Harrison Ford began flight training in the 1960s and bought his first plane — a used Gulfstream II — in the mid '90s. Today he is an accomplished pilot, chairman of the Young Eagles program of the Experimental Aircraft Association, a recipient of the Legends Aviation Legacy Award from Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, and an honorary board member of the humanitarian aviation organization Wings of Hope. Ford even is credited with rescuing a dehydrated and disoriented hiker in his helicopter after she was stranded on Table Mountain Trail in Wyoming.
But for all his accolades, Ford, now 74, has something a checkered relationship with aviation — marked most recently with a Federal Aviation Association investigation. On Monday, Ford flew his private plane over a jet airliner on the ground at a Southern California airport while attempting to land. He was told by air traffic control to take a runway at Orange County's John Wayne Airport but instead landed on a parallel taxiway, passing over a Boeing 737 that was carrying 110 civilian passengers and six crew members. No one was injured during the incident.
According to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor, Ford heard and read back the correct landing instructions during his flight. However, he later asked air traffic controllers, "Was that airliner meant to be underneath me?" according to NBC News, which first reported the incident. This mishap launched a full-on FAA investigation, which could result in consequences for Ford ranging from a simple warning letter to a full suspension of his pilot's license.
In a January 2016 cover story for Men’s Journal, Ford waxed poetic on the accountability and power that comes with piloting:
"I love the machinery," Ford says. "I love the process. I love the ritual — there's a protocol to follow that keeps you safe, the checklists and so on. There's a combination of freedom and responsibility, especially when you start carrying passengers."
He also talked at length about his 2015 crash-landing on a golf course in Santa Monica caused by a loose engine part that left Ford with a broken ankle and pelvis.
"When the engine quit, my training had prepared me to deal with it in a way," Ford says regarding his 2015 crash. "I really didn't get scared. I just got busy. I knew what I was going to do, and I knew how to do it. The mantra aviators carry around in our heads is: Fly the airplane, first thing. Fly the airplane — even if it doesn't have an engine, fly. Don't give up that ship, matey. And even though I don't remember the details of it, I guess I was able to do that, because the way I landed, the wings were level. I didn't stall it. I'm here."
He has had other, more minor, incidents: In 2000 Ford's plane "departed" a runway in Lincoln, Nebraska, due to a gust of wind, according records from AirSafe.com. The year prior, he crash-landed a helicopter during a training flight near Los Angeles, according to the AP. "Although the helicopter rolled over on its left side, neither Ford nor the instructor were injured," AirSafe.com says in its records.
According to the most recent records, Ford just passed a pilot's medical exam last month. The investigation surrounding the botched landing on Monday may take longer than normal to wrap up due to a backlog in FAA investigations and the situation’s low priority since the situation does not pose “an immediate danger” by FAA standards.