Reader question: have you ever met a celebrity through aviation?

Elvis airplane
Meeting Elvis? All in a day’s work for an FBO employee.

General aviation attracts all kinds of people, from teenagers learning to fly to Hollywood stars traveling by private jet. For many everyday GA pilots, that means it’s not uncommon to cross paths with a celebrity at the airport. For this month’s reader question, we want to know whether you’ve ever met a famous person through aviation.

Were you a lineboy working at an FBO when you parked a professional athlete’s airplane? Maybe you were at Oshkosh when you literally bumped into a movie star? Share your story below.

40 Comments

  • While working the line at Rhoades Aviation in Columbus, IN (KBAK) during the early 80’s we had a lot of country music stars and a few others pass through on the way to Nashville’s Little Opry House. The ones that stand out for being their friendliness are George Jones (Merlin II), Roy Clark (MU-2), Dolly Parton, and race driver Al Unser, Sr. I don’t recall Dolly’s or Al, Sr.’s rides.

    I also met Martha Lunken there in her pre-celebrity days as a Fed when we were flying DC-3s, but I always found a plane to wash in a locked hangar when the Feds were on the field so I’m sure I missed some good stories.

    • 25+ years ago-Aerosmith concert in town. Steven Tyler’s jet landed just before my chartered Cessna 402, one of my female passengers wanted to meet him, so I walked her up on the ramp side at my FBO to him. He was very nice to her, she was thrilled. The giant body guard glared at me the whole time.
      Jamie Lee Curtis stopped on a transcontinental flight in a Westwind for fuel. We only had slow over wing jet fuel so it took a longggg time. She wanted the line guys to go to town & buy her some kind of face cream…NO.
      Biggest richest daytime female talk show host/media giant made the front desk girl cry at Bombardier Denver when she asked for an autograph and the big O snapped at her.
      Just had Andrew Zimmern, food guy, glare at me when I took a picture from my couch at the FBO in Bismarck ND. Was told he didn’t like that. Get over yourself, sheesh.

      • Everyone is famous to somebody. Treat them all the same. While delivering pheasant chicks by air, I did meet a seedy looking bow hunter in camp at Jackson, MI once. Asked him if he was a hunter. Ted Nugent answered, “Damn good one.”

  • I’ll start with one obvious one for me: Gordon Baxter. I remember a dinner in a restaurant in Oshkosh when there were about six people at our table. I happened to be sitting next to Baxter. By that time, he no longer drank, would immediately order coffee for his cocktail, and had some trouble hearing in a restaurant with ambient sound so I would fill in the blanks for him when he missed something. But one by one during dinner, he was recognized and people would come over, always gracious, always apologizing for disturbing his dinner, and literally crouch in his presence. Gordon was always equally gracious, but I remember thinking, “Come on, it’s just Baxter” and that’s “all” he was to me — a friend and a colleague but to his fans, he was everything.

    One that stands out was meeting Christopher Reeve. At the time, I was working at Flying and the magazine used to do two-page profiles of a Flying reader — mostly we did everyday pilots, but occasionally a celebrity — I remember Ray Dolby of Dolby Sound and a few others.

    So I always went to the photo shoot (celebrity or not) to direct the process so we met Chris at a small Southern California airport. I was using a photographer who I totally trusted, had used many times before, but I told him in no uncertain terms that Chris was giving us two hours and we had to move bang, bang, bang and be super-organized. When I got to the airport an hour before Chris’s arrival, the photographer had been there two hours already and assured me that all was well, that he visited the tower (twice!) and they gave permission to use an unused taxiway for the photo shoot. He had sketches he showed me of his planned shots.

    Chris arrived, right on time, and he could not have been nicer or more agreeable. When the photographer was about to start shooting, he asked Chris if he wanted to comb his hair (as a courtesy we always asked that as airports can be windy) and Chris literally ran his fingers through his hair and he was one handsome guy. I will also add that he wanted to show me his airplane and it was a Navajo as I recall and he left first, and as I was walking down the steps, he extended his hand and I thought “Oh, I’ve held hands with Christopher Reeve” if only for five seconds. Yes, I did let go!

