A number of actors, actresses, and celebrities have gotten the itch to fly after playing the roles of pilots, star-fleet commanders, or other aviation specialists in film and television. Some of those individuals have gone the next step and taken the captain’s chair in real life. Others, still, have wanted to be pilots all their life, before they were even celebrities, and their stardom and wealth have made those dreams into realities.
Whatever the reason – be it obsession, the thrill of flying, the quiet solitude of being alone in the air – there are an astounding number of celebrities who have their private and/or commercial pilots licenses; from actors such as Dennis Quaid, musicians like Kris Kristofferson, and even models like Gisele Bündchen.
Whether these people buy airplanes just to show how wealthy they are, or for practical reasons like getting to places quicker, or just because they have the money and they can, there’s no doubting that owning and flying your own aircraft puts your status a notch higher than other celebrity contemporaries.
It is definitely the dream of many kids growing up to fly and own planes, but the problem always seems to be: ‘How could I afford it?’ Well, it seems that becoming famous might be a means to an end in that regard. Here are 10 celebrities who were famous first, and then became famous pilots.
10. Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is not the first celebrity golfer to fly his own private aircraft. He follows in the footsteps of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and his father Philip Anthony Mickelson, who was a former Navy and airline pilot.
Mickelson owns a Gulfstream G550, a $60-million, 14-seater aircraft. It includes advanced technical equipment such as Honeywell Primus radar, a luxurious cabin, powerful Rolls-Royce engines, luxury entertainment amenities.
Friends have told him he should downgrade (since the $60 million price tag is quite high for someone who has won $70.4 million on the PGA tour), but that doesn’t seem likely. He regularly takes the Gulfstream to golf tournaments around the world, including last year when he took his plane to California for his daughter’s eighth grade graduation, and then took a red-eye flight across the country just hours before teeing off in the U.S. Open.
9. Michael Dorn
Actor Michael Dorn is best known for his role as the Klingon Worf in the Star Trek franchise, and he has appeared in more Star Trek episodes and movies than anyone else. During the Deep Space Nine series, Dorn went from fictional starship lieutenant to real-life airplane pilot.
He has owned several jet aircraft, including a T-33 Shooting Star (which he jokingly referred to as “his starship”), an F-86 Sabre, and a North American Sabreliner. He has flown with the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, and sits on the advisory board of the Air Force Heritage Foundation.
During a Nerdist podcast with Chris Hardwick, Dorn explained three separate occasions in the air where things got hairy. First, when he was flying with a producer to catch dinner in Santa Barbara, he explained that his nose-gear wouldn’t come down when landing, which resulted in a near-crash landing and sparks flying.
On another flight, Dorn’s airspeed indicator was off, and on landing he was going much slower than anticipated. His plane stalled over a runway, causing the gas-tanks on his wings to hit the runway and rupture. And finally, on a flight over Palmdale, while in the middle of aerobatics, his plane ran out of gas and his engine quit, and he had to glide 10 miles to a runway.
8. Angelina Jolie
The famous actress, director, humanitarian, and mother of six is well-known for her love of aviation. She became a student pilot in 2004, and then a private pilot in 2005. She owns a $360,000 Cirrus SR22, which is said to be one of the world’s fastest single-engine aircraft.
Jolie told Vanity Fair that, “When Maddox was one and a half, we used to go to the airfield and have lunch, and watch the planes. And it dawned on me: I could fly… So I promised him I would fly by his second birthday.”
In 2012 Jolie forked over $1.6 million on a helicopter and flying lessons for then-fiance Brad Pitt. They even have a helicopter pad installed on the grounds of their southern France home, Chateau Miraval. Brad has his private pilot’s license. Both Jolie and Pitt have gotten a taste for air travel, and have even expressed their interest in being space travelers on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
In 2013 Jolie was banned from flying her SR22 by the FAA because the plane’s airworthiness certificate expired and the renewal application was sent late. She can still fly, but must renew the certificate to fly the SR22.
7. Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood, best known for his roles as the Man with No Name, Dirty Harry, and for his acting and directorial work on films such as Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, has been a private helicopter pilot for over 30 years. At the age of 84, he still flies. In 2008, he told Ellen DeGeneres that flying helicopters is his favorite hobby because, “You’re the only one up there.”
In a “60 Minutes” interview in 1997, Eastwood took Steve Kroft up over the golf course he was building in Monterey, California, and told Kroft that he loves flying because pilots are identified only by the aircraft’s code. “You’re just a number in the sky. Everybody pretty much leaves you alone… Every plane is just an ID.”
During his time in the US Army in the 1950s, Eastwood was involved in a crash (he was a passenger, not the pilot) where a Douglas AD bomber ran out of fuel and plunged into the ocean. He escaped from the sinking aircraft, and, along with the pilot, swam three miles to safety.
6. Morgan Freeman
Actor Morgan Freeman, best-known for his stoic, smooth-talking characters in The Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby, has said that he wanted to fly a plane since he was a kid sitting in English class, daydreaming about being a fighter jet pilot.
Freeman joined the Air Force as a mechanic, but would not earn his pilot’s license until he was 65 years old. He owns three planes: a Cessna Citation 501 SP jet, a twin-engine Cessna 414, and a $7.5 million six-seater Emivest SJ30.
