Dec. 23, 2019

Meet NBAA’s 2019 Meritorious Service to Aviation Award Recipient

During this year’s NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), the association will bestow its 2019 Meritorious Service to Aviation Award, the association’s highest honor, to pilot, businessman and aviation champion Ross Perot, Jr. A longtime pilot and aviation advocate who served in the U.S. Air Force, he later led the effort to establish the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Washington, DC. In 1982, he, along with Jay Coburn, flew a Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II dubbed the “Spirit of Texas” on the first round-the-world flight by helicopter.

Today, Perot serves as chairman of The Perot Group, a family-based investment operation, and he serves as founder and chairman of Hillwood, a global real estate development firm. Recently, through a partnership with Uber Elevate, Perot has taken an active role in the development of urban air mobility, a fast-emerging transportation segment that also holds potential for business aviation uses.

Q: At NBAA’s convention, you will join a long
list of distinguished aviation leaders who have received NBAA’s Meritorious Service to Aviation Award. What does it mean to you to be a part of this group?

It is a tremendous honor to receive this award. I’ve been fortunate enough to have met many of our nation’s great pilots and astronauts, and it is humbling to be part of this very prestigious group.

Q: Your first-of-its-kind, round-the-world flight
by helicopter in 1982 was a feat that must have required meticulous planning. How did you prepare, and what were some of the significant challenges you faced?

The helicopter trip around the world was a unique adventure. Jay Coburn and I had to prepare very quickly to make this trip. [Australian aviator and entrepreneur] Dick Smith took off in August 1982 to be the first man to fly a helicopter around the world. We wanted to beat Dick Smith, and so we took off 30 days later. Jay and I were successful because of the tremendous team on the ground supporting us. The logistics were handled literally by people all over the world preparing for us to arrive. Due to this great team, we were able to make it around the world in 30 days and pass Dick Smith on the record-setting trip.

Q: Your enterprises – including The Perot Group and Hillwood – have used business aircraft to support their operations. How have business aircraft helped you succeed?

The Hill Air flight department plays a critical role every day in the operations of The Perot Group and Hillwood. Our flight department is literally on the road almost every day of the year.

Our operations are global, and our flight department is flying all over the world every year. In addition to supporting our internal team, our flight department supports our clients and our investors. We are also focused on philanthropic endeavors, and the flight department supports many of our charitable operations around the world.

Q: Can you share some examples of how the Hill Air aircraft have been used to support humanitarian missions?

The opportunity to use our aircraft and other assets to help others is one of my favorite aspects of being in the business aviation industry. Our team is privileged to deploy our Boeing 737 cargo aircraft, which is part of our business, to help people all over the world, both in transporting people and their families during times of tragedy, as well as goods and supplies during times of disaster.

For example, when the Ebola virus struck, our team was the first to bring medical equipment into Liberia. We did the same in Haiti and for Puerto Rico.

One of our humanitarian missions that stands out in my mind was the Christmas toy delivery to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that demolished the island. In December 2017, Hillwood Airways joined forces with The United States Marine Corps Reserves’ Toys for Tots program to deliver 30,000 toys and games to children in need.

Without that mission, many children would have gone without Christmas presents. It was truly a privilege to help make the holidays brighter for those kids.

Q: Recently, through a partnership with Uber Elevate, you have taken an active role in the development of urban air mobility. How will this technology transform business aviation?

Hillwood strives to stay on the forefront by investing in new technologies with the potential to transform society. In that spirit, we will be the real estate development partner of Uber Elevate, which will expand the Uber model to include a network of small, electric-powered, state-of-the-art aircraft capable of transporting people within densely populated urban metro areas.

Imagine, today you use Uber for ground transportation and tomorrow you can use Uber Elevate to fly from building to building within larger communities and urban regions. Uber has a vision for urban transportation that includes 20,000 new flying vehicles over North America. It’s the next great revolution in transportation and a very exciting time in aviation.