Star Trek inspired William Shatner to fly high

While Star Trek flew high among the ratings, Shatner was literally taking flight all over the country.

Image credit: trekcore.com

There is no doubt that William Shatner was the perfect person to play the role of Captain Kirk on Star Trek: The Original Series (1966). Both he and his character shared a few key common traits that put them up top in both TV ratings and Hollywood star status.

But besides being just as charismatic and courageous as his character was, Shatner also had a knack for adventure. In 2021, Shatner climbed aboard the Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft and traveled to space at the age of 90. 

Nothing says adventure like space travel which we already knew he had a natural ability for.

Even before his voyage to space at 90, Shatner had a love for flying high in other sorts of crafts. His time spent in the Enterprise on Star Trek led him to learning how to fly in real life; And while it may not have been a spaceship, it was a private plane. A second best.

According to a 1968 interview with The Miami Herald, Shatner visited Miami, accompanied by his private flight instructor. The two were on their last leg of their long cross-country trip that would qualify Shatner for his private pilot's license. 

At first, Shatner said flying just simply wasn't for him, but after being convinced by a flight school instructor in Florida, he decided to take the risk — a decision his onscreen character would have been proud of.

"I wasn't eager to pilot my own plane, but I took him up on it," Shatner said. "I took four hours of training on Saturday, four more on Sunday and soloed on Monday morning."

According to the interview, the last qualifying stage called for a cross-country flight, but Shatner decided to extend the trip and go coast-to-coast. He flew from Santa Monica to Kansas and included Cape Kennedy while ending his long journey in Miami.

Shatner said he had an enthusiastic welcome at Cape Kennedy, where real space researchers and astronauts were pioneering the kind of space travel that Shatner had been doing on his series.

"While I was sitting in one of those space capsules watching the stimulated stars through its quartz window, Conrad (Astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr.) pulled a gag on me," Shatner said. "Suddenly, across the window, floated my ship, the Enterprise. They had got ahold of one of the toy ship kits and put it together. It was hysterical."

At the time of the interview, Star Trek had just been approved for its third season on NBC. Shatner said he was stunned, but happy about the fate of the series. According to the interview, a rumor about Star Trek was spreading like wildfire among publications and the public.

He said nobody knew who had started the rumor yet, but he was there to address it.

"The rumors started mail coming in," Shatner said. "We had always had a sizeable volume of mail normally, second only, I believe to The Monkees among NBC shows. But when the word got around about a possible cancellation, we got 100,000 letters over the span of three months, all of it protesting."

While Star Trek flew high among other NBC shows, Shatner was literally taking flight all around the country. Whether being Captain Kirk prepared him for his pilot's license or not, it's a personal hobby any space traveler would be proud of. 

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3 Comments

cperrynaples 1 month ago
Ironically, Rod Serling played a similar gag on one of his writers! Even stranger, it related to Shatner's "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet"! He arranged for a picture of the gremlin to be put on the window of the seat of the writer! To Serling's disappointment, the picture blew away before the writer saw it!
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