    We were proceeding with the shoot and all was going well until a car pulled up, a man jumped out and started yelling LITERALLY “Shut this thing down! Shut this thing down now!” The photographer and I were stunned, but Chris extended his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Christopher Reeve” in the loveliest way and this jerk said derisively, “I know who you are!” and he insisted we stop the shoot. Which we did. No choice. Turns out he was the airport manager and no one asked HIM for permission. The photographer said he’d asked the tower (right or wrong to do) and this guy said, “I run this airport, not the tower.”

    Luckily we had enough photos at that point, but I always thought what a missed opportunity for this airport manager, to host Christopher, get autographs, photos — the photographer would have been willing to take their picture together — but his ego was bigger than that. What a little man this guy was.

    It was a Saturday in the summer when I heard on the radio that Chris had been in an accident while riding a horse. Even early on, it looked bleak and that he would be paralyzed. The radio station interviewed a NY City policeman who had been paralyzed due to a shooting incident, and he became well known and well loved…he’d drop the puck at New York Ranger games — that sort of thing… and he said that Chris was an inspiration to people as Superman so his wish was that Chris would continue to be an inspiration in whatever new way his life would go. And he was just that. I was really sad when he died, even though I only knew him for those few hours, but he was such a kind person and such a gentleman.

    One last one: Also at Oshkosh. I was talking to my old friend Mac McClellan and Captain Sullenberger was about 20 feet away. He then started walking toward us and humbly apologized for interrupting us, Mac introduced me, and Sully said how he was a great fan of Mac’s and had read everything he’d written. Once again, such a gentleman and so gracious.

  • In 1969, I was working as a line boy at Killeen airport, and a 172 taxied in. When I pitched in to help unload the baggage, I found myself talking to George Kennedy. Very friendly and personable fellow.

    • As I recall, he was a spokesman for Ryan/3M Stormscope for a while. I remember his appearing in ads for it.

  • Aside from meeting famous people as passengers while flying charter back about 1967 I was a flight instructor at Catlin Aviation at Wiley Post airport at Oklahoma City.
    Dale Robertson and I had a hour or two of conversation about the degradation of Hollywood.
    I’ve meet the Chip and Dale Dancers, carried Olive Anne Beech into a King Air when she injured her hip. She was a classy lady. She apologized for all the trouble she was making. Sent me an autographed book.

  • Kurt Russell in ground school at KSMO.
    Very nice guy. Met him again with Goldie Hahn on the island of Raiatea in French Polynesia. Very nice guy.

  • Drove Max Conrad down to Ohare field in 69 when I was a high school line boy at old Chicagoland airport. Handed Carly Simon down off SIU’s DC-3 a few years later. Met many music greats and not so greats in the 5 years I worked the Carbondale line. Met Jimmy Buffett when he went for a ride in a TA-4J at NAS Key West @ 1980 I think, watched the blues with Ernest Borgnine at NAS Millington. It’s been a great aviation life and never boring!

  • While just starting to taxi past a twin engine plane, at Leesburg, VA in the late 1970’s the pilot of the twin grabbed my wing tip to make sure I would clear his plane. When I saw him and we had eye to eye contact, I realized it was Author Godfrey. Didn’t get to meet him, but had watched his TV shows for years.

  • I had the opportunity to fly Senator Barry Goldwater sometime in the late ‘80s. I offered him the left front seat of the C-414A we in that night. His eyes light up!! He flew PHX-YUM. He was smooooooth on the controls. “In your heart, you know he is right.”

  • In the early seventies I was flying a Lear 25B for a charter company in Houston. Returning from a trip late one afternoon, I went up to the Atlantic Aviation counter to pay for fuel and there stood Bob Hope. He was waiting for his JetStar to show and run him to Dallas. The Lockheed had a mechanical issue and was running several hours late.
    The lovely counter lady pointed at me and said, “He can take you”. Mr. Hope looked at me and asked if that was possible…I called my boss ( who happened to be a huge Bob Hope fan) and he said, take Mr. Hope to Dallas, no charge.
    Imagine that happening in today’s environment of liability and litigation.

  • Was assisting as a line boy at MPV in the late 1960’s when a Lear Jet taxied to the pumps. None other than F Lee Bailey deplaned and was whisked away. I dutifully filled the tanks as instructed and double and triple checked that it was not avgas I was pumping. I will say that regular GA pilots are a lot friendlier than the so called stars.

