s show, “The Electric Company,” then was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the movie “Street Smart.”
Other well-known movie roles followed, in such movies as “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Glory,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “Million Dollar Baby,” for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2004.
Unlike many movie stars, the now-famous Freeman returned to his roots, building a house in Clarksdale, Miss., as well as several businesses. He and a business partner opened the Ground Zero Blues Club in 2001, soon followed by the opening of their restaurant, Madidi.
The move back home also reignited Freeman’s passion for flight. His partner, Bill Luckett, is a long-time pilot who owns a Seneca. After flying with him several times, Freeman knew he was ready to become a pilot. He had his first lesson in July 2002. He earned his private pilot ticket in October, his instrument rating in May 2003, and followed that up with his multi-engine rating in June of the same year.
About a year later, in October 2004, he bought a Cessna 414, which he still owns. He added to his fleet in September 2005 when he bought a Cessna Citation 501. That’s the plane he flew to Oshkosh.
It was his first visit to the Big Show. He was impressed with how well organized it was.
“This place is laid out perfectly,” he said. “There’s a place for everything and everything in its place. I assume it operates the same on the human level.”
That rather business-like approach ended quickly, as he said, with a big smile: “I’ve never been anywhere where there are so many airplanes!”
One mission Freeman no doubt had while at Oshkosh was shopping for his next airplane. He has his eye on a VLJ, noting that he really likes Sino-Swearingen’s SJ30-2 jet.
“I want to fly at 45,000 feet, Mach .078, so I can go coast-to-coast non-stop,” he said.
Flying helps tremendously in Freeman’s acting career and business ventures, getting him where he needs to be quickly. “It is so much easier than being strip-searched,” he noted dryly.
Over the years, he’s had the opportunity to fly a wide variety of aircraft, including an L-39, a Bell helicopter — “now that’s fun,” he said — and a MiG 17.
But if he had to pick just one he’d like to fly, he goes back to his childhood days: the F-86 Sabrejet, he said in response to a reporter’s question. He then turned the tables and asked the reporter to pick just one to fly. “There are too many, I couldn’t pick,” the reporter replied. “So you ask me a question you can’t even answer?” Freeman shot back, making the crowd laugh and, perhaps, leading everyone to think about all the planes they’d like to fly.
Janice Wood is GAN’s editor.