While most knew him as a golfing legend, Arnold Palmer was also a passionate aviation champion.
Palmer passed away Sept. 25, 2016, at the age of 87.
Widely known for his 90 tournament victories, including four Masters, two British Opens and the U.S. Open, Palmer was also an aviation enthusiast holding multiple ratings and owning numerous general aviation aircraft.
He also was a prominent voice in promoting the utility of general aviation noting, “To put it quite simply, I could never have accomplished even half as much as I have in my golf and business careers over the last four decades without having my own airplanes.”
GA advocacy groups were quick to honor the legend.
“Arnold Palmer is a national hero who transcended golf,” said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). “Until his passing, it seemed he even transcended time itself, as multiple generations of people from all over the world recognized and loved this American treasure.
“While Arnold’s appeal is universal, he holds a truly special place in the hearts of everyone in aviation,” Bolen added. “His passion for flying, his professionalism with over 19,000 hours in the left seat, and his tireless advocacy for our industry, combined to make him our great champion.
“To honor his legacy, we will dedicate our upcoming convention to his memory,” Bolen continued. “It is especially appropriate to do so as we gather in Orlando, Florida, home of the Arnold Palmer Invitational,” Bolen said, referring to the golf tournament held annually at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, which Palmer has owned since 1974.
A frequent attendee and speaker at NBAA’s conventions, Palmer lent his stature and credibility to a host of NBAA advocacy initiatives. For example, in 2009, he was featured in a so-called “truth” advertisement produced by NBAA, which became one of the cornerstones of the No Plane No Gain campaign, the advocacy program jointly sponsored by NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
“Using business aircraft is the single most productive thing I have done,” Palmer says in the television ad. “It’s given me the opportunity to compete more effectively in golf and in business, and it’s enabled me to do both from a place not served by the airlines.”
That same year, Palmer served as keynote speaker at NBAA’s convention. During his remarks, he declared: “I know the value of business airplanes. I know what they have done for me and my companies. I know how important they are to my hometown. And I know how important they are to this country.”
A respected business leader, Palmer was also one of the first CEOs to lend his name to NBAA’s “Business Leaders on Business Aviation” initiative, also produced for the No Plane No Gain program. The initiative features testimonials from dozens of CEOs, explaining how the use of an airplane helps their companies achieve their business objectives.
“Business aviation has given me an important edge,” Palmer states in a compendium of the CEOs produced by NBAA. “It has allowed me to be in more places, in less time, than the competition. As a result, it has given me more opportunities to succeed.”
During NBAA’s 2010 convention, Palmer was recognized with the association’s Meritorious Service to Aviation Award for his dedication to business aviation. In the same year, he received the FAA’s award for aviators, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, for having exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years. In 2014, he was inducted into the Cessna Jet Pilots Association’s Hall of Honor.
Palmer has received both of the U.S. government’s highest honors – the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he won in 2004, and the Congressional Gold Medal, which was bestowed in 2009. He also is a member of several halls of fame, including the World Golf, American Golf and PGA halls. In addition, he was named “Athlete of the Decade” for the 1960s by the Associated Press.
“The aviation community has lost a friend and great ambassador,” stated Martin Hiller, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). “Mr. Palmer loved every aspect of flying, including all the people in the aviation business community critical to ensuring every flight begins with a safe airplane.”
Former NATA Board Member and friend of Mr. Palmer, Ed Kilkeary, Sr., of L.J. Aviation, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, concurred adding, “I had the opportunity to fly Mr. Palmer last week and there was no doubt where he would be sitting, up front helping me pilot the aircraft. There was not a nicer, more inclusive person in the world than Arnold Palmer. Although he had accomplished so much, he was always himself. He didn’t even realize he’s Arnold Palmer.”
“We all know what a tremendous golfer Arnold Palmer was, but he was also immensely respected as an aviator,” added Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). “He understood the value of general aviation and was a vocal advocate for personal and business flying. As a longtime supporter of AOPA, and a charter member of the AOPA Foundation President’s Council, he took a leading role in promoting the safety and utility of general aviation. I count myself lucky to have known him. He will be deeply missed by the GA community.”
“So sad to hear today we lost a golf legend, one of the greatest gentleman I have ever known, and an advocate for general aviation,” added Jack Pelton, chairman and CEO of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). “Arnold Palmer was a supporter of EAA. More importantly for me he was the hero and role model for all the things our country was founded on. Thank you Arnie.”