Early January marks two things for me: Putting away the Christmas tree and preparing for one of my favorite photography events — the Living Legends of Aviation Awards.
This is a black-tie gala in which the Legends of Aviation honor those who have made significant contributions to aviation. Held every January, many consider this the most prestigious and important recognition event of aviation.
The “Living Legends of Aviation” is a select group of people from around the world, now numbering 97 men and women of extraordinary accomplishment and renown in the aviation arena.
Among the defining criteria used in identifying “Living Legends” are aviation entrepreneurs, innovators, industry leaders, record breakers, astronauts, pilots who have become celebrities, and celebrities who have become pilots.
As the initial group of Legends evolved, these extraordinary people of aviation nominate others to join them, and the list has gradually grown. As Legends take their final flight west, new inductees are selected by their fellow Legends replace them.
2018 marked the 15th awards event, held at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills in the very same ballroom as the Golden Globes.
The event is organized as a fundraiser and my wife (and second photographer) and I have been very fortunate to be regular members of the event photography team for nine years now.
Immersed in the celebrity environment here, it is always interesting to learn of another celebrity who is a pilot. In prior years, actor/pilots attending included Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, and Kurt Russell. This year, famed musician Kenny G was in attendance. Who knew he is an avid pilot and owns a Beaver floatplane?
Prior to the main award events, there is a private, informal gathering of Legends held the evening before to allow the Legends to have some quality time together and re-connect.
This event is traditionally hosted by Clay Lacy, Bruce McCaw, and Joe Clark and held in one of Clay’s spacious hangars at Van Nuys Airport (VNY). Set with enticing tables of food, surrounded by classic aircraft, it was a cozy intimate event punctuated by the presence of numerous aviation heroes.
The awards event is a fantastic opportunity to see and even meet aviation heavyweights. It has also been very educational in learning from the biographical videos and acceptance speeches how these folks built their lives around aviation, often starting as childhood dreams.
Emcee duties were split between airshow star Sean Tucker and renowned airshow announcer Danny Clisham, aided by the host, John Travolta.
Special remarks made during the program included a memorial tribute to former Living Legend Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, and an impassioned speech from Harrison Ford on House Bill 2997, which seeks to privatize air traffic services in this country.
Living Legends of Aviation Inductees for 2018 are:
- H. Ross Perot, Jr.: Best known in aviation circles for undertaking the first helicopter flight around the world in 1982, he also led the 14-year effort to build the USAF Memorial in Washington D.C.
- Dr Ulf Merbold: A German astronaut with the European Space Agency who flew on two Space Shuttle missions and one mission to the Mir space station.
- Felix Baumgartner: Austrian skydiver, daredevil and BASE jumper. Best known for his 2012 jump from over 127,000′, exceeding Mach 1 during freefall.
- Bruno Gantenbrink: German glider pilot and multiple world champion, as well as a safety advocate for the sport.
- Danny Clisham: Renowned airshow announcer marking over 50 years of the craft. He is also a retired American Airlines pilot with more than 30,000 hours flight time.
- Mark Baker: President and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, who is also a fixed and rotary wing pilot.
Award Honorees for 2017 accomplishments are:
- Steven F. Udvar Hazy Award: Gen. Jack Dailey, retired director of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum and retired USMC General who flew 450 combat missions over Vietnam.
- Harrison Ford Aviation Legacy Award: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R- Oklahoma), a pilot with over 11,000 hours, one of the few members of Congress who is an active pilot.
- Lifetime Aviation Industry Leader Award: David Joyce, vice-chair of General Electric and President & CEO of GE Aviation
- Kenn Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award: Robert Bigelow, Founder of Bigelow Aerospace, and a pioneer of inflatable space habitats
- Vertical Flight Hall of Fame Award: Mike Silva, a helicopter pilot and retired Vietnam veteran who returned to active duty in Iraq where he was the oldest Army Medevac pilot in Iraq. He is also known for his 26-year career as an Emmy-award winning aerial broadcaster.
Eren Ozmen Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Tyson Weihs and Jason Miller, co-founders of ForeFlight, a popular app for piloting and flight operations.
- Legends Wings of Help Award: Frank Franke: German philanthropist, journalist and aviation author. Founder of Aviation Without Borders, an aviation charity providing worldwide humanitarian assistance.
To supplement the fundraising are a variety of silent auction items, ranging from signed aircraft models to large artwork from featured artists such as Mimi Stuart and Michelle Rouch.
Through the course of the evening, many of these items accumulate numerous signatures from the Living Legends in attendance.
The Legends of Aviation Awards event raises funds for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, a non-profit organization that introduces children to aviation. Kiddie Hawk follows the students as they progress, making scholarships available as Kiddie Hawk pilots enter actual flight training.