By Stephen Hofer
President, Aerlex Law Group
“Are you happy?” motion picture actor and the “Official Ambassador of Aviation,” John Travolta, rhetorically asked several hundred people dressed in tuxedos and gowns in the ballroom of The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California – and the crowd responded with a roar, “Yes!” The occasion was the 19th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards ceremony held Friday evening, January 21, 2022, and the guests were clearly thrilled to be back in each other’s company after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Legends gathering was a bit different than it had been in previous years. The red carpet had been laid down outside the hotel rather than at the entrance so that the paparazzi could see and snap the smiles of the arriving celebrities without face masks, and three of the Legends inductees were forced to postpone their participation after the latest coronavirus surge spawned by the Omicron variant compelled the imposition of new international travel restrictions, but for the most part, it was a night of celebration that recalled glittering Legends ceremonies of previous years.
Billionaire technology entrepreneur, pilot and philanthropist Jared Issacman, who made history in September 2021 as the commander of the first-ever all-civilian space crew, was honored with the Eren Ozmen Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
A video shown during the awards ceremony recounted the story of the Inspiration4 fund-raising mission sponsored by Issacman, which raised more than $200 million for Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, which was launched into orbit by SpaceX on a Falcon 9 rocket, reached an altitude of 367 miles above the Earth, the highest manned spaceflight in more than 20 years. Isaacman was joined at the Legends event by two of the members of his Inspiration4 crew, pilot Dr. Sian Proctor and mission specialist and medical officer Hayley Arcenauex.
The 38-year-old Isaacman, who founded the company now known as Shift4 Payments when he was just 16 and built it into one of the country’s biggest integrated payment processing platforms, began taking flying lessons when he was 20 to help relieve the stresses of his business career. Within seven years, he had earned a degree in professional aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and in 2012, he founded Draken International, a company that trains pilots for the United States armed forces. Draken operates one of the world’s largest fleets of privately owned fighter jets and Issacman is flight qualified in multiple military and civilian aircraft.
Another highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Kenn Ricci Lifetime Entrepreneur Award to Craig Sincock, owner, president and chief executive officer of Avfuel, one of the world’s leading suppliers of aviation fuel, refueling equipment, training, aviation insurance and other services. When Sincock bought Avfuel in 1983, it had fewer than a dozen employees; in the 39 years since then, the company has burgeoned and now employs 700 people serving 4,000 customers in more than 3,000 locations around the world, including 650 Avfuel-branded dealers throughout the U.S. and Europe. Sincock, like Issacman, is a licensed pilot who regularly flies the company aircraft for business and in addition to the Ricci Award, he was inducted as a Living Legend of Aviation.
Lon and Brenda Halvorson received the Elling Halvorson Vertical Flight Hall of Fame Award, the citation named for their late father and the highest award given by the Living Legends to honor those who specialize in helicopters and other rotorcraft. The brother and sister literally grew up in the family business and Lon Halvorson is now chief executive officer of Rainier Heli International Inc. and Brenda is president and chief executive officer of Papillon Group, both highly diversified helicopter enterprises. Like Sincock, the two Halvorsons were both inducted as 2022 members of the Living Legends.
Other 2022 honorees included:
♦ Marc Parent, chief executive officer of CAE Inc. (originally Canadian Aviation Electronics), an industry leader in training and simulation technologies, who received the Aviation Industry Leader of the Year Award and a salute from Pete Bunce, president and chief executive officer of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association for the essential role initial and recurrent training plays in the flying of every pilot.
♦ County and western singer Aaron Tippin, famed for his song, “You’ve Got to Stand for Something,” who received the Aviation Inspiration and Patriotism Award. Tippin was an aviator even before he became a recording star; he holds several licenses and ratings as both a pilot and mechanic in both fixed wing airplanes and rotorcraft and is an avid collector of Warbirds and other vintage aircraft.
♦ Bernd Breiter, German founder and CEO of BigCityBeats radio station and recording label, received the Wings of Help Award and announced the “Space Club Kitchen,” the largest “global dinner table” in mankind’s history to be launched next month with Matthias Maurer, an astronaut at the International Space Station.
A total of seven new members were inducted into the Living Legends although Covid restrictions forced three of them to postpone their live participation in the ceremonies until 2023. In addition to Sincock and the two Halvorsons, the other new Legends are:
♦ Gregg Williams, owner of Williams International, a company that develops, manufactures and supports gas turbine engines, who was present for his induction;
♦ Prince Sultan bin Salman, a Saudi prince and former Royal Saudi Air Force pilot, first member of a royal family to fly in space, and the youngest person ever to fly on the Space Shuttle;
♦ Greg Evans, chairman of the board of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc, the oldest company in the corporate flight planning industry; and
♦ Robert Dewar, engineer and designer of the C series at Bombardier before the sale of the aircraft, now known as the Airbus A220.
The evening also paid tribute to eight Legends who have “Flown West” since the Legends’ last gathering in 2020: Joe Clark, Elling Halvorson, Zoe Dell Nutter, Emily Howell Warner, Tracy Forrest, Chuck Yeager, James Raisbeck and Bill Luckett.
Current plans call for the Prince and Greg Evans to be formally inducted at the Legends ceremony in January 2023 in Beverly Hills, while Robert Dewar will be honored at the European Legends event to be held in Austria in July.
The “Living Legends of Aviation” are people who have achieved extraordinary accomplishments in aviation and aerospace; they include entrepreneurs, innovators, industry leaders, astronauts, record breakers, pilots who have become celebrities and celebrities who have become pilots.
The Living Legends of Aviation Awards are produced by the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to introducing, educating, and sparking children’s interest in aviation.