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Mason: ‘It’s a Huge Honor to be Chosen’
Aerobatic pilot Sammy Mason will showcase the 70th anniversary of the Pitts during Sunday's air show.
By Barbara A. Schmitz
July 25, 2015 - It’s in his blood. Or maybe his DNA. No matter which one, it’s clear that Sammy Mason was meant to fly.
At 16, Mason was the youngest air show pilot in the world, doing aerobatics in a motorglider. “There were times I showed up and had to argue with the person at the gate,” he says. “They didn’t believe I was flying at the show.”
But people can believe it now. Mason is performing in Sunday's EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show in his Pitts S-1S.
Now 21, Mason started flight lessons at 12, and soloed in a Schweizer 2-22 glider at 14. Within six months, he was flying a powered glider, doing aerobatics by himself.
Then, on his 16th birthday, he soloed in 10 different aircraft. “I started with my dad’s 450-hp Stearman,” he says. “All my friends flew in and gave me the keys to their airplanes so I could fly them around the patch. I flew a Piper Cub, an Ag Cat, and a Mooney Mite.”
Shortly after that, he earned his private pilot glider certificate and started performing in air shows.
At 17, his family bought a Pitts S-1S. It took a family effort to restore it after the previous owner flipped it on landing. At 18, he gave it its first test flight. It’s that plane he is performing in at AirVenture.
“It’s a pretty big responsibility to represent the 70th anniversary of the Pitts at AirVenture,” Mason says. “It’s a huge honor to be chosen.”
Mason says many of the world’s best aerobatic pilots—Tom Poberezny, Gene Soucy, Charlie Hillard, Wayne Handley, Sean D. Tucker, Mike Goulian, and Jeff Boerboon—all started with a Pitts. “To fly in the same box that they flew in is amazing,” he says. “I have maneuvers from every one of those guys in my routine.”
A member of the U.S. Advanced Aerobatic Team, Mason says he was able to practice with Tucker and Goulian this week. “I also got to fly formation with Michael Goulian. It takes a lot of faith to allow someone to fly on your wing. What a memorable way to fly into Oshkosh.”
Aviation is really in this Californian’s blood. His parents are both pilots, and they run a business restoring vintage airplanes, as well as manage the local airport. His uncles and aunts fly, and Mason is named after his grandfather, who was a civilian trainer in World War II, an aerobatic pilot who flew a modified Boeing Stearman in air shows, and a test pilot for Lockheed who was also the first to do a loop in a helicopter.
Mason’s mother flew until she was eight months pregnant with him in her Piper Cub, until she couldn’t get the stick all the way back because her belly was so big, he says.
And his first flight came when he was just 3 days old.
As he grew older, he persuaded his parents to “airport school” him. “I would get my homework done in the morning and then I’d go flying, drive the fuel truck, or help my parents out—but not nearly as much as I should have,” he adds, laughing.
Today, he lives on the airport, above the hangar.
Mason has now flown more than 50 types of aircraft and has logged more than 2,000 hours in the air.
When he isn’t flying aerobatics, he says you’ll probably find him skateboarding or surfing. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional skateboarder,” he says. “I’m probably the only person who can say they have competed in an advanced level skateboarding competition and an aerobatic competition."