Living Legends of Aviation: One Glorious Night Where the Aviation World Celebrates Dreams Fulfilled

9:14 PM

Inside the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

This past Friday, the focal point in aviation shifted for one evening away from Wichita or Oshkosh, and the spotlight was aimed directly upon Beverly Hills, California. For a few brief hours, the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom - the home to the Golden Globe Awards show since 1961 - swarmed not with actors, producers and musicians, but with the full "A" list of our aviation and aerospace community at the 10th Annual Living Legends of Aviation event.

For background, the "Legends" event is a fund-raiser for the Kiddie Hawk Academy, and if you've never heard of this big show, think "Acadamy Awards" with pilots instead of movie stars. Because this lavish event is held in exactly the same room as the Golden Globes, it has all the brilliant stagecraft and stunning audio/visual elements of that enormous gala. The room and tables were set to perfection, with an attentive catering staff serving an impeccable meal worthy of a Beverly Hills awards banquet. The term "first-class" does not go far enough to describe this Black Tie event, where the women wore glamorous gowns adorned with their most cherished jewelry while the men came dressed in their finest tuxedos, always accented by the most expensive aviator watch in their collection.

I must confess that this was my first "red carpet" awards event, and it was quite an experience in ways you might not expect:
After 30+ years as a professional photographer, I was blown away watching my first-ever paparazzi feeding frenzy when John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston arrived. With the required logowall as a backdrop, a group of security led Travolta and his wife to one end of the gauntlet. The moment the 40 or so paparazzi in attendance saw them, they went NUTS yelling "John, John, over here!" and "Kelly, right please, c'mon John, to the left, right here." For a solid 5 minutes, the paparazzi's requests directed the couple left and right, back and forth, while motor drives whirled and shutters clicked with 8 frames-per-second speeds. The harsh blue light of 10 million flashes illuminated the scene like an explosion at a Chinese fireworks factory. In my opinion, a great photograph is one where the photographer uses some creativity to capture a scene in an original way, so I cannot see the purpose of 40 dudes blowing off 10,000 identical images of Travolta and Preston smiling at the camera. It was hilarious to me, and as the couple exited into the ballroom, I had to wonder how long I could survive as a celebrity, having to endure such madness just to go to an event and talk about airplanes and flying with a bunch of my friends.
When I say everyone that is anyone in aviation as at this event, I mean everyone. We couldn't walk three steps in the pre-event cocktail hour without coming face-to-face with people like Jetblue founder David Neeleman, Ed Bolen, President of NBAA, Tom Poberezny, EAA Chairman Emeritus, or Gene Cernan, the last Astronaut to walk on the moon. The top brass of all major airframe makers were in attendance, including Dale Klapmeier, CEO of Cirrus Aircraft, who I ran into in the elevator. It was a pretty safe bet that you could reach out your arm and touch someone who has either made some gigantic contribution to aviation, or built a worldwide aviation empire with a legacy product line, or funded a big Hollywood aviation film with his own money. The room was also thick with the world's finest aerobatic talent, including Sean Tucker, who did an exceptional job as one of the event's co-hosts.

Surrounded by so many important aviation people was a bit of a rush, not because of the money that was in the room, but because of the kindred spirits. When we look at what makes us fly, it always comes down to passion, and it makes no difference if you fly a J3 or Citation. It was pretty clear with the wide smiles on every face that aviation people just love hanging out and talking about their flying machines:
R.A. "Bob" Hoover on the event's theater screens
What differentiates a room full of aviation leaders is the excitement for flight that we all share. I imagine at the Living Legends of Floor Cleaning Equipment event, the only "Hoover" you would find would be an Upright dual-action Vac-o-Matic. There would not be the same level of camaraderie of our aviation family when they come together on one special night to honor those in our community who have spent their lives pushing the envelope and redefining their segment of our aviation world. But at the Living Legends of Aviation event, the defining moment of the evening was listening to the legendary R.A. "Bob" Hoover. In a most entertaining way, Hoover discussed how all young test pilots shared the identical desire to obtain a speedy convertible sports car as early in their career as possible as his lead-in to introducing astronaut Gene Cernan and the family of the late, great Neil Armstrong.
On numerous occasions during the evening, conversations were started with total strangers, and the subject was always the same. In one particular exchange, a very well-dressed gentleman must have spotted the grin frozen across my face and asked "having a good time I presume?" before inquiring "what do you fly?" I told him we love our 1964 Piper Cherokee 235, and he was most complimentary about the 235, saying he had many hours in one while acknowledging that model's reputation for having a high payload. When I asked what he flew, he replied matter-of-fact that his Gulfstream was parked at Van Nuys Airport. Neither of us looked at name tags, no judgments were made as to status nor did either of us care about the other's hierarchy in the aviation food chain. It was just two pilots talking about our airplanes, not unlike the same conversations I've had 100s of times while on a tram riding around KOSH in late July.

What this night proved to me was that while net worth may fluctuate wildly from pilot to pilot, inside, we aviators share identical DNA. We all like to sit around eating, drinking and talking airplanes. At the "Legends" event, we dressed Black Tie to eat premium filets in the epicenter of Hollywood glitz. But in many ways, the atmosphere was not so far removed from the times we've all worn shorts and a "Will Fly To Food" t-shirt along the shores of Lake Winnebago to devour brats cooked on the World's Largest Grill.

As people, we might have political and societal differences that at times can seem vast. But as members of this wonderful aviation family, we are one for all and all for one, an unstoppable force of like minds dedicated to the principle that flying is a freedom we must all work to preserve for future generations.

Surrounded by aviation heroes, legends, movers, shakers, risk takers and money makers, the Living Legends of Aviation event was an evening that will be unforgettable. It has again solidified my opinion that aviation people are some of the finest humans you can find on this planet, devoted individuals working collectively to innovate, educate and grow aviation. I am forever proud to be a member of this family.

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