As Han Solo, he completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. As Indiana Jones, he learned how to “fly, yes. Land, no.” And as President James Marshall, he flew a crippled Air Force One and saved his family. Yet Harrison Ford isn’t just an actor playing at being a pilot; he’s earned his wings in real life.
Born on July 13, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, Ford is one of the highest-earning box office A-listers in film history. Even in aviation, his adventures have made headlines. While it is easy to think of Ford now as the man who has a hangar any pilot would envy, aviation wasn’t always an easy path for Ford. He initially began learning to fly in the 1960s but was forced to quit when training became too expensive. Yet his love for aviation never waned and, after his big break in Hollywood, Ford again turned his eyes to the sky.
Ford started flying once more in the 1990s, learning from one of his corporate pilots in a Cessna 182. Ford soon traded out the 182 for a Cessna 206, the airplane that would take him airborne for his first solo flight. Ford received his private pilot’s certificate at the age of 53.
Not one to stop there, Ford went on to earn his helicopter ratings, although this, too, had a rocky start. While he practiced autorotations with an instructor in 1999, the helicopter was unable to recover power after the quick drop in altitude. Yet Ford and his instructor were able to avoid serious injury. Ford went on to achieve his helicopter rating and purchased a Bell 407GX helicopter in 2013. Ford additionally earned his Private Pilot Single Engine Sea, Multi Engine Land and Instrument Airplane ratings while adding on two type ratings.
Yet it’s what he has done with those ratings that’s most impressive. Ford has participated in several mountain rescues with his Bell 407, working in conjunction with Teton County Search and Rescue. One rescue involved recovering a lost hiker. The hiker, upon boarding Ford’s helicopter, promptly vomited, later saying, “I can’t believe I barfed in Harrison Ford’s helicopter!” Additionally, Ford has volunteered with his helicopter amid the California wildfires.
Ford has continually used his Hollywood fame to help further aviation. In 2004, Ford accepted the position as the Young Eagles volunteer chairman. He served in the position until 2009, personally flying more than 300 Young Eagles flights himself. Ford also flew the 2 millionth Young Eagle flight in 2016 at EAA Oshkosh, taking a 16-year-old young woman for a ride in his de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.
Yet while Ford’s fame fills his hangar nicely, it comes at a cost. When you’re one of the most famous people in the world, no mistake (or even feat of pilot skill) goes unnoticed. In 2015, Ford skillfully landed his Ryan PT-22 on a golf course in Venice, California, immediately making headlines. The public perception that Ford, as an actor, shouldn’t have crashed at all is certainly unfair. In reality, Ford landed an aircraft that has notoriously aggressive stall-spin tendencies following an engine failure shortly after takeoff. He was injured but recovered to fly again.
Again, in two separate incidents in 2017 and 2020, Ford made headlines, once for accidentally landing on a taxiway and once for crossing a runway without permission. For most other pilots, neither would have produced the resulting media frenzy, but for Ford, both incidents resulted in a news cycle. Ford admirably owned up to his mistakes in both instances and has continued flying.
Ford continues to use his fame for the betterment of the aviation community, having made several trips to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the general aviation community as well as serving as a board member of the humanitarian aviation organization Wings of Hope. Furthermore, Ford has also donated funds to The Bob Hoover Academy, a charitable organization that teaches at-risk teens in California to fly. Ford himself continues to fly to this day.
Do you want to read about another Incredible Pilot? Check out “Tex Johnston: The Pilot that Rolled a Boeing 707” here.