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Mon, Jan 15, 2024

'Living Legends' Heavily Criticized For Pending Award to Prince Harry

Along With An Award For Jeff Bezos' Fiancee, LLOA's Credibility Seems To Be Declining

The Annual 'Living Legend of Aviation dinner takes place later this week and at least one recent announcement is causing quite a fuss... namely that of pronouncing former military helicopter pilot and once-upon-a-time royal heir, Price Harry, The Duke of Sussex, as an aviation 'legend.' 

This has not gone down well with a number of aviation luminaries in the UK, and elsewhere, and has been further complicated by a new award that is being given to Blue Origin/Amazon's Jeff Bezos' fiancee, a helicopter pilot and aviation business owner that most of us may never have heard much about if not for her relationship with the Amazon Founder and the world’s third richest man. 

The Annual 'Living Legends' event, usually held in Southern California after the first of the year, is one that has attracted a fair amount of criticism over the years... not for the number of justified 'Legend' awards given to several truly substantive folks who have moved aviation forward... but for the many other awards given to several well-to-do folks who have achieved a fair amount of fame while also having had something to do with aviation... while sometimes that involvement was, at best, minimal. Described by many as a 'Gathering of Egos', there is no doubt that the initial effort was meant to be a positive step for aviation.... but over the years, the event has been extensively criticized for recognizing fame, and financial wherewithal, over actual achievement. 

Supposedly a fund-raiser for empowering young people with the wonders of aviation, though the IRS Form 990s don't give a lot of detail as to how these funds are actually spent (and the listed travel budgets seem pretty heavy duty), the annual event has served as something of a feel-good gathering for aviation's movers and shakers... especially for the Hollywood crowd that possess a Pilot's License or some other aviation related connection. While the group that organizes this event has properly honored Bob Hoover, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Sean Tucker, and others of their esteemed ilk, those august ranks have otherwise been thinned by a stunning number of actors, musicians, politicians, business people (not always associated with aviation or having heretofore accomplished much) and others whose true nature as aviation legends remain, well, questionable. 

Over the years, the event drew more and more criticism, and a bit of derision, but 2024 appears to have been the year that LLOA shot itself in the foot. The 21st Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards, to be held on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024, was supposed to 'honor those who have made significant contributions to aviation/aerospace.' They have named Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, as one of those to be so recognized, describing him as... "A British Army veteran and pilot with ten years military service, flying training missions in the US, UK and Australia, as well as combat missions in Afghanistan saving the lives of allied forces and countless civilians, and creator of the Invictus Games for wounded service members and veterans around the world."

Another award that seems more politically questionable, or potentially financial, is being given to... 'Lauren Sánchez (who) will receive the "Elling Halvorson Vertical Flight Hall of Fame Award." Lauren is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and anchor whose passion for aviation led to her founding of Black Ops Aviation; one of the first female owned aerial film and production companies with a focus across TV and film. Lauren is also a dedicated philanthropist, serving as Vice Chair of the Bezos Earth Fund in addition to being deeply involved in the Day 1 Families Fund, which helps U.S. homeless families, and the Bezos Academy, which provides tuition-free preschool education in underserved communities.'

The sponsoring organization describes the Living Legends of Aviation as, "...remarkable people of extraordinary accomplishment in aviation/aerospace; they include entrepreneurs, innovators, industry leaders, astronauts, record breakers, pilots who have become celebrities and celebrities who have become pilots. More than 100 men and women from across the world are among their ranks." 

Uh... but, Prince Harry?

The announcement has created a bit of a firestorm and may actually damage the program irreparably... already a 'Change.Org' petition has been created, with nearly 10,000 signatures gathered within a few days, calling upon LLOA to retract the Prince's nomination. The party promoting the petition has asked, "It has been asked by several people about the validity of the honor being bestowed on Prince Harry. Several have wondered if the award has been bought. This would bring up the concern regarding the Living Legends of Aviation truly being a non-profit organization with 503c status. Should this be investigated?"

A commenter on the Change site protested, "This award comes from an organization based at a tiny airport in Centennial CO. There's no prestige to it, it's just typical fat cats with private jets who love giving each other plaques."

Media reporting also notes that Retired Army Colonel Richard Kemp, who was Britain’s commander in Afghanistan in 2003, called the award, ‘Celebrities massaging each other’s egos.’

Admiral Lord Alan West, Britain’s former Chief of Naval Staff, told UK Media that the Former Royal, “is not a living legend of aviation.” He added that, “It makes the whole thing seem a bit of a nonsense if they’re willing to pick someone like Prince Harry... He didn’t carry off any great exciting feat of amazing flying skill while flying for the army. They’re just trying to get publicity. They know it will cause a stir. I find the whole thing really rather pathetic.”

There is quite of similar sentiment to be found on social media... including those areas frequented by aviators... 

Facebook comments from the aviation community included, "Congratulations to all of my friends who have received this award in the past by truly earning it, because from this time forward it is nothing more than a joke. I am sorry that they have ruined what it was intended to represent."

Another noted, "And just like that, many in the aviation community wonder “what were they thinking?!” How does this stack up with Bob Hoover, Bill Anders, Buzz Aldrin, Bud Anderson, Sean Tucker, and all those who spent lifetimes promoting aviation and airmanship?"

And yet another surmised, "Maybe they should rebrand as 'Celebrities Remotely Associated with Pilots'?"

The overall effect on aviation, along with the general public's perception of our industry, is not a positive one.

More info to follow... 

FMI: www.LivingLegendsOfAviation.org, www.change.org/p/request-living-legends-of-aviation-to-reconsider-award-for-prince-harry?

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