20 Celebrities Who Can Pilot Their Own Planes on Vacation (Slideshow)
April 19, 2016
Not only do these 20 celebrities have the financial means to fly to any vacation destination, they also have the piloting skills
After developing a fear of flying as an adult, actor Zach Braff conquered his phobia by learning to fly, and received his pilot’s license in November 2008. He honed his skills at Mach 1 Aviation in Van Nuys, California, behind the controls of a Cirrus SR-20.
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In addition to hosting Iron Chef America, Cutthroat Kitchen, and numerous other shows, television personality and author Alton Brown is also a pilot, having earned his certification on June 5, 2008. Brown owns two planes, a Cessna 206 and a Cessna 414, and has been featured in the aviation magazine AOPA Flight Training. As opposed to a hobby, Brown sees his piloting as a form of transportation — and a necessary one, considering how much of his work requires travel.
Although musician Jimmy Buffett caught the flying bug back in his college days, he didn’t have the funds to pursue his passion until he became a successful singer-songwriter. Now an avid pilot, Buffett owns a Dassault Falcon 900, which he uses on tour, and has owned three other planes in the past. His former personal seaplane, a Grumman HU-16 Albatross named “Hemisphere Dancer,” was shot at on January 16, 1996 in Jamaica after officials mistakenly suspected it was smuggling drugs. The plane was transporting Buffett, Bono of U2 and his family, and Island Records producer Chris Blackwell at the time. No one was injured (except for the plane, which received a few bullet holes) and the incident inspired the song “Jamaica Mistaica” on Buffett’s 1996 album Banana Wind.
Unlike a lot of celebrities who took up flying after becoming successful, comedian, voice actor, and former Full House star Dave Coulier actually began flying at the age of 15 in his home state of Michigan. He received his pilot’s license when he was 20 and is now instrument rated. Coulier owns and flies a Beechcraft B35, and has also trained in a Cirrus SR-20 to keep current.
After filming the 1986 film Top Gun, Maverick Tom Cruise was bitten by the flying bug, and earned his pilot’s license in 1994. He now refuses to fly on commercial airlines and owns somewhere between three and five private planes, including a World War II-era P-51 Mustang and a $20 million Gulfstream IV (maximum range: 7,820 km). Cruise has been criticized by environmentalists for his excessive use of these planes, and reportedly once sent one of the jets to pick up groceries for then-wife Katie Holmes. For these actions, the environmental lobby has dubbed him “emissions impossible.”
After finding massive success as the lead singer of Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson learned to fly recreationally in Florida in the 1990s, and later became certified as an airline transport pilot — the highest license possible, which requires at least 1,500 hours of flying experience. He even flew Boeing 757s as captain for the now-defunct U.K. charter airline Astraeus. He has since aided in the return of 200 U.K. citizens from Lebanon during the 2006 Israel/Hezbollah conflict, rescued 180 stranded vacationers from Egypt after the collapse of XL Airways U.K. in September 2008, returned a group of British RAF pilots home from Afghanistan later that year, and started his own aircraft maintenance business (Cardiff Aviation Ltd) in 2012. Dickinson has also flown his Iron Maiden bandmates on the group’s tours in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2016.
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Considering the fact that he flew around in the Enterprise as the Klingon Worf in five Star Trek films and 272 TV episodes, it’s no wonder actor Michael Dorn is also an actual pilot. A member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Dorn has owned a T-33 Shooting Star (which he referred to as his “starship”), an F-86 Sabre, and a North American Sabreliner, and has flown with both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds. Interestingly, Dorn wasn’t allowed to fly when he was a cast member on The Next Generation, but was given the okay for Deep Space Nine.
Although Harrison Ford is most famous for flying the Millennium Falcon, he is also a well-known airplane pilot — becoming especially well-known for his flying after he narrowly escaped death in 2015 (and was seriously injured) after his vintage Ryan PT-22 Recruit crash-landed on a golf course due to a mechanical problem. Ford began his flight training in the ‘60s behind the controls of a Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer, and later a Cessna 182 and Cessna 206. He now owns a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, and also a Bell 407 helicopter — which he can also fly, and has used several times to assist the Teton County Search and Rescue team in California.
Morgan Freeman starting acting at age nine and later received a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University. However, he turned it down to enlist in the United States Air Force, where he worked as an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman for four years. He considered training as a fighter pilot, but left before attempting to pursue this. Freeman would later get his pilot’s license at the age of 65, and has owned three aircraft: a Cessna Citation 501, a Cessna 414 twin-engine prop, and a long-range Emivest SJ30 — all of which he is certified to fly. The 78-year-old made headlines in December 2015 when his plane had to make an emergency landing in Mississippi after blowing a tire; Freeman was a passenger at the time and was not piloting the aircraft.
