Five new Legends of Aviation were feted at the 14th annual Living Legends of Aviation awards ceremony held January 20th in Beverly Hills, California. The latest Legends join an elite group of 95 accomplished aviators and aviation industry leaders whose remarkable achievements have been honored in previous years.
The newest Legend inductees were: Ray Conner, former president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and currently vice chairman of The Boeing Company; Dr. Tom Enders, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Group; Elling Halvorson, innovative pioneer of the helicopter industry, Nick Popovich, celebrity “Repo Man” and founder of aircraft repossession firm Sage-Popovich, Inc., and General Mark Welsh III, who retired in 2016 after serving for four years as Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.
Other aviation industry stars honored during the glittering, three-hour black-tie ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel included:
♦ Retired American astronauts and identical twin brothers Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly, the only siblings who have flown in space – recipients of the Aviation Inspiration and Patriotism Award;
♦ Serial entrepreneur Kenn Ricci, the principal of Directional Aviation Capital, owner of a family of private aviation companies that includes Flexjet, Flight Options, Sentient Jet, SkyJet, Nextant Aerospace, N1 Engines and Constant Aviation – recipient of the Lifetime Aviation Industry Leader Award;
♦ Phebe Novakovic, chairman and CEO of General Dynamics, honored with the Aviation Industry Leader of the Year Award;
♦ Helicopter GPS Instrument Flight Rules innovator Steve Hickok – winner of the Vertical Flight Hall of Fame Award;
♦ Peter Paul Luce, aviation humanitarian and educator, the son of the founder of Time, Life and Fortune magazines, who was honored with the Harrison Ford Aviation Legacy Award; and
♦ Clay Lacy, famed pilot, air racer, aerial cinematographer, and founder of one of America’s largest air charter and aircraft management companies, who received the Bob Hoover Freedom of Flight Award.
Motion picture actor and accomplished pilot John Travolta, the “Official Ambassador of Aviation,” continued his tradition of hosting the Legends ceremony and welcomed more than 1,000 guests in the Beverly Hilton ballroom before turning the festivities over to the evening’s emcees, air show announcer Danny Clisham and television journalist Tom Costello.
The two hosts kicked off the evening with a thoughtful “Flown West” tribute to three Legends of Aviation who passed away during 2016: Bob Hoover, Arnold Palmer and David Thatcher. Hoover, one of the most honored pilots in American history, flew 58 combat missions during World War II and then had a remarkable career as a test pilot and aerobatic pilot. Palmer, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport, was also a dedicated aviator who logged more than 20,000 hours during his 55 years of flying. And Thatcher, who became a Legend during the 2016 ceremony, was one of the last two surviving members of the legendary Doolittle Raiders, the group of courageous 80 volunteers who carried out America’s first air strike on Japan during the Second World War.
The Kelly brothers were honored for their patriotism and inspiration, both in the sky and on the ground. Scott Kelly is a retired U.S. Navy captain and NASA astronaut, a veteran of four space flights and a three-time commander of the International Space Station (ISS). His brother, Mark Kelly, is also a retired U.S. Navy captain and NASA astronaut, as well as a combat veteran and ex-test pilot who piloted four Space Shuttle missions to the ISS. Mark Kelly was also thrust into the national spotlight in 2011 after his wife, then Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was the victim of a near-fatal assassination attempt. Since then, Kelly, the son of two police officers, has become a spokesman for Americans for Responsible Solutions, an advocacy group urging responsible gun ownership and solutions to gun violence. The identical Kelly twins were the subjects of a scientific study on the long-term genetic effects of spaceflight experiment in 2015 and 2016. NASA monitored the health and performance of Scott, who spent a year onboard the ISS, while Mark was the control subject on the ground.
Harrison Ford, himself a Living Legend, was on hand to present the Aviation Legacy award that bears his name to Peter Paul Luce, humanitarian, philanthropist and founder of Wings Over the Rockies, a showcase for innovative aviation education programs. Luce has flown 243 humanitarian missions, delivering organs to hospitals for patients in dire need of lifesaving organs.
Another Living Legend, Clay Lacy, was honored with the Bob Hoover Freedom of Flight Award, the first time the award had been presented since the death of the iconic “Pilots’ Pilot” in October 2016. Aerlex Law Group President Stephen Hofer, who hosted a table of guests at the Legends dinner, said the selection of Lacy to receive the award named for Hoover seemed like a most apt choice since Lacy and Hoover had been good friends for a half-century and were both long-time champions of aviation.
Kenn Ricci was recognized at the Legends event for his important contributions to the evolution of today’s private aviation industry. Ricci, who was chosen as Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000, started Corporate Wings in 1980 and later went on to found both Flight Options and Nextant Aerospace. Ricci, who is both a former airline transport pilot and a law school graduate, created Directional Aviation Capital in order to build a family of aviation-related companies, including everything from fractional jet ownership, jet cards and charter to jet remanufacturing and aviation parts distribution.
Ray Conner has had a lifetime of service in aviation, rising during his years at The Boeing Company from airplane mechanic to vice chairman. Prior to being inducted as a Legend this year, he had also been honored at the 2016 Legends ceremony as the recipient of the “Lifetime Aviation Industry Leader Award.”
Dr. Tom Enders became CEO of Airbus Group in 2012, after having been CEO of Airbus since 2007. Before he joined the aerospace industry in 1991, he worked as a Member of the “Planungsstab” of the German Minister of Defense and in various Foreign Policy think tanks. He studied Economics, Political Science and History at the University of Bonn and at University of California in Los Angeles.
Elling Halvorson is known for his ability to accomplish the impossible with a helicopter. He started a construction company and successfully took on seemingly impossible civil engineering projects utilizing helicopters. His most difficult assignment was the Grand Canyon pipeline project which involved the transport of men and materials to install a 13.5 mile-long pipeline deep in the narrow twists and turns of the canyon. His work in Grand Canyon launched another career when he created the helicopter tourism industry and developed the S55QT “Whisper Jet” to reduce helicopter noise pollution.
Inductee Nick Popovich is the original “Repo Man.” After a career flying for Braniff International Airways and then starting his own airline in the Caribbean, Popovich founded Sage-Popovich, Inc., a business originally dedicated solely to repossessing aircraft. The Indiana-based company has repossessed more than 1700 aircraft from six continents, including business jets, airliners, turboprops and helicopters. His intriguing adventures led to a series on the Discovery Channel called Airplane Repo. Popovich is devoted to a host of aviation-related philanthropic pursuits.
After 40 years of military service, General Mark Welsh III retired from the U.S. Air Force in July 2016. He served in a remarkable array of positions during that time including, most recently, as the 20th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. In this role, he also took his place as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff where he functioned as a military advisor to the Secretary of Defense, National Security Council and the President. General Walsh is highly decorated with numerous awards for his distinguished service.
The annual Living Legends of Aviation ceremony has become one of the most prestigious and exclusive events in the world of aviation. Famous figures from both Hollywood and the aviation industry fill the Beverly Hilton ballroom and make the Legends a star-studded event. The Legends raises money to support the work of the nonprofit Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, an educational program that seeks to inspire the pilots of tomorrow.