Secret lives: John Travolta the pilot in uniform

It could have been that iconic chin gracing the back cover of a glossy magazine – John Travolta the pilot in uniform. Or was it his bomber jacket? Maybe the penny dropped when you noticed the Mustang P-52 in the background. But at some point it might have dawned on you that John Travolta has dabbled in aviation, and he’s no stranger to arranging more than a few dates between machine and man, wearing a pilot’s uniform.

The New Jersey star who found fame in Saturday Night Fever earned a private pilot’s licence back in 1976. He won his 747 wings in 2002 and has since been in charge of numerous commercial jets. But don’t go thinking he moonlights as a commercial pilot. Travolta’s Boeing 707 was first gutted and fitted out with beds, leather sofas, kitchen, showers, and private cabins.
John’s Jumbo has since been retired and now sits in the garden “so my kids can enjoy it”. Not your average garden swing-set, you might say, but Travolta’s garden is not your average shrubbery and lawn. His family home in Jumbolair Aviation estates, a private aviation community nestled alongside Florida’s Greystone airport, has a taxiway leading right up to his house.

What made Travolta become a pilot?

John Travolta is not your average pilot. In a career that typically involves getting to grips with light aircraft, followed by commercial training, he not only sustains flying as a hobby – a big difference – but he also holds 11 jet type ratings. That means he’s qualified to fly 11 types of aircraft, including commercial and small military jets. John Travolta was considered for the role of Maverick in Top Gun, (he may have even been able to fly the jets without a stunt) but apparently his agent’s asking price for him was sky-high.
Travolta once commented that his acting funded his aviation hobby (not many careers would!) but where did the urge to fly come from? “When you fly you are responsible for a machine that’s going through the air at 600mph,” beamed the actor. “The sensation is thrilling and there is a beauty and an art to it.”

Some of John Travolta’s notable piloting gigs

Travolta once flew fellow Hollywood legend, Marlon Brando, from Mexico City to Los Angeles. In his younger years, he also flew Mohammad Ali on a private citation jet. And we love this one: in pilot’s uniform or otherwise, he had a ‘date’ with Barbara Streisand and her husband, flying them to the Caribbean for their honeymoon. What a man. Forest Whittaker was lucky enough to have been piloted by him across the USA too.
And, most movingly, in the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010, he flew medical supplies out there to help those in need.

The Brits made me do it

Interestingly, Mr Grease Lightning attributes his love of planes to the British, not without a respectable aviation tradition it should be said (“Aviation supremacy,” he called it). “The Brits have a real love like me for aviation and transportation. It’s terrific.”
We’d like to know about more famous figures with second lives in uniform. Know any? Please tell us!