When country music star Alan Jackson was growing up in Georgia, he had friends who set seemingly-impossible goals of becoming commercial airline pilots and succeeded, which gave him the confidence to pursue his own dream career, in the music industry. He admired them so much, that he eventually decided to follow in their footsteps too. “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, according to his website. Jackson added that he doesn’t fly very often anymore, as it worries his wife too much.
When Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s son Maddox, now 14, was a baby, she used to take him to a nearby airfield for lunch, and the two would watch the planes take off and land. She promised him she would get her pilot’s license, and did so in 2004, at the age of 29. Jolie owns a $360,000 CirrusSR-22, said to be one of the world’s fastest single-engine aircraft.
As a seasoned stock car racer, Matt Kenseth obviously has quite the need for speed. Which is probably why traveling at high speeds on the ground wasn’t enough for Kenseth, who got into flying one offseason after buying a Cessna 172. He now owns a Mooney Acclaim, which he uses to fly to races (but not home from races, as he gets too tired), to appearances, and on trips to see his family. Kenseth is in good company, as retired NASCAR drivers Mark Martin and Kyle Petty are also avid fliers.
Best known as the executive producer, writer, and host of Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio for the last 22 years, James Lipton has been piloting planes for even longer. Lipton 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.
Following in the footsteps of his father, a former naval aviator and airline pilot, golfer Phil Mickelson received his pilot’s certification in the late ‘90s. He used to fly a small Citation (with a co-pilot) from his Scottsdale home to West Coast tournaments, but Mickelson has since bought a $60 million Gulfstream G550, which he generally prefers to leave in the hands of a more-seasoned pilot when traveling.
Apologies to Phil Mickelson, but Arnold Palmer is not only a better golfer, but also a better pilot. Palmer has been an avid pilot for over 50 years, and even has an airport named after him: the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Palmer apparently watched the world’s first official airmail pick-up there in 1939 (he grew up less than a mile away) and airport visitors are greeted by a statue of Palmer holding a golf club at the entrance. Palmer owns a Cessna Citation X and has logged about 20,000 hours in total in various aircraft.
Not to be outdone by his wife, Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Brad Pitt recently became a certified pilot. Of course, it wasn’t actually competition that made Pitt learn this new skill, and he instead caught the bug after becoming fascinated with vintage planes. In 2013, Pitt bought a World War II-era Supermarine Spitfire for $3.3 million, and is certified to handle the aircraft’s unique controls.
Once afraid to fly (part of the fear stemmed from an incident where his ex-brother-in-law took him up in a little plane, cut the engine, and put the plane into a spin), actor Dennis Quaid conquered his fear of flying after learning the skill in preparation for his role as Mercury astronaut Captain Gordon Cooper in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. The real Cooper introduced Quaid to famous pilot Clay Lacy and instructor Bud Whalen, and in 1981 he soloed his first plane, a Cherokee 180. Quaid has since purchased both a Cessna 421 twin-engine and a Cessna Citation II, which he used to fly to places like Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and over the Grand Canyon.
In addition to being an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor (and winemaker!), Kurt Russell is also an FAA-licensed private pilot holding single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings certifications. He is also an Honorary Board Member of Wings of Hope, one of the oldest and largest volunteer humanitarian charities in the world.
Arguably the most famous celebrity pilot, John Travolta has ruled the skies since age 22, even before he was Danny Zuko or Tony Manero. Travolta is certified to fly numerous aircraft of all sizes, including his own Gulfstream and ex-Qantas Boeing 707-138, which can traditionally fit over 200 passengers (he famously took Oprah’s entire studio audience on an eight-day trip to Australia). Flying is so important to Travolta that he bought a $4.9 million estate in the Jumbolair subdivision in Ocala, Florida, where residents can park their planes right outside of their homes, and have access to the adjacent Jumbolair Airport.
Carol Vorderman has been a fixture on British television for over three decades, but she recently decided to take time off from hosting to pursue her lifelong dream of flying solo around the world. Vorderman earned her pilot’s license in 2013, and on November 20, 2014, she was appointed Ambassador to the Royal Air Force Air Cadets. She assumed the rank of Honorary Group Captain, and is the first female Ambassador in the RAF Air Cadets’ 75 year history. Her solo flight is still in the works.