Celebrities (and presidents) have lives where most everything they do is tightly controlled, either for work or for their image. It makes sense that the pure freedom and independence of guiding your own aircraft would appeal to these high-powered, passionate people with a flair for the dramatic. Ascending to great heights, wind whipping around the often small plane, the pilot is far above the concerns of daily life and the flash of cameras.
From former Presidents to beauty queens to the most unexpected celebrities, these famous people skip commercial and take flying into their own hands. Some of these celebs have had some pretty scary moments when they’re acting as their own pilots.
Zach Braff: Flying Away From Fear
Zach Braff has to fly often, like many celebrities, especially film actors. He found himself a bundle of nerves about taking to the air, and in order to calm himself, he decided to obtain a pilot’s license.
Braff told British Elle, “It quiets your mind; when you are someone who thinks a lot and your brain is going non-stop, it has to become still so you can focus.” Now in love with flying, the TV series Scrubs star takes to the sky when he can, after gaining an education on the ins and outs of airplanes. Learning how planes work did calm his fears–smart move!
Harrison Ford: From Star Wars to His Real-Life Plane Crash
Harrison Ford is best known as the star of Indiana Jones and Star Wars: in both series of films, Ford is an adventurer with a brave heart, which is clearly not too far off the mark. He plays Hans Solo, captain of the Millennial Falcon, which has its share of crash landings, and in actual life, Ford crash landed his own, small plane.
After flying for twenty years, Ford is an experienced, responsible pilot, but experienced a rare situation: a loose engine part. His plane was an Aeronautical ST3KR – a restored World War II-era trainer, which started having problems almost as soon as Ford took off from Santa Monica. Ford crashed on his way back to the landing strip, in a park area. He sustained serious injuries and was hospitalized for a month before recovering and taking to the air again. Keep reading to find out which U.S. President can fly his own plane, too.
Tom Cruise: Action Star to Star Gazer
After playing a fighter pilot in the famous movie Top Gun, Tom Cruise got “the need for speed,” and eight years later, in 1994, he obtained his pilot’s license.
Cruise owns a handful of private jets including a $20M Gulfstream– the plane of choice for many celebrities with deep pockets, and Cruise’s is blinged out with a jacuzzi and screening room as well. At one point, Cruise owned a WW2 fighter called a P-51 Mustang, which Tom Cruise named after his then wife, actress Katie Holmes (and mother of his daughter, Suri). He called it ‘Kiss Me Kate.’ Wonder if he still owns that plane?
Jimmy Buffett: Longtime Pilot
Jimmy Buffett has been flying, like Harrison Ford, for over twenty years, a love which started during his time at the University of Southern Mississippi. By the time he was forty, he had made his dream come true, and obtained his pilot license with single engine land and sea ratings.
The famous singer and songwriter owns a seaplane named Hemisphere Dancer, as well as other planes. Buffett’s credentials are not to be denied, with a Commercial Pilot License with ratings for multi-engine land and sea aircraft, as well as an instrument rating for flying in clouds and low weather. He also holds type ratings for the Falcon 50 and 900, Cessna Citation 500-series jets, and the Grumman Albatross.
Kurt Russell: Rugged Actor and Pilot
The actor Kurt Russell (married to actress Goldie Hawn) has flying in the blood: Russell’s grandfather was an aerobatic pilot with over 45,000 hours who flew into his old age, as well as being a senior check captain for TWA and a test pilot for Howard Hughes. Kurt Russell himself never did fly with his grandfather.
In 1988 Kurt Russell decided it was time to fly, and began his pilot training. Here’s Russell himself on the joy of flying, “Flying has taught me more about who I really am than anything I’ve ever done. I take very calculated risks. I’ve done too many stunts on too many movies and television shows to be a daredevil. I learned a long time ago that if you want to do something you enjoy, you want to do it again.”
Dave Coulier: Full House to Full Heart
Famous for playing Uncle Joey on the sitcom, Full House, Dave Coulier found another passion of his in flying.
A private pilot since 1979, Colier told AOPA’s website, ““My dad had a friend who flew a Cessna 180 at a small uncontrolled field near our home in St. Clair Shores, Mich. When I was just five years old, my father took me along. That first flight on a cold winter day got me hooked on aviation for a lifetime. When I was a teenager, I got my private license at that same airport.” Colier has around 1,000 flight hours logged!
Alan Jackson: Country Crooner and Sky Pilot
Alan Jackson was just a simple Georgia country boy, not believing that his dreams could actually come true, not to sing or to fly. On both counts, he was wrong.
