21st Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards Ceremony Attracts Glamorous Honorees to Black-Tie Night in Beverly Hills
by Stephen Hofer
Aerlex Law Group
If you’re sitting in an audience listening to Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman on stage crooning “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” to the soprano saxophone accompaniment of Kenny G;
If the evening’s official host, famed actor and pilot John Travolta, is asking a British prince (Harry, Duke of Sussex) and one of the world’s richest men (Jeff Bezos) to stand up and describe their first-ever airplane flights; and
If you hear the 17th Century British philosopher Thomas Hobbs and the 18th Century French philosophe Voltaire being quoted in two consecutive awards acceptance speeches —then you must be at the event Morgan Freeman has described as “the Academy Awards of Aviation,” the Living Legends of Aviation Awards ceremony. This year’s program, the 21st annual gala, was held on January 19th in a ballroom filled with hundreds of aviation aficionados elegantly attired in tuxedos and evening gowns at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
The Legends is an institution that honors 100 remarkable men and women of extraordinary accomplishment in aviation and aerospace, including entrepreneurs, innovators, industry leaders, astronauts, record breakers, pilots who have become celebrities and celebrities who have become pilots. The awards ceremony always features a fusion of Hollywood and aviation with lots of famous faces posing on the red carpet in front of a gaggle of photographers and television cameras.
That being said, this year’s edition seemed to take on an extra aura of tabloid razzle-dazzle with the announcement that the heavyweight honorees would include the superstar second son of Britain’s King Charles III and the glamorous Emmy award winning television journalist and news anchor who learned to fly both airplanes and helicopters, started one of the first female-owned and operated aerial film production companies and then became the high-profile fiancé of the man who founded both Amazon and Blue Origin. Neither Prince Harry, nor Lauren Sánchez disappointed the crowd. Both gave speeches that recognized what an important role both aviation and aviation mentors have played in their celebrated lives.
The Living Legends of Aviation follow the tradition of filling its ranks with new honorees to replace luminaries who have “Flown West” in the preceding year. In 2023, the aviation world said farewell to Jimmy Buffett, Larry Flynn, Hamish Harding and Treat Williams, but the fraternity welcomed four new inductees with equally impressive credentials:
Fred George – a former U.S. Navy pilot who transitioned from flying the F4J Phantom and logging more than 300 aircraft carrier landings to becoming a world-renowned aviation journalist whose writing for Flying Magazine, Aviation Week and Business & Commercial Aviation has garnered him an international audience – and also gotten him the opportunity to fly more than 230 different models of aircraft.
Steve Hinton – an American aviator who held the world speed record for piston-driven aircraft from 1979 to 1989 at 499.018 miles per hour in a modified P-51 Mustang, twice won the Unlimited Class national championship at the Reno Air Races in 1978 and 1985 and has worked as a Hollywood pilot since 1977, flying in more than 100 motion picture and television productions. Hinton has also been the president of the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, since 1994.
Marc Parent – President and Chief Executive Officer of CAE Aviation (formerly Canadian Aviation Electronics) since 2009, Parent has led CAE’s growth from the manufacturing of simulator technology to a much more comprehensive program of pilot training and mission support services and solutions.
Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex – A British Army veteran and helicopter pilot with 10 years of military service, including two tours of duty flying training and combat missions in Afghanistan, and the creator of the Invictus Games, which provide competitive sporting opportunities for wounded veterans around the world. (And for those who might be wondering, the Prince’s wife, Meghan Markle, was absent, reportedly home in Montecito tending a sick child – otherwise, the media mob in the lobby of the Hilton might have swelled onto the street and gone totally giddy.)
In addition to the newest inductees into the Living Legends, the night also featured a number of prestigious annual awards; the winners included:
Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation since July 2015 and a 40-year employee with the company, presented with the Lifetime Aviation Industry Leader Award.
Lauren Sánchez, president of Black Ops Aviation since 2016, presented with the Elling Halvorson Vertical Flight Hall of Fame Award, the Legends’ most important award for rotorcraft.
Linden Blue, vice chairman of General Atomics since 1986 (already a Living Legend and the person who quoted Thomas Hobbes during his acceptance speech), presented with the Dr. Sam B. Williams Technology Award. General Atomics is well known as the developer of the unmanned Predator drone, used by both the United States Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Lance Toland, pilot and founder of Lance Toland Associates, a provider of aviation insurance and risk management support services worldwide since 1975 (and the person who quoted Voltaire during his acceptance speech), presented with the Freedom of Flight Award.
Laurans Mendelson, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer since 1990 of HEICO Corporation, designer, manufacturer and seller of aerospace, defense and electronics components, presented with the Kenn Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award.
Kyle Clark, founder and Chief Executive Officer since 2017 of Beta Technologies, developer of an all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and the supporting charging infrastructure, presented with the Eren Ozmen Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
The Living Legends of Aviation program was founded on December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Appropriately, proceeds from the Living Legends events now support the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to introducing, educating, and sparking children’s interest in aviation. The Academy’s Kiddie Hawk Trainers give children, ages 4-9, a sense of flight in a simulator just a few feet above the ground. The Academy’s mission is to help create the next generation of aviators, while emphasizing to youngsters the importance of academic excellence in achieving success in aviation.