    • I met John Denver on the ramp in Aspen in the early 80s having just flown in from Denver in a Cessna 210 through some pretty good IFR weather Arriving with Ice on the spinner I asked him for some advice On flying out of Aspen in my beagle 206 which he willingly gave in the most humble and friendly manner may his memory be for a blessing

  • I met Hugh Downs at the local glider port. He had landed and came up short on his taxi. I was walking out there anyway, not knowing who it was, and offered to help haul the glider back to the tie down. It was that moment, when I approached, that I recognized who it was.

  • The airman’s airman, Bob Hoover, was a regular performer or ‘drop-in’ over the years at our annual Combat Air Museum ‘Superbatics’ airshow on Topeka’s Forbes Field, co-hosted by our good friends of the 190th ARW. (Bob was a buddy of our chief pilot, who’d helped organize his legal defense fund back when FAA louts targeted Bob but that’s another story…) Anyway, once took two of my children-both were CAP cadets then-to an ‘Airport Day’ at Columbus NE because Bob was to perform his famed Shrike energy management demo. Before he flew I hunted him up in a hangar & introduced the kids. That remarkable ‘living legend’ was soooo gracious. Unassuming, friendly, not hurrying to get on to some more pressing task. Even grabbed a folding chair for one of ‘em to stand on in the obligatory picture as he stood at least 6’6” under that wide brimmed straw. We shall always value the memory.

  • Well, yes. After 32 years with Delta Air Lines, I met quite a few and I’m certain I don’t remember them all. Let’s see: Ray Charles, Dennis Weaver, Mickey Rooney, Randy Owen of Alabama, Chuck Yeager (He was a first-class jerk), Jack Palance, George Montgomery, Stephen King, James Michener, Jimmy Doolittle, Conway Twitty (Good country singer), Bo Derek (She certainly wasn’t a ’10’ personality wise-another jerk-et) and I am sure there were others, but I can’t remember them. Oh yes, Art Linkletter. He was kicked off the plane in ATL by the gate staff because he was drunk and extremely obnoxious.

  • I met two celebrities via aviation, and had a near miss.

    First meeting was Gene Kranz. He was speaking at an FAA Safety Meeting at the old Houston Gulf Airport (SPX), and he discussed his experiences working at the original Mission Control Center at the Manned Spacecraft Center. MSC is now the Johnson Space Center, and MCC was moved from the original location to a new facility in the 1990’s.

    Second meeting was Sean D. Tucker. It was at the Wings over Houston Airshow at Ellington Airport (EFD) on 10/21/2018, and I met him in a roundabout way. I volunteer every year at that event as an amateur radio operator, and I was assigned to drive the LifeFlight crew around in a dedicated golf cart. That was interesting in and of itself, as it was a lesson in Crew Resource Management, since I was driving the entire crew — Pilot, Flight Nurse and Flight Paramedic. They had to attend the Pilot Briefing, which is a requirement for the FAA waiver, and there was a brief ceremony at the end celebrating Sean Tucker, as the Sunday edition of WoH was his last as a solo performer.

    The near miss was when I was building up cross country time for my Instrument Rating. I flew to Brenham Municipal Airport (11R) from Pearland Regional Airport (LVJ), and when I taxied from the FBO ramp, I saw a Hawker with the registration N614AJ; I immediately knew that it was owned by A. J. Foyt Enterprises. I snapped pictures of the airplane, and when I looked at them, I realized that A. J. himself was about ready to board the airplane, since it was the Thursday before the 2011 Indy 500.

  • During my 18 years in sales and flight operations with Piper Aircraft, it was my good fortune to have met numerous “celebrities” from the fields of aviation, sports, politics and Hollywood. I enjoyed one on one time with John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart when they were purchasing new Piper airplanes. I flew with Dodger baseball players Rick Monday, Juan Marichal and Steve Yeager and shared meals with Yankee catcher Thurman Munson and Dave Kingman of the Mets. Barry Goldwater stopped by our Cheyenne demonstrator at the Paris Air Show and Bob Hoover did the same at Hanover.

