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Kelly Brothers Inspire at NBAA-BACE Session Honoring Aviation Heroes

Oct. 11, 2017

The second day of NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) featured a series of heroes and legends. The General Session dais included MedAire founder Joan Sullivan Garrett, hero-pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III and twin brother astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, all of whom shared compelling stories about their successful careers. NBAA also recognized the general aviation community for providing relief following several major natural disasters during 2017.

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen presented the association’s 2017 Meritorious Service to Aviation Award to Garrett, a pioneer in critical-care medical response to provide lifesaving products and services for both the aviation and maritime sectors. Since being launched in 1985, the company has received upwards of one million medical distress calls, and the responses that MedAire has provided have helped save countless lives.

In accepting the award, Garrett said, “It has been an incredible ride, but you can’t do it by yourself. There are too many names to mention. But I know you know who you are, and I thank you.”

Bolen also awarded its 2017 Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership, not to a single individual but to all of the everyday heroes in the general aviation community who flew critical relief missions to areas affected by hurricanes and earthquakes in 2017.

“Business aviation’s value has always been demonstrated through its critical role in supporting humanitarian endeavors,” Bolen said. “This community is filled with leaders who want to help their fellow citizens, and that desire has been evidenced through the work done to help those impacted by these terrible storms.”

Sullenberger, the pilot who in 2009 successfully landed a crippled airliner on New York City’s Hudson River and has been a general aviation pilot for a half century, received NBAA’s American Spirit Award at the session. In accepting the award, he noted, “Two things about flight made me feel special – mastery and freedom. But in order to exercise those two things, we must have equitable access [to airports and airspace]. That’s why this fight against ATC privatization is so important.”

Sullenberger added that he feels compelled to continue to use this worldwide acclaim for good. “I want to let you know that my mission continues. And I hope that is a mission you also feel, because each of us must be informed and engaged and act upon that knowledge. It is difficult to know what the future will bring, but one thing I can tell you: as a temporary spokesperson for our profession, I’m not done yet.”

Naval aviators and astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, who keynoted the session, regaled the audience with numerous tales of their exploits as pilots and spacefarers, sharing lessons that they learned along the way.

The two brothers shared numerous enthralling anecdotes, including several that had particular appeal to their aviation audience, including:

  • Both were not good students early on, but once motivated, they aimed high by working hard to become astronauts.
  • They also struggled initially as naval aviators, so much so that their military superiors asked them, “Are you sure flying is for you?”
  • Mark recounted his first combat mission over Iraq in 1991, during which he had to pilot his A-6 aircraft through anti-aircraft fire to reach its target.

Perhaps the most heartfelt moment was when Mark recounted the day his wife, former congressional representative Gabby Giffords, was shot and mistakenly reported dead by cable new outlets, which 30 minutes later retracted the erroneous report.

However, the essential message of the Kellys’ tag-team presentation was that taking on difficult challenges can be rewarding. Citing President John F. Kennedy’s explanation of why the United States launched a program to put men on the moon – “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” – Scott Kelly asserted that “continuing to do the hard things is the best gift we can continue to give out children and grandchildren.”

Scott Kelly explained the attributes necessary to accomplish hard things:

  • Have a goal and a plan
  • Take risks and be willing to make mistakes – and sometimes fail
  • Focus on things you can control and ignore what you can’t
  • Test the status quo and work as a team

If people adopt this attitude, the Kellys said, the sky is not the limit.

For more information:

NBAA TV: NBAA Honors Aviation Heroes Who Flew Humanitarian Relief

NBAA TV: Medical Response Pioneer Joan Sullivan Garrett Honored With Meritorious Service Award

NBAA to Honor Joan Sullivan Garrett, Preston Henne With Association’s Highest Awards