In the wake of Harrison Ford’s (thankfully minor) plane crash yesterday in Santa Monica, CA, we dug back into the Playboy Interview archives for this excerpt from Michael Fleming’s 2002 piece, in which the actor talks about his long-time love of flying, pushing the envelope and previous close calls.
You have two great passions: motorcycles and airplanes. What’s the appeal of piloting your own plane?
It’s a combination of freedom and responsibility. It’s anonymity. I’m not Harrison Ford, I’m November 1128 Sierra. That has its appeal. There is also an aesthetic appeal to flying, in the places you see and the way you see them. I fly cross-country at least four times a year. I take my airplanes from Wyoming out here, and then back again. My first flight was seven years ago, and I get 225, 250 hours a year, which is not much less than many commercial or corporate pilots. And I like to train. I have different kinds of airplanes that demand different skill sets, different types of finesse.
Which would be your favorite?
That would be like asking which is your favorite child. I have four kids. Do I have a favorite? No. They are all different.
When did you first become interested in flying?
Back in college in 1962, I took flying lessons. But the $13 or $15 an hour for the rental of a plane and instructor was killing me, so I had to give it up. I didn’t really get a chance to think about it again until years later. I was flying on Gulfstreams, sitting up front and watching what the pilots were doing and I be came intrigued by it again. After a while, I got a Gulfstream of my own, and I asked one of my pilots to go back and get his instructor’s license and teach me. I remember on one of my first solo flights, my flight instructor got out of the air plane and was standing on the side of the runway. I went around the pattern, came back in for the approach. The approach was good, then I did that terrible thing you can do with the Cessna 206. I let the nosewheel bounce. And boy, I went porpoising down the runway like nothing I’d ever seen. I went sideways, over the grass, before I got the power to go around. It was ugly.
Have you had any other close calls?
I’ve had a couple of incidents that have been classified as incidents and for which I was not blamed by either an insurance company or a federal agency. They were more misadventures of a mechanical or weather-induced type. I got caught in a wind shear one time when I was landing. That was very dramatic and resulted in about $9000 damage to a Beechcraft Commander, which is chump change, like scraping your fender. But it was a very harried and troubling couple of minutes. With my first helicopter, I had an issue with fuel control once, which resulted in substantial damage to the helicopter prop but no injuries to the two souls aboard. So that ended well. You know, shit happens.
Is there a kind of plane that you’re itching to pilot?
I’ve had a chance to fly everything from an F-16 to a huge Russian biplane. One of the virtues of celebrity is these opportunities that come along every once in a while to do things like that.
What did you do in the F-16?
I went with the Thunderbirds, got to go nine gs in a tight inside turn. I got to fly the thing for 20 minutes.
Was that exhilarating, or just scary?
It was never scary. It was a real experience. A great, intense experience.