Freeman had a brief run-in with the FAA in 2004, when his license was suspended for 45 days for breaking altitude rules, and he’s been in several scares. His most recent incident was en route to Toronto Film Festival, when he had to land a malfunctioning plane four times. Sadly, in 2008 he was in a near-fatal car accident that damaged the nerves and paralyzed his left hand, leaving him unable to fly. He still co-pilots.
5. Jimmy Buffett
After his successes in the ‘70s and ‘80s, musician and businessman Jimmy Buffett could have wasted away in Margaritaville, but instead he got private and commercial pilots’ licenses and went flying, just shy of his 40th birthday.
Buffett has claimed to have had the flying bug since college, but didn’t have the money to support his flight lessons in the early days. He currently owns six planes: a Falcon 900, a Pilatus PC-12, a Cessna 208 Caravan, a Grumman Goose seaplane and Grumman Albatross, and a Boeing E-75 Stearman.
Buffett has had a few close calls over his years of flying. In 1994, while performing a water takeoff in Nantucket, he encountered a swell and was unable to maintain control. The aircraft sank, but thanks to his Naval training, Jimmy swam out uninjured.
In 1996, after landing his plane – the “Hemisphere Dancer” – on the water outside of Negril, Jamaican authorities shot at and damaged his aircraft, mistaking it for a drug running seaplane transporting marijuana. The incident inspired Buffett to write a song, entitled Jamaica Mistaica.
4. Harrison Ford
Long before he was the pilot of the Millennium Falcon, Harrison Ford had an interest in flying. In the ‘60s he took aviation classes at the Wild Rose Airport in Wisconsin, but couldn’t afford the money for lessons. 50 years later, Ford became a pilot of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. He has provided emergency helicopter services on several occasions, including one instance where he rescued a dehydrated hiker.
Ford owns eight aircraft, including a Bell 407 helicopter, a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver (a plane which he flies more than any other), a 1929-vintage Waco Taperwing, a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, a Beechcraft B36TC Bonanza, a Cessna Citation Sovereign, an Aviat A-1B Husky, and his green-colored private jet named Hans.
In 2004, Ford became chairman of the Young Eagles program of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), a title he held for four years. He’s an honorary board member of the humanitarian aviation organization Wings of Hope, and he has even survived a helicopter crash.
3. Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise became a top-tier movie star after playing Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun (1986), which helped fuel his love for flying. He got his private pilot’s license in 1994, and has since purchased many planes.
In 1996 Tom Cruise first bought the high altitude, high speed Gulfstream G-IV for his new spouse Katie Holmes, who famously said about the jet, “It is just like a bus, only quicker.” He also owns a luxurious airplane, the Aviat Pitts S-2B (P-51 Mustang Fighter). It’s the most popular aerobatic aircraft model, and was the most dangerous aircraft used by the Allied forces during World War II. He painted, ‘Kiss me, Kate,’ on one side of the plane.
Known for doing his own stunts, Cruise’s most ambitious yet came during a recent shooting of Mission: Impossible 5, in which he hung onto the tail of an Airbus A400M as it flew 5,000 feet above the British countryside.
2. John Travolta
John Travolta is probably more vocal about his love for flying than any other celebrity. His Florida estate, called Jumbolair Aviation Estate, is an aircraft-friendly community that has a garage and a 1.4-mile landing strip for his private jets, so that he can literally pull up right to the front door.
Travolta has been a Qantas ambassador since 2002, and keeps his personal Qantas Boeing 707 in the yard in front of his house. He also owns a USAir Boeing 727, and three Gulfstream jets. His estate is just a 10 minute flight from Orlando (rather than an hour and a half drive to the Orlando airport), and it also boasts its own private control room, and a 16-car garage. When asked about his love for aviation during an interview, Travolta responded, “This is something in my blood! I can’t get rid of it!”
1. Bruce Dickinson
Most people know Bruce Dickinson as the singer for heavy metal band Iron Maiden. Fans of Iron Maiden will also know that he is an accomplished pilot. During their Somewhere Back in Time World Tour in 2008, Iron Maiden created a documentary titled Iron Maiden: Flight 666, which followed the band on their customized Boeing 757.
Maiden’s 757 was aptly named Ed Force One (after their mascot, “Eddie”) and flown by Dickinson. Using the call-sign “666,” the plane and tour allowed for the band to travel 50,000 miles (encompassing Australia, India, and North and South America) in just 45 days.
At the time, Dickinson was employed by Astraeus Airlines. In 2012, he created his own aircraft maintenance and pilot training company called Cardiff Aviation, a company with which he hopes to create 1,000 new jobs in five years, and to set up their own airline.
He has led some high-profile flights, such as when he returned 200 UK citizens from Lebanon during the 2006 Israel/Hezbollah conflict, and when he rescued 180 stranded holiday makers from Egypt following the collapse of XL Airways UK in 2008. In 2014, Dickinson purchased a Fokker Dr.I triplane replica and joined the Great War Display Team, which re-enacts World War I air battles at airshows across the UK.
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