Prince Harry sits in the cockpit of a Spitfire aircraft during a visit to the Boultbee Flight Academy to launch a scholarship for wounded ex-service personnel at Goodwood Aerodrome on February 15, 2014.
Photo: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
Quick, think of five facts about Prince Harry. Did “he’s a pilot” make your list? I’m going to assume that for many of you, it did not, as these are the top two “breakout” Google search terms around the royal’s name today:
Nevertheless, Prince Harry is one of four people being inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation at an awards ceremony hosted by John Travolta in Beverly Hills on January 19.
Prince Harry is, in fact, a pilot. Though this point got lost amid chatter about his fisticuffs with Prince William and his frostbitten “todger,” a good chunk of his tell-all memoir, Spare, is devoted to his British military training and two tours of Afghanistan as a forward air controller and an Apache helicopter pilot (as you may recall, he controversially claimed that he killed 25 Taliban fighters during his service). A press release about the event notes that Harry is also “creator of the Invictus Games for wounded service members and veterans around the world.”
Yet the announcement that Harry would be awarded for his contributions to aviation sparked outrage on social media and in the U.K. tabloids. Here’s how the news was framed in The Mirror:
In The Express:
And in the Daily Mail:
It’s no surprise that people are upset about Harry receiving this honor, because that’s the reaction to pretty much anything he does. And calling a 39-year-old best known for fleeing Britain’s royal family a “living legend” of the skies sounds pretty silly. But cherry-picking the names of the first astronauts from the list of previous honorees gives an inaccurate picture of what this award is about.
The Living Legends of Aviation Awards are produced by the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, a nonprofit whose mission is to spark children’s interest in aviation. The press release says the awards are meant to highlight people who have made various contributions to the field, including “pilots who have become celebrities and celebrities who have become pilots.” Previous honorees include William Shatner, Angelina Jolie, Kenny G, Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, and John Travolta. In 2019, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was presented with the Jeff Bezos Freedom’s Wings Award for “advancing the principles of freedom in business and his personal endeavors.” This year, his fiancée, Lauren Sanchez, is being honored for founding an aerial film-and-production company and planning to take part in an all-female Blue Origin space flight later this year.
It’s unclear if Harry will even show up to accept his award in person. But no one should be upset about him stealing the honor from a more deserving celebrity pilot … except maybe Michael Dorn, a pilot who played Starfleet’s first Klingon officer on Star Trek, who seems overdue for one of these awards.