Meeting John Travolta (with Chuck Yeager) at Kittyhawk, NC on December 17, 2003, 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight

August 10th, 2014

I first interacted with John Travolta (JT) on Urban Cowboy while I was in my last year at university- long story how I became a day player which ended up on the cutting room floor. He was eyeing me but clearly he wasn’t the pilot for me.

Because I thought my gaydar was working, I was surprised that he later wooed and married Kelly Preston. Very romantic I heard – flew her to Paris, etc. At the time, I thought – would be dreamy if someone with whom I was in love flew me to Paris.

Many years later, I met John Travolta. Chuck Yeager and I were at Kittyhawk, North Carolina on December 17, 2003,  for the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight. It was a big, big event.

We had squeezed into the VIP lounge waiting for the re-enactment of the 1st flight with a copy of the Wright Flyer, which cost a ridiculous $1 million to make.

It was raining. Hard. When it would lighten up, we would go on the roof to see some fly-bys – then back inside.

The Secretary of the Air Force was inside and wanted to leave. Many, many Air Force Generals, colonels, and other personnel were there and unhappy they would miss the day.

Well, he wasn’t my boss, so I went up to the Secretary and said, “Hello, I wanted to meet you. I’m a newlywed, married to General Chuck Yeager.

The Secretary barely pleasantly responded: “Nice to meet you.”

Me: “Sir, we’re enjoying your company today.”

He replied, “Thank you.”

I continued: “And we’d really enjoy it for another 35 minutes.” He wasn’t dumb – he understood my point – the re-enactment was set to occur in the next 20-30 minutes.

He looked at me, slitted his eyes and replied,  “The problem is, I broke a tooth and I’m hungry.” Ah. That’s explains his “barely pleasantly” response to my greeting.

I looked at his girth – as Gen Yeager and I say about ourselves – we could live on baby fat for a week. He, maybe two. He looked at me defying me to say anything.

I said, “Oh, that must be miserable. I happen to have two aspirin and a Slimfast I often have for lunch. I’d be willing to give you. That shouldn’t hurt your tooth.  I can eat the salad.”

And smiled.

He wasn’t used to people speaking up like this but his eyes smiled briefly and he said, “I’ll think about it.”

I replied, “Please take your time.”

That wasn’t lost of him either. This time the corners of his mouth twitched. I decided not to push it any more – frankly I didn’t have much more in my arsenal.

Oh right. I did. That’s when I pulled out the big gun – never know if it is a big gun or not actually but I tried it: “Have you met General Yeager yet?”

He hadn’t and would like to. So I found General Yeager one group over and introduced them.

In any case….the Secretary stayed. Much to the delight of the generals.

I spoke to one general who later became the Chief of Staff and then was fired. I was impressed with his language, or, rather, his vocabulary, or lack thereof – every other word was sh–. And how evil Saddam Hussein was. I loved his clarity, in spite of my amazement at his expression of it.

They tried to start the motor on the Wright Flyer. It wouldn’t start. They tried again. It wouldn’t start.

One time they started it and it was enough of a push down the tracks, but the pilot over rotated and it never saw air. (Over rotating is when you pull up too quickly which can cause the airplane to lose any possible lift).

BIG let down.

We learned later that they never bothered to make sure they had a back up motor. A $1 million plane and no extra parts. Poor planning.

We also learned later that rather than a glider pilot, they had gotten two airline pilots not used to the light stuff. The coach for it also was not a glider pilot. GCY remarked to the pilot who had won the coin toss, he (the coach) is a real SOB. The pilot diplomatically said, “He hasn’t changed.”

Well said. Fairly diplomatic. And funny!

General Yeager later described the scenario re the motor not starting accurately: “Look at the pilot’s face. Every time they go to start the motor, he’s saying ‘Oh, sh–!’ Every time it wouldn’t start, you could see the pilot’s face: big sigh of relief.”

After the big let down, the Secretary of Defense left with his entourage.

One very impressive general, General Eberhardt, remained. We had eaten lunch with him – only empty table and I appreciated his intelligent answers to my questions.

At this point, it was pouring. President Bush was expected to be onstage soon. Onstage was covered. The audience chairs were not. General Eberhardt still went outside in the rain in December (somewhat chilly) to honor his Commander in Chief.

General Yeager and I had debated whether we were required to do so. I kept saying: “You’re almost 81, I don’t think it’s expected. We could catch pneumonia.”

