High Flyer: John Travolta
John Travolta’s life-long dream was to park a jet outside his front door. A 40-year movie career has helped make his dream come true, says George Hopkin, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop telling the world about his passion for aviation.
John Travolta is a bona fide living legend. Forget his incredible movie career, with highlights including Saturday Night Fever (he remains the fourth youngest Academy Award nominee for that one), Grease and Pulp Fiction.
And certainly forget infamous misfires like Wild Hogs, Battlefield Earth (which earned him a Razzie Award for Worst Actor) and Lucky Numbers (which helped secure him that Razzie in the same year; 2000 was something of a low for Travolta).
Disregard, even, his humanitarian work, which saw him join forces with fellow celebrities and Scientologist Volunteer Ministers to come to the aid of those affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
John Travolta is a living legend because the aviation industry’s highest profile innovators, record breakers and entrepreneurs say the actor has what it takes to make it into the hallowed ranks of the Living Legends of Aviation.
The annual award – owned and operated by non-profit Kiddie Hawk Air Academy – honours achievements in the aviation industry and has welcomed 89 legends as of 2015. A glitzy ceremony has been held each year at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles since 2007, the same year Travolta won the Official Ambassador of Aviation Award.
Travolta shares the Living Legend accolade with business heavyweights such as Sir Richard Branson, Paul Allen and Elon Musk; fellow actors including Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell; as well as astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who earned an extra special Out–Of-This-World Landing & Takeoff Award.
And it’s easy to see why Travolta was a natural choice for his Official Ambassador award – he has been brand representative for Bombardier’s Learjet, Challenger and Global jets since 2011 and has served as “ambassador-at-large” for Qantas since 2002; the actor famously keeps his own Qantas Boeing 707 directly outside his Florida home.
Even his consumer product promotion deals have aviation connections – for more than 10 years he has acted as brand ambassador for Swiss watchmaker Breitling, a company that has developed watches for aviators and astronauts since the 1940s.
“I couldn’t be more authentic about my passion,” Travolta told Airport Journals, the publication that created the Living Legends of Aviation awards to mark the second century of aviation. “It’s always allowed me distraction from the woes of life. I’ve used aviation as a beautiful expansion of the pleasures of my life. There’s not a thing about it, really, that I don’t enjoy. And I really want others to enjoy it.”
Travolta became a licensed pilot at the age of just 23 and by the time he purchased a Bombardier Challenger 601 in 2011 he already had a total of 11 aircraft in his own personal fleet.
Today he is qualified to captain the Gulfstream, Lear 24, Hawker 1A, Citation I and II, Canadair Tebuan and de Havilland Vampire jets and serve as first officer on Boeing’s 707 and 747.
Travolta’s life-long love of aviation can be traced back to his childhood in Englewood, New Jersey.
“Because of the path of LaGuardia Airport, the planes were about 2,000 feet by the time they got to my house,” he says.
“I’d hear one coming, the drone of the big reciprocal engines – ’brooooooom.’ I’d see it come out from a corner of the sky, and then I would sit and watch.
“Sometimes, I could make out the insignia of the airlines – TWA, Eastern, American or United. It was beautiful to watch them come in sight and go out of sight. A lot of Constellations left LaGuardia; 6s and 7s were popular, too. It was the height of the large propeller airliner days, and it was fascinating.”
A youthful John Travolta was also a voracious reader, spurred on by his parents who believed that books could be a true inspiration for their children.
“They liked that I loved aviation, so they let me have any book that I wanted on that subject,” recalls Travolta fondly. One favourite was Gordon’s Jet Flight, by Naomi J. Glasson, a book that made a big impression on the youngster.
“I read this every day, back and forth. You never know what’s going to inspire a dream or what you’ll decide when you’re eight years old. Obviously, I decided to have a 707 in the backyard.”
And what a backyard it is. Travolta’s home, located on Jumbolair Aviation Estates in Ocala, Florida, is situated on Greystone Airport. This exclusive aviation community allows homeowners to land their planes and taxi up to their homes. Travolta was one of the first to move to the estates and is reported to have had a taxiway extended so he could get his aircraft that little bit closer to his front door.
“We designed the house for the jets and to have at our access [to] the world at a moment’s notice, and we succeeded at that,” Travolta told Australia’s Today show.
“Now I’ve made a profession out of flying in addition to acting, and at my age I’m glad I did – because it’s something to do when you’re not working.”
As an actress and former model, Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston is no stranger to the jet set life, but even she knows her husband deserves the self-proclaimed title of “ultimate eccentric”.
“It was always John’s dream to have planes in his front yard, to practically be able to pull up to the house,” Preston told US magazine Architectural Digest. “So that when you wanted to go to dinner, all you’d have to do was step out the door, get on the plane and whisk off.”