    One of the most interesting was USAF General Bob Scott of “God Is My Co-pilot” fame. He was on the board of directors of a Phoenix company that was considering purchasing a Navajo and rode the right hand seat when I flew the sales demonstration flight. I was a bit nervous flying with such an accomplished aviator but he was so friendly he put me at ease immediately. When I asked him if he would like to fly awhile he deferred saying that only a couple hundred of his several thousand hours were in twin engine aircraft. He then went on to say that he had flown a F-4 the previous week at George AFB but did not feel that the in line engine design qualified it as a twin.

  • I ran in to Maj. Brian Shul last year in STL. I felt bad interrupting his lunch but he was very gracious and spoke with me for a few minutes about the speaking tour he was on. I would have loved to have spent more time with him and heard some of his stories!

  • Charlie Hilliard flew into Tulsa Jones Riverside field in the summer of 1980 when I was attending flight school at Spartan. I was working line service at the Piper dealer. Charlie was returning from an air show in one of the Christian Eagles. I remember chocking the tail wheel.
    I also remember a Citation stopping in one day with an older male pilot and one pretty young female passenger. They were waiting for another pretty young lady named “Rhiannon “ to show up. This was just a couple of years after Fleetwood Mac’s biggest album was released…Who knows, it might have been…

  • I met John Denver in 1984 when he flew into Dayton for a concert and I worked at Ohio Aviation where he parked. Later that evening with my “John Denver & The Muppets Christmas Albums”, took the wee ones aged 7 and almost 3 to meet him. Asked his pilot if he though he’d mind this intrusion…he said no he’ll enjoy it. The limo arrived, he hopped out (with his young kids also) and I apologized for bothering him, but Mom & I wanted to see if we could get the girls albums signed and he was elated ! We talked for half an hour as they corrected a fuel snafu…he was down to earth…just like talking to your neighbor over the fence. Too bad he wasn’t trained in proper fuel valve installation/selection and use. What a wasteful death.

    I met Patty Wagstaff in Georgia when I was crewing a friends airshow aircraft. Met Patty’s friend Hal Goddard who guided me to levels of being a pilot I had not thought of. He trained me well, and I learn every day I approach that aircraft I’m going to fly that he was correct.

    Met and talked extensively to Cliff Robertson at The Dayton Air Show as he marveled over our show aircraft. We were invited to his home in New York as long as we brought the aircraft ! Met and talked at length with the Commander of The British Air Force one year at The Toronto International Airshow. Met others, very quick…”Hi- bye”.

    I’m still reaching out when I fly…… to try to touch the face of God.

    • I was meeting my friend Lane Wallace, who used to write a column for Flying and later for Sport Aviation, at Grand Central Station in NYC. When we met that day, Lane said, “You’re not going to believe this…” Turns out as she was pushing open a door, the woman on the other side was pulling at the same door and it was Patty Wagstaff who she knew. I think part of Lane’s surprise was seeing someone “out of place” — Patty Wagstaff, not at an airshow or at Oshkosh, but in Grand Central Station as well as the millions of events that had to take place in order for these two women to be in the same place at the exact same moment.

  • I met several aviation luminaries during my years working for the EAA’s aeromedicsl advisory council, a favorite being Gordon Baxter, a fellow Texan and a delightful human being, and of course many hours spent with Paul Poberezny. In the ’80s, the Rochester (MN) pilot’s club hosted an annual airshow. One year, we had Bob Hoover as the headline act. I recall his having to wait for FAA permission to fly his routine in the Shrike because of a low ceiling. It was just above the limit when he finally took off. It was impressive to see him disappear into the clouds at the top each loop! His routine was a magnificent “how it should be done.” Later, in conversations with groups, he sometimes seemed rather distant or unengaged. Only now, as a person with impaired hearing, do I understand how isolating his severe hearing loss could be.

