Westchester teen will fly with Harrison Ford at EAA Airventure
Having piloted his own planes for years and soared through space in "Star Wars," actor Harrison Ford takes to the skies Thursday with Jodie Gawthrop, a teenage aviator from Westchester whose essays earned her the opportunity to join the film star in flight.
Ford will pilot the Thursday afternoon flight, which takes place during the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It marks the 2 millionth flight for EAA's Young Eagles program, which encourages young people's interest in aviation. Ford, who grew up in Park Ridge, chaired the program from 2004 to 2009.
From her first airplane ride three years ago, Gawthrop has been hooked on aviation. The second the wheels lifted off the runway, the 16-year-old knew she wanted to spend her life flying.
"It was an Adrenalin rush," said Gawthrop. "But what hit me was the responsibility and thought that goes into flying. Being in control of yourself and the aircraft is a really empowering experience."
Soon after, she joined the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and Young Eagles.
Gawthrop's application for the event, called First Flight, earned her the seat next to Ford along with a $7,500 scholarship which will help pay for flying lessons in pursuit of her pilot's license.
"I'm thrilled and thankful for the opportunity," said Gawthrop, who has begun ground school and formal flight training, flying an airplane herself for the first time last month. So far she's logged 10 hours in the air.
An avowed "Star Wars" fan, Gawthrop says she's excited to meet fellow aviation enthusiast Ford, whose passion she shares.
"I'm looking forward to meeting him in that sense," she said.
Gawthrop's father also has that passion. Keirn Gawthrop obtained his pilot's license 23 years ago but let it lapse, though he says his daughter's enthusiasm has rekindled his own.
Initially, Jodie and Keirn volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol's Fox Valley Composite Squadron, out of DuPage County Airport in West Chicago before transferring to the Palwaukee Composite Squadron in Wheeling.
Gawthrop said he is not concerned over his daughter's safety, pointing out that statistics show driving poses more dangers. He also has no worries about Jodie flying with Ford, who was injured in 2015 when his World War II era plane crashed on a California golf course. The National Transportation Safety Bureau later determined mechanical problems caused the crash.
"He's an experienced pilot with a lot of hours under his belt," Keirn Gawthrop said. "And he landed safely."
Jodie Gawthrop has been too busy as a volunteer for the Oshkosh air show to be nervous about her flight with Ford. But that's about to change.
"Once the day approaches the butterflies will be there," she said. "They're already starting to form."