When General Yeager saw General Eberhardt out there, he decided that was the right thing to do, so we went outside. They supplied us with blankets which helped. A little.

President Bush arrived in Marine One. He got up on stage and gave a nice speech mentioning of the 100 pilots being honored, only Chuck Yeager. Wow. What an honor. Sure glad we did go outside. (Thank you, General Eberhardt!)

The President then left before we could get to him to say hello – they weren’t letting anyone backstage then. After he left, we saw his plane fly by and dip its wing. That is always cool to me.

We were requested on stage for the next part of the presentation. We made our way there and waited for the rain to abate.

The first person we saw was John Travolta. The very first thing he said to his hero Chuck Yeager at their very first meeting was: “Did you know Quantas has the best accident record?”

At that time, JT had a very lucrative deal with Quantas in which he endorsed them. I supposed part of this deal was he had to greet everyone with that line.

We waited for JT to say something more as we had nothing to follow up on that. Neither did he.

I teased him: “We’re not in public, John. You can be you.”

He looked puzzled. I explained: “The first and only thing you have to say to your hero is….a commercial?”

He looked more puzzled but Chuck, ever practical, jumped in: “What’s the schedule? What’s going on?”

John said: “I think we’re just waiting for it to stop raining.”

We waited for word on when we might start. And chatted a little.

I asked John if he would take some First Day Covers (FDCs) in his plane for his fly by over the Kittyhawk monument and mail them back to me. First Day Covers are envelopes with stamps on the first day the stamp comes out. The idea is you get them postmarked on that day. So on December 17, 2003; the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight. a stamp with the Wright flyer had come out. I had gotten these envelopes with this stamp postmarked for that day in Kittyhawk, NC and some for also December 12, 2003, at Edwards AFB, CA, the 50th anniversary of Chuck Yeager exceeding MACH 2.

John asked where they were. I assured him they were in my car on the way to his plane. “Okay,” he said.

I turned and saw a B-2 through the clouds. Very strange to see such a large plane and hear….absolutely nothing.

I mentioned it was there. Everyone turned and no one else (but Chuck and me) saw it – it had dipped behind a cloud. John said I was imagining things. Eventually he ate his words – it was almost above us and very large. And very quiet.

John turned to me impressed, “GOOD EYES!”

I also used to have 20-7 vision as a kid.

Someone called the show – too much rain so they got John T to get in his limo to get to his plane. He told me to follow closely to pick up the FDCs. I told GCY I’d meet him at the VIP lounge after I gave John the FDCs.

Well. Follow closely. Not.

John got in the limo but before I could follow about 30-40 very pretty boys were trying to climb in ahead of me. Of course some got left behind. Rather than fight through or pull rank, I espied the escort police SUV in front, ran to it, opened the door and asked if I could ride with the deputy.

He was stunned. “Don’t you want to ride with John Travolta?” Everyone knew I was supposed to.

“Sure!….But I don’t want to fight all those very pretty boys to do so.”

I gained some serious respect from the policeman who raised his eyebrows in surprise. He couldn’t believe it but was impressed.

We stopped at my car, picked up the boxes, and drove on to the helicopter that was going to fly JT to his plane.

I watched to make sure the boxes got on. I was very appreciative of the favor re flying the FDCs over the monument in Kittyhawk.  I starting contemplating – just a personal study on human behavior –  if John had even noticed I had not gotten in the limo or worried if I had been crushed or about my safety, or cared?

Just then, JT turned, smiled at me and waved goodbye. I smiled and waved back. Small gestures; big results. Nice.

I returned to the VIP lounge, collected Chuck. Some guy yelled out: “Chuck was worried you had run off with John Travolta.”  

I replied: “Let’s not project!”

That stumped the guy. Chuck laughed.

Meanwhile, JT did a fly by in his 707 and dipped a wing. Not the same as the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief doing it, but still pretty cool.

We got to our car and drove out. We passed by the three helicopters that were supposed to have taken the Secretary and all the generals, colonels, etc. But they hadn’t left. We learned later that that helicopter transporting the Secretary had broken down and the other two didn’t want to leave ahead of the Secretary. I asked why they didn’t just but the Secretary in one that worked and have two leave. No answer.

It took awhile to get the FDCs back – JT’s male friend asked me if I wanted JT to sign them all. It had never occurred to me to ask that. And now I understood the delay. I thanked them for this kind suggestion and said no, I was very fortunate to have another pilot to sign them for me; Chuck Yeager

And we have been way beyond Paris together. 


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