  • In the early 70’s, Wayne Newton came to Red Bluff in Harrah’s jet for a horse show at fairgrounds. I had the fuel service contract and gave him and 2 with him a ride there and back. Saw William Shatner go up the steps to the restaurant. Burt Rutan did a slide show for 7-8 homebuilders in a hotel room that I got to tag along to.
    In the mid-70’s, Bob Hope was at the FBO at Monterey, CA and said, “Hi, bird” to a minah bird. It said,”What’s your name?” Bob said, “Bing Crosby, you big dummy”
    In the late 70’s, gave a BFR to Ray Varney who got his licence from Orville Wright.
    I was Cal Worthington’s co-pilot in his Lear 24 and 35 from 1983 to 1992. Also ran the camera for his car commercials and filmed a few of his ‘Dog Spot’s. While at the Seattle dealership in July 1989 Buzz Aldrin was at the carrier Hornet for a 20th anniversary speech followed by a book signing at a book store. So Cal took the kids along as an educational opportunity and we went to the book store where we heard that Buzz had to get back to the airport for a flight to San Jose, CA. I nudged Cal, he said ‘OK’, I told Buzz he had a ride, and he continued signing for a lot longer. Out at the airport, a line person took a photo of me, Buzz, and Cal by the Lear. I called our film editor and he arranged for a camera crew and limo to meet Buzz at SJC.
    In the early 90’s, Jon Peters, Barb Streisand’s ex, chartered to Lear to Aspen for a weekend.
    In 2000, Archbishop Desmond Tutu made a speech at Chico State U and, since he had to be at another thing in Bakersfield the next morning, our company arranged to get him there in our Beech KingAir. It was just me, my wife (a pilot) as co-pilot, AB Tutu, and his wife on that trip. Western Flyer published an article about that trip.
    While hanging out at Del Monte Aviation at Monterey, CA during the AT&T Pebble Beach golf tournament, I was watching it on a big screen when Sergio Garcia came in and sat on one side of me and his parents on the other; I started to get up and he said, “No, stay, that’s OK”. I asked if that was his shot that hit the rocks on the 18th and bounced back up on the fairway earlier that day, but he hadn’t heard about that. Mark O’Meara and Tom Watson also came in.
    I got one of Sully’s books just after it came out and my wife and I were at a Christmas open stores event when this gent was leaving a store as we were entering. I hesitated a second but caught up to him; “You Sullenberger?” “Sure am” “Thought so, hadda be sure” “Got my book” “yea, read parts of it 3 times” Neither of us wanted to start a fan frenzy, so we did good-byes and caught up with our families.
    …And all this by a kid who did my first 18 years on a Minnesota farm with no plumbing, and grades 1 thru 6 in a one-room school, also with no plumbing.

  • Spent the day flying Charlton Heston around to several Special Forces Camps in the Delta of RVN. Just him and an escort. Great guy. He called my Mother when he got back to US to pass on my regards. It was just a last minute mission. I was actually off that day not supposed to fly, too many gunship hours, just walked into Ops when the mission came to pick up some VIP at Corps HQs and take him to visit SF camps. I grabbed the mission. Something to do. Quite a surprise when we picked him up.

  • Worked as a lineboy and later for Frontier Airlines in Rapid City. John Denver was my favorite. He was going to the Indian reservation but thunderstorms diverted him to Rapid City. Thunderstorms were approaching so he helped me tow his airplane to tie down. Nicest guy. His two cohorts stayed inside the fbo tying up our two telephone lines.

    Catherine Bach “Daisy Duke” came out to pick up her parents. Raining and her hair was plastered down to her back and no makeup. Still beautiful. Very nice person.

    Bobby Younkin used to fly the night mail in twin beechs and I would ride with him across the state. Very courteous and polite. Didn’t take chances like a lot of the mail pilots did.

    Doobie Brothers in a Convair and a DC3. Everyone looked sick. The DC3 copilot said the turbulence was so bad the airplane kept stalling. The next day they were late leaving as one musician missing. They were kind of ticked and said he was probably “shacked” up somewhere.

    Mel Tillis arrived by air and was picked up by his bus. Friendly and shook hands when approached.

    Evil Kneivel stopped for gas one afternoon in his Cessna 210. Both he and the airplane looked like they worked hard. Not a conversationalist but polite. No preflight to make sure I put the caps and left with a rolling intersection takeoff.

