"Aviation captured my imagination when I was very young," Ford said. "When I was growing up, there was no television. There was radio, and one of the shows that I used to listen to was ´Sky King.´ I really enjoyed it. My dad was in advertising, and one of his accounts was that show. I got a chance to meet Sky King."
His interest in aviation continued. After graduating from high school in 1960, Ford attended Ripon College, in Wisconsin.
"While I was in college, I scraped together enough money to take maybe five or six lessons, in a TriPacer," he said.
The lessons were taken at Wild Rose Idlewild Airport in Wild Rose, Wis.
"The $ 11 an hour for a pilot instructor in an airplane was more than I could bear at the time," he said. "I had to give it up."
During his last year at Ripon, Ford got involved in theater, which led to a move to California, and eventually his first un-credited film appearance in "Dead Heat on a Merry Go Round" (1966). That led to his role as hot-rodder Bob Falfa in George Lucas´ huge hit, "American Graffiti" (1973). Between roles, Ford made extra money as a carpenter.
In 1977, after appearing in a dozen films, he starred in Lucas´ blockbuster, "Star Wars," as Han Solo. After appearing in several more movies, including "Hanover Street," his first romantic lead, in which he played a pilot, Ford returned to the role of Han Solo, in "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980), which was immediately followed by another smash hit, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). After his first time on the big screen as Indiana Jones, Ford turned back to sci-fi, with another hit, "Blade Runner" (1982).
Throughout the 1980s, Ford vehicles included "Return of the Jedi," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," "Witness" (which brought him a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role as John Book), "The Mosquito Coast," "Frantic," "Working Girl" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." He started off the 1990s with "Presumed Innocent," and continued with "Regarding Henry," "Patriot Games" (his first of two movies in which he played CIA agent Jack Ryan), "The Fugitive," "Clear and Present Danger" and "Sabrina," for which he received a Golden Globe nomination.
In the mid-1990s, Ford, who had already developed a passion for motorcycles, was reminded of his earlier interest in aviation. While riding around with pilot Sydney Pollack, the director of "Sabrina," in his Lear 55 and 60, and while relaxing in the backseat of various Gulfstreams, Ford came to a realization.
"Last night at dinner, Steve Fossett mentioned that he got an airplane for business and he realized, after a period of time, that the guys in front were having more fun than he was; that´s exactly the feeling I had," Ford said. "So I went up and started watching what they were doing and it rekindled my interest in doing it myself. I wasn´t sure, at the age of 54, or 55, that I still had the capacity to learn something that I saw as very complicated and difficult; I´ve never been a great student. But my passion for the experience went a long way to help me focus on learning to fly."
He said it helped that he had a "patient instructor." After buying a used Gulfstream II, of which the interior would be refurbished and the avionics updated, Ford "deputized" one of his pilots, Terry Bender, telling him it was a condition of employment to teach him to fly. They started out flying a Cessna 182 out of Jackson Hole, Wyo.
"My two training environments were Jackson and Teterboro, New Jersey," Ford said. "There cannot be two more different environments to fly in. It was my good luck to learn in that kind of environment, because it taught me a great deal more. It was a ´compressed education,´ especially at Teterboro."
Ford went from a Cessna 182 to a Cessna 206, in which he got his license. He remembers his solo vividly.
"I remember it very well, because I scared Terry to death," he said. "I was in a 206, and landing a 206, you bounce on that nose wheel, and you go porpoising down; I got sideways over the grass. It was OK, but I still feel sorry for him."
Ford says he´s only been flying for about 10 years, but that it´s changed his life.
"The addiction grows rapidly," he said.
He gives his opinion as to why people become so enamored with aviation.
"I think, as much as anything else, it´s discovering the third dimension," he said. "Those of us who are bound to the Earth by gravity—and lack of an airplane—don´t really see the world the way a pilot does. There´s so much beauty in flight. I think that´s a very important part of it."
Ford has said that part of the appeal of flying his own plane, beyond the beauty of flight, is "anonymity." In an interview with Playboy in July 2002, he said that while flying, he was no longer Harrison Ford; he became "November 1128 Sierra." He said that beyond that cloak of anonymity, the appeal is also "freedom and responsibility." But when it comes to flying, one word stands out the most.
"It would have to be responsibility," he said. "For the safety of the passengers, for being a good neighbor, taking care of your airplane, taking care of yourself, being fit for flight. All of those things are very important."
Ford, who once traveled extensively in his former Gulfstream IVSP, arrived at Oshkosh in his Cessna Citation CJ3 jet. That aircraft recently replaced his Pilatus PC-12 turboprop. Although he says the CJ3 is the "most exciting" airplane he´s ever flown, he has only good to say about the PC-12.
"It´s a wonderful airplane," he said. "I love it, but it was my ´traveling machine,´ and I needed to go a little faster. I went over to Europe two or three times and back, and it was always a great adventure and a great deal of fun. It´s just that it was eating up a lot of time."
Although the CJ3 may be the most exciting airplane he´s ever flown, Ford has room in his heart—and his hangar—for a variety of aircraft. He says he has "a nicely rounded stable."
"I have more airplanes than it´s fair for anybody to have," he says with a grin. That stable includes an Aviat Husky A-1B two-seat taildragger, a Beech Bonanza B36T3 and a Cessna Grand Caravan. But that´s not all. When asked by a Young Eagle what his favorite "aircraft sound" was, he quickly answered. "I love the sound of a round engine," he said. "My de Havilland Beaver has a Pratt & Whitney 985. It´s a beautiful sound."
Ford, who wrapped up "Firewall" this spring and is now filming "Godspeed," also recently acquired a 1929 Waco Taperwing. He said he´s always wanted an open-cockpit aircraft.
"I´d always wanted to fly that kind of airplane," he said. "I never really saw the one I wanted until I saw this airplane. I´ve had it for about five months, four months of which I´ve been making a movie, so I´ve had no chance to fly it."
Shortly after the release of "Air Force One," Ford became interested in rotary wing. That desire developed while he was in Hawaii, playing Quinn Harris, a de Havilland Beaver pilot, in "Six Days, Seven Nights" (released in 1998).
"I was being picked up every day in a Bell Jet Ranger, to fly to beautiful places, to be dropped off on the top of a mountain. After the second or third day, I got the fellow that was flying me to put duals in; by the time I left Hawaii, I had 24 hours in it," he grinned. "I came back here and finished up my rotorcraft license. I really enjoy flying helicopters."
He keeps his Bell 407 helicopter and other aircraft at Santa Monica Airport.
"I spend a lot of time in Los Angeles," he said. "I have two kids in school there."
Just like he likes a variety of aircraft, Ford loves flying in different environments.
"Every flight is different," he said. "The challenge is different in every kind of environment. I love flying in the mountains; I love flying on little back country strips. That sort of thing is challenging and rewarding."
A few years ago, the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation honored Ford for combining his skills as a pilot with his commitment to conservation. In addition to flying environmental reconnaissance missions in his helicopter, Ford has also volunteered his services flying search and rescue near his 800-acre ranch in Jackson Hole, and has rescued stranded hikers on two different occasions.