Jackson watched as some of his friends, who had dreams of becoming commercial pilots made those dreams come true, and it inspired him to do the same. “When I started flying to work, I got interested in watching [the pilot who flew me] and he taught me. At that time, we had a farm with a pretty big grass strip and I had a plane with amphibious gear, so I [could] land on water, the lake … just kind of flew around Nashville. I still have my license,” Jackson said on his personal website. Nowadays, he doesn’t fly as much, because his wife worries about him.
James Lipton: Brave Aeronaut
James Lipton is well-known as a celebrity interviewer and the executive producer, writer, and host of Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio. Lipton has been piloting planes longer than he’s been asking Matt Damon about his personal life, however.
Lipton always wanted to fly, but couldn’t afford lessons, so he joined the military to be a fighter pilot. He’s is certified in Airplane Single Engine Land planes, and has been flying since 1980. He learned in a Cessna 152 and 172 at Van Nuys airport, and has amassed over 1,000 hours of flying time. Lipton is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. In a harrowing flight in 1956, Lipton flew the Aeronca Champ along Alaska’s Iditarod Trail. Lipton lost the engine in a furious snowstorm, flying through a mountain pass, but with a cool head, was able to get it restarted.
Dennis Quaid: The Actor’s Way
Dennis Quaid learned to fly because of his acting job. At one point he was afraid to fly, partly due to an incident where his then brother-in-law put a plane they were flying into a dead spin, but he had to overcome that fear to play Captain Gordon Cooper in the well-known movie, The Right Stuff.
Quaid’s aviary education was helped when a pilot introduced him to famous pilot Clay Lacy and instructor Bud Whalen. In 1981 Quaid soloed his first plane, a Cherokee 180. He now owns a Cessna 421 twin-engine and a Cessna Citation II, which he has flown all over both North and South America.
Gul Panag: She Can Do Anything You Can Do, Better
In 1999, Gul Panag was the beautiful, talented winner of The Miss India crown. She has had an amazing career in Bollywood, starring in many movie roles. Her father was in the army, and she did a lot of flying while growing up.
Panag has worked as an actress, politician, activist, and pilot! Receiving her private pilot’s license from Chimes Aviation Academy, Panag totaled forty hours of flight time in order to meet her goal. She took to Instagram with photos of her pilot’s license and outfit, jumping for glee over her newly acquired skill, and ready to head back into the sky.
Phil Mickelson Hits The Ball and The Skies
Phil Mickelson says if he didn’t go into golf, he would have been an astronaut, so it’s no surprise he took to the skies in a plane. Mickelson follows in his father’s footsteps- the man was a fighter pilot in the Navy.
Phil Mickelson admired his father’s service and has his own desire to serve in the military, even taking steps toward that goal. “I went through flight training and earned a flight citation,” the man nicknamed ‘Lefty’ told Golfweek. Mickelson also practiced long-range sniper shooting. Mickelson owns a Gulf Stream V, an enormous plane that sold for around $40 million. He’s made around $75 million in golf funds, so that’s quite a chunk of money off his income!
George W. Bush: Fighter Pilot and President
George W. Bush flew in the 1970’s as a fighter pilot, and his friends at that time described him as “a gung-ho warrior and a gifted pilot who was popular in his Texas Air National Guard unit.”
The former President of the United States (whose father was also our president) has some controversy surrounding his flight record. He quit flying F-102 fighters two years before his flight commitment was up, and exactly why has never been nailed down. USA TODAY wrote, “Asked for an explanation about why Bush stopped flying, the White House said Bush ‘served admirably’ in the Guard, was given permission by commanders to fulfill his obligations in ways that did not involve flying and was honorably discharged.”
Lorenzo Lamas: Bad Boy of Television Flies Helicopters
Lorenzo Lamas became famous as a bad, beautiful boy on television, with brooding roles in shows like Falcon Crest and Renegade.
But nowadays, he flies commercial tours in a helicopter, something he loves doing, although he did love acting as well. He first became interested in flying when he was not living with his children, who were in Arizona, and he realized if he got his own license, he could pick them up himself. Now, he flies in order to pay the bills. It’s a steady, dependable income that he has control over, which is what he needed. Lamas said on Oprah, “You can’t count on things happening if you’re not in control of them happening. I’m in control of things happening in my aviation career. And I’m not in my acting career.”
