Aerobatic pilot’s climb to renown rooted in a ‘Stearman Upbringing’

At age 24 Sammy Mason is already an internationally-known air show performer but his story has generational depth.

Mason will share his journey during a presentation, “Sammy Mason: A Stearman Upbringing” scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, in the Jet Air, Inc. hangar during the National Stearman Fly-In. All Fly-In programs and seminars are free and open to the public.

The legacy starts with Sammy’s grandfather, Sam Mason. The elder Mason was a legendary airshow performer flying the first Stearman modified for airshows with a Pratt & Whitney 450-horsepower engine. He was also a well-known production test pilot for Lockheed Corporation, and earned fame for performing the first aerobatic loop in a helicopter. Sam Mason was also a sought after Stearman flight instructor for the late actor Steve McQueen, who owned and flew a Stearman.

Sammy Mason’s parents, Pete and Rowena Mason, operate an aircraft restoration business based in Santa Paula, CA. Pete Mason has a long career as a talented airshow and corporate pilot, flying everything from Ford Tri-Motors to Lear jets and owns his own 450 Stearman. Rowena has owned Rowena’s Flying Fabric there since 1990 and is known as “The First Lady of Fabric.” She also manages the Santa Paula Airport. Pete and Rowena together are a talented team of vintage aircraft repair and restoration specialists

With two generations of influences, Sammy was destined to immerse himself in aviation. He’s flown all his life – the first time with his mother in a J-3 Cub when he was three days old. His parents never pushed Sammy into flying, telling him he could do whatever he wanted, but if he was going to fly, to pursue it passionately and professionally.

Mason credits his father Pete for providing his airmanship foundation and teaching him aerobatics starting in a glider when he was 14. “I worked for it, it wasn’t natural,” Sammy told one writer. “I guess it was a little natural because it’s just part of my family’s history.”

He performed his first air show at age 14 in an RF-4 motor glider. At age 17 he took his private pilot check ride in the family’s 450-horsepower Stearman.

Sammy flies air shows in his mother’s stock Stearman, his father’s 450 Stearman, and in a Pitts S-1S since he was 18. The Pitts was purchased as a wreck and restored by the Mason family. Sammy flew national level competition aerobatics using skill to beat more powerful and modern monoplanes. In 2013, at age 19 Mason became the youngest member of the U.S. National Aerobatic Team. Following his success in international competition, in 2015 and 2016 Sammy was invited to perform at the prestigious Experimental Aircraft Association’s Airventure air show in Oshkosh, WI.

Mason says the risks and precision required of aerobatics challenge him to practice diligently and work to be a safer pilot. He practices at least twice a week, and one or two times a day before contests.

Although he lives on the Santa Paula Airport, Mason is an active, athletic, typical California kid. He enjoys skateboarding, surfing and riding motorcycles when he’s not flying.

Mason will also perform an aerobatic routine in a 450-horