At 72 years old, it seemed a bit of a stretch that this accomplished actor would want to make a cross country flight into a strange place with people he didn’t know. But in September of 2002 that’s precisely what he did.
Naturally, I was a bit surprised when he called me, even though I had already talked with “his people” about it. Someone had called earlier asking about his wanting to fly a paramotor into a charity event at a paintball field. At first they asked me about him flying “into Chicago” to which I said, “uh, yeah, probably not.” When they offered details, and it turned out to be wide open field, things changed. I asked instructor Nick Scholtes if he would help and he agreed.
Standing on the flight deck of “my” 737 a half-hour before departure I got the call. “Hello, is this Jeff?” It sounded familiar but still took me a second. “Yes” I replied. “This is William Shatner.” I’ll admit to being a bit surprised, all I could muster was “Well fancy meeting you here!” To which he replied “fancy meeting you here!”
And so the gelling of plans began. Eventually we did the paramotor flight. He also flew my helicopter (he performed quite admirably at that) to the practice field and we got to chat ever so briefly about flying. He was not arrogant in any way or aloof. How could he be? He was subjecting himself to a sport that we all know is most unforgiving of any bafoonery and then going to go crawl around playing paintball for 6 hours. Gotta hand it to the guy!
The December 2002 Powered Sport Flying magazine had a more complete story with pictures of the flight. Late August, 2002 the call came in: William Shatner was looking for help getting a PPG flight into a charity event that he would be the main draw. His original limited training came from Francesco DeSantis and Greg Andersen in California but he hadn’t flown in some time. This would be an interesting proposition. Nick Scholtes agreed to help me with the task.
Mr. Shatner was completely up front about his skills and expectations. He explained that it had been a while since he’d flown, that he only had 12 flights and that few of those wound up on his feet. But that is why he contacted us in the first place.
On Saturday morning the winds were fickle. Nick flew over to where we were setting up to get us to move further from a neighbor with horses. He landed into a steady 6 mph breeze and then I launched Mr. Shatner’s gear to test the air and reposition it (beats carrying!). By the time I landed in the new location, the winds had switched 180 degrees…Nick couldn’t get airborne with the now-tailwind.
When Bill Shatner arrived we were considering abandoning the effort but time allowed one try and he was willing. At the third location in the hay field the wind finally cooperated and picked up to 3 mph out of the NE.
With Nick on the radio, we tugged, the wing came up straight and he throttled up. The RDM kicked in forcefully and he bound into the air. A slight swing to the left barely missed our cameraman who dove out of the way.
He listened well to instructions and handled the flying well…we enjoyed a peaceful 35 minute flight over to the park.
Thanks to Jim Jackson of ParaliteUSA for providing the motor.