Seven new Legends of Aviation were feted at the 16th annual Living Legends of Aviation awards ceremony held January 18th in Beverly Hills, California. The latest Legends join an elite group of over 100 accomplished aviators and aviation industry leaders whose remarkable achievements have been honored in previous years.
The new Legends include:
Jeff Bezos, currently the world’s richest man and founder of both Amazon, the world’s largest online store, and Blue Origin, a start-up aerospace company focused on space exploration and travel;
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger, who made history, first in 1960, when he ascended to 102,800 feet in a hot air balloon, then leaped from the gondola and safely parachuted to earth, and again in 1984, when he made the first-ever solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon;
Kenneth Ricci, pilot, American aviation entrepreneur and the principal of Directional Aviation Capital, an investment firm that owns or invests in a number of different private aviation companies including fractional jet providers Flight Options (which Ricci originally founded) and Flexjet, Sentient Jet and Nextant Aerospace;
Kenny Gorelick, better known by his stage name, “Kenny G,” famed saxophone player whose sales of 75 million records worldwide helped finance his passion for flying his De Havilland Beaver seaplane;
Brian Barents, a former fighter pilot, former senior vice president of Cessna Aircraft Company, former president and chief executive officer (CEO) of both Learjet, Inc. and Galaxy Aerospace Corporation, and recently retired executive chairman and CEO of Aerion Corporation, the company that hopes to build the next generation of supersonic commercial aircraft;
John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer (COO) – Customers of Airbus Commercial Aircraft since 2005 and Airbus Chief Commercial Officer since 1994, as well as a licensed multi-engine pilot and former flight instructor; and
Rick Fiddler, Vice President of Aviation for Amway, who manages the largest Part 91 flight department in the world with 15 aircraft and a staff of 71.
Other aviation industry stars honored during the glittering, three-hour black-tie ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel included:
♦ Bertrand Piccard, Swiss balloonist and psychiatrist – recipient of the Legends Technology Award;
♦ Stefan Aust, author and founder of the German political magazine Spiegel TV and publisher of WELT – recipient of the Legends Wings of Help Award;
♦ Dick DeVos, pilot and philanthropist who established Western Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter high school that offers students flight training – recipient of the Changing Lives with Aviation Award;
♦ Qantas, the Australian airline honored as the world’s safest and longest continuously operating airline;
♦ Jean Rosanvallon, President and CEO of Dassault Falcon Jet, who was honored with the Lifetime Aviation Industry Award;
♦ Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, recipient of both the Ken Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award and the brand-new Jeff Bezos Freedoms Wings Award; and
♦ Sean Tucker, world-famous aerobatic pilot, who was honored with Harrison Ford Aviation Legacy Award for his work on behalf of at-risk and under-served youth through the Bob Hoover Academy.
Motion picture actor and accomplished pilot John Travolta, the “Official Ambassador of Aviation,” continued his tradition of hosting the Legends ceremony and he 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 and NBC News correspondent Tom Costello.
The ceremony began with the traditional “Flown West” tribute to two Legends of Aviation who died in 2018: Paul Allen and Bruce Whitman. Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, was also a prominent investor in the space industry, teaming up with another Aviation Living Legend, Burt Rutan, on both the SpaceShipOne and Stratolaunch Systems programs. Whitman was chairman, president and chief executive officer of FlightSafety International, a company that provides more than 1.4 million hours of flight training to pilots and other aviation professionals every year. Whitman, a retired Air Force pilot, navigator and bombardier, spent 57 years with FlightSafety, becoming CEO of the company in 2003.
The Living Legends ceremony ended with a fascinating interview on the stage of The Beverly Hilton Hotel, with Jeff Bezos responding to questions posed by Living Legend and winglet innovator Joe Clark regarding Mr. Bezos’s aspirations for the human race and his dreams of millions of people living and working in space.
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 raise money to support the work of the nonprofit Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, an educational program that inspires children to become the pilots of tomorrow.