  • Was stuck in LAX with one day left on Reserve. There was not one 747 in the Western hemisphere that day. Ending a heated discussion with one of our more ridged crew schedulers by saying that my personnel file was pretty boring anyway; I stormed over to good old Reno Air looking to jump seat. The annual Flying Tiger Retired Pilot gathering was at the old Reno Hilton and I was joining my wife there. The First Officer did the welcome aboard thing and said to take seat 1C. My seatmate in 1B was the beautiful and gracious Lonnie Anderson. Thank you former Reno Air people. Cargo celebrities were Al Unser Sr.’s winning Indy car going ORD to LAX. Just sitting in that beautiful machine was scary. Dan Gurney’s butt kicking GT-40 that tore up the European GP cars for 5 years in a row. Unknown Formula 1 car that I almost got stuck in the seat one night. Long time back Hush Puppy shoes had a show winning Bassett hound on their TV ads. Feeling sorry for him I brought him up into the cockpit for some water. Our captain looked down and asked;” well Mr. Bassett; how do you like traveling on a CL-44″? Being a male Bassett he then lifted his leg and pee’d all over the rudder trim knob. I got to clean it up and he went back to his cage.

  • I came within arms-length of Bill Cosby at the Allentown, PA airport one evening many, many years ago after I flew with my flight instructor in for a business event. I was told he had a house in the area and flew in often in his jet (no, I do not know what type it was). I remember two things: Mr. Cosby was taller than he appeared on TV, and he had a African-American pilot. It was very unusual to see an African-American pilots in those days, I still remember what he looked like (also tall and professional looking).

  • For me, the aviation connection to celebrities were Mike Melvill and Sully. I purchased Sully’s book at EAA in 2010 and had him autograph it. (Book signings are not the best place for one’s personality to shine through—nice but rushed). I met Mike Melvill at my local airport in Magnolia, AR several years ago when he was refueling his Long-EZ as he was flying cross country. He was very friendly and we chatted briefly about his SpaceShipOne flights before he had to be one his way. One “near-miss” I had was with former President Bill Clinton. My wife and I had flown up to Hot Springs, AR for dinner and we’re pointed to a large private jet taxiing out for takeoff. Seems we had just missed meeting the President.

  • Our little airport is situated right next to a QVC studio. Over the years a lot of celebrities have passed through our doors…Martha Stewart(always nice to me but apparently not to the flight crews), Katy Perry(super kind), Marie Osmond(a sweetheart), Rachel Ray(“thank you” is not in her vocabulary), Robert DeNiro(has more security that the president), Paul Ryan, Cliff Lee, Anthony Robbins, Mr. Wonderful, Jon Bon Jovi … I’m sure there are more. Some are more down to earth than 90% of the population, others not so much.

  • During a rain squall at an airshow in the CA Desert in 1971, I was sheltering under the wing of a P-51 which had flown in unexpectedly. An oddly famioliar voice rumbled next to mke, but I couldn’t see the speaker’s face. The squall passed, we all crawled out and stood up…and the guy next to me didn’t stop standing up until he’d reached his full height of six feet seven inches. It was James Arness, and he was a warm, personable, deluightful guy, not the least bit impressed with himself. A lovely moment.

  • 1963 I was a member of the Lane Aviation Flying Club, CMH Columbus, OH; FosTer Lane was often seen, always said good morning etc.
    Late 1960, OSU airport Columbus, OH Richard Collins walked to the vending machine I was standding near, purchased a softdrink. I commented on his ability to write so much each month. He answered just have to keep at it. I think he was flying the C 172.

  • Early Nineties, during a “dark period” of my so-called career in aviation (when I’ve got about 4 jobs just to make ends meet), I’ve got the solo night watch at an FBO at ABQ. Only one corporate jet is expected in around midnight, but it happens to be hauling Steve Tyler of Aerosmith fame. On break, I rush home and grab my Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits LP (the red album) and scoot back to work. So after everyone departs for the night, the Citation taxis up and I’m out there to direct it in and chock it. As the blowers whine down, the door opens and Tyler pops out, all amped-up and anticipating to be greeted by a wave of fans. As he looks around excitedly, he gets only me… “Hey, Steve – welcome to Albuquerque – can you sign my album? Thanks.” As I turn around to go fetch the fuel truck, Little Stevie is just sort of wandering around the ramp, somewhat in shock that there was no one there to meet him. First of all, this was during a real down time for Aerosmith, before the resurgence, but second of all, it’s friggin’ Albuquerque! Please…

  • Departing DCA around the mid-90s in our TBM 700 (N700PW SN 29), I switched to departure and the controllers acknowledgement was “That you Buffett?” That’s as close as I got to a famous person on the flightline or anywhere else for that matter.

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