Clint Eastwood: Famous Cowboy is Also Master of the Sky
Clint Eastwood, the famous actor known for his tough-guy roles, was introduced to flying on the set of a film in Oregon. He flew often with a friend but didn’t pursue his own license until years later, in 1990.
After getting licensed, Eastwood visited the Paris Air Show and fell in love with and bought an Aerospatiale AStar helicopter, which he flew consistently. Now he has been flying for over 30 years! He told the show 60 Minutes that he loved flying because it gave him total anonymity and isolation. “You’re just a number in the sky. Everybody pretty much leaves you alone. Charlie Xray or 71Romeo Papa. Every plane is just an ID.” Eastwood lives on large properties where he can keep his helicopters.
Angelina Jolie, Goddess of the Sky
Angelina Jolie: movie star, mother, activist–and pilot. Flying solo in her $360,000 red and white Cirrus SR-22 plane, she looks fit for the part.
In 2013, Jolie was banned from flying her plane–one of the fastest in the world, because of a failure to register the plane in a timely manner. Jolie credited some of her interest in flying with her first child, Maddox, explaining, “Every time Mad sees a plane, he’s amazed,” she said at the time. “If I could actually fly a plane… I’ll be like Superman to him.” She took the lessons and received her license. After her marriage to Brad Pitt, the two of them often flew together, alone, and with their large brood of children.
Phil McGraw: Talk Show Host and Pilot
Phil McGraw is a talk show host of a show named after himself- Dr. Phil– best known for his flamboyant style and friendship/mentorship with Oprah. Oprah had hired McGraw’s legal consulting firm CSI to assist preparing her for a trial in Texas. Winfrey was happy with McGraw’s work, and soon after, invited him to appear on her show. His appearance was a hit, and he began appearing weekly as a relationship and life strategy expert. Soon after, McGraw started publishing self-help books, and his empire began to expand.
A multi-millionaire, McGraw definitely has the deep pockets necessary for a true dive into aviation. McGraw is licensed as a private pilot, with an instrument rating, flying single engine airplanes.
Bruce Dickinson: Intense Singer and Pilot
Bruce Dickinson is famous for being the lead singer of the hardcore metal band, Iron Maiden.
In the 1990’s, Dickinson became interested in flight and obtained his commercial license. That wasn’t enough, so he then went on to become certified as an airline transport pilot–the highest license possible requiring no less than 1,500 hours of flying experience. His flight record is incredibly impressive: Dickinson aided in bringing home 200 U.K. citizens from Lebanon during the 2006 Israel/Hezbollah conflict, rescued 180 stranded vacationers from Egypt after an airways collapse, returned a group of British RAF pilots home from Afghanistan, and started his own aircraft maintenance business (Cardiff Aviation Ltd) in 2012. Whew!
John Travolta: Famous Actor and Pilot
John Travolta just might be the most famous celebrity pilot (of course, Harrison Ford’s dramatic plane crash may have changed that!) John Travolta has been flying since age 22, long before he was a drool-worthy actor.
Travolta is certified to fly numerous aircraft of all sizes, including his own Gulfstream (there’s that plane again!) and ex-Qantas Boeing 707-138, which can usually fit 200 or more passengers. Once, Travolta took Oprah’s entire studio audience on an eight-day trip to Australia! Travolta bought a $4.9 million estate in the Jumbolair subdivision in Florida, where residents can park their planes outside of their homes, with easy access to the Jumbolair Airport.
Morgan Freeman: Serious Actor and Serious Pilot
Morgan Freeman’s love of flying is as great as his love of acting. As a young man, Freeman received a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University, which he turned down to enlist in the United States Air Force. He worked as an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman for four years.
Despite this, Morgan Freeman didn’t get his pilot’s license until the age of 65! He has owned three aircraft: a Cessna Citation 501, a Cessna 414 twin-engine prop, and a long-range Emivest SJ30. He is licensed to fly all three aircraft. In December 2015 a plane Freeman was a passenger in had to make an emergency landing after blowing a tire. Everyone was fine.
David Lee Roth: Stagecraft and Skycraft
David Lee Roth is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his years of rock and rolling, both with Van Halen and solo. He was in and out of Van Halen with famous problems arising between him and the other band members, especially frontman Eddie Van Halen.
David Lee Roth has been a helicopter pilot since 2006. In 2005, Roth went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where Army medics in Iraq are trained, for military emergency medical technician (EMT) training. Roth was trained to transport patients to military helicopters, supporting his work as an EMT back home.