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Harrison Ford no stranger to aircraft crashes, rescues

Harrison Ford always loved flying, but it wasn't until he was an established Hollywood star that he became a pilot.

"I always had the dream. I was in college and I took a couple of lessons then. It was about $11 an hour to go with an instructor pilot, and I couldn't afford it" Ford told CBS News in 2005.

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Actor Harrison Ford flies his helicopter July 10, 2001, near Jackson, Wyoming. Getty Images

"Years later, I was flying around as a passenger. I'd go up front and watch what the guys were doing. I got fascinated by it again. At the age of, I think, about 55, I decided I would give it a whack," he continued. "I didn't know if I would be able to learn enough to do it. But it has been a wonderful experience for me. I've had a great, great time."

Harrison Ford injured in small plane crash

Ford owns several aircraft, both fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters. He belongs to a number of aviation organizations and routinely flies in and out of Santa Monica Municipal Airport, close to the golf course where his vintage plane crash-landed Thursday.

He has donated his flying skills to non-profit organizations, including Operation Smile and the Special Olympics, and flew medical personnel and supplies to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Ford has played a leading role in at least two real-life dramas, helping to rescue a missing hiker and a Boy Scout on separate occasions in 2001.

"I enjoy the pure freedom, and the beauty of the third dimension when you fly," he told Downwind magazine in 2009. "We live in two-dimensional world when our feet are on the ground, and getting in the sky is a rare experience that re-invigorates your perspective on things. Flying is always an adventure."

Hoping to inspire the same love of flying in others, Ford served as chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles program from 2004 to 2009.

"The idea is to give young people, ages eight through 17, a ride in a general aviation airplane," Ford explained to CBS News in 2005. "That gives them a chance to experience the freedom and responsibilities that attend to flying an airplane."

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has an award named for him, the Harrison Ford Legacy in Aviation Award. In January, Ford presented what he called "the awkwardly named" honor to the organization's new president.

But what goes up, must come down -- and the actor best known for piloting the Millennium Falcon in the "Star Wars" films has had several close calls.

In 1999, his helicopter crashed during a training flight in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles. The following year, gusty winds pushed Ford's six-seat plane off the runway as he tried to land in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ford and his passenger weren't hurt.