For the first time in its 15-year history, the Living Legends of Aviation has renamed its iconic award to honor aviation entrepreneurs for their lifetime achievements. Starting this year, the award will be the “Kenn Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award,” named after the aviation visionary and founder of Directional Aviation, the parent of companies including Flexjet, Sentient Jet, Skyjet, Nextant Aerospace and Constant Aviation.
The Living Legends of Aviation was created to honor accomplished men and women in aviation and to support the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, which is dedicated to introducing, educating, and sparking children’s interest in aviation.
The Kenn Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award will be presented on January 19, 2018 to Robert T. Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, which concentrates on designing, developing and building commercially viable, habitable space structures. Past recipients of the Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award include Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic airlines and Virgin Galactic and Frederick Smith, founder of FedEx. Ricci himself won the award in 2017.
More than 700 people, including many of the “Living Legends of Aviation” themselves, attend the annual awards ceremony, which will benefit the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy. The organization anticipates raising close to $1 million at the gala, which will take place at the Beverly Hilton.
“Aviation, a 115-year-old industry, is where it is today because of entrepreneurs such as Kenn Ricci, whose vision has helped spur growth in hundreds of related sectors and companies,” said FedEx founder Fred Smith, the 2013 Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award recipient and a Living Legend himself.
Added Ricci, “I am humbled by the renaming of the award. I look forward to inspiring young people to become the aviation entrepreneurs of the future, especially by championing the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, which brings to life the dream of aviation for thousands of kids every single year.”
Kiddie Hawk Air Academy introduces children to aviation through the Kiddie Hawk Air Trainer and a curriculum that includes aviation coloring books, principles of flight and actual flight lessons, albeit a few feet off the ground. It seeks to create a sense of wonder and interest in aviation that will last a lifetime and inspire children to achieve the academic merit that will enable them to pursue aviation-related careers. Since the Kiddie Hawk Air Trainer was first displayed in 1996, thousands of children have participated in the program.
Programs that expose new audiences to aviation are a passion point for Ricci and the Ricci Family Foundation. They are active supporters of the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy as well as Able Flight at the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, which provides people with disabilities, many of them military veterans, the ability to challenge themselves through flight training via a specially equipped Sky Arrow L600 sport plane.
In addition to renaming the award, the organization has included Ricci in what has become an unofficial Living Legends of Aviation tradition. An exclusive edition Breitling watch has been handed down to a select few aviators to mark unique and momentous events in their careers. Kenn Ricci recently received the watch to mark this occasion. Previous recipients have included Living Legends of Aviation member John Travolta and actor Tom Cruise.
“It’s an honor to be the first recipient of the newly renamed Kenn Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award,” said Bigelow. “Kenn Ricci’s commitment to innovation through aircraft remanufacturing and his support of Aerion’s supersonic business jets are great examples of how we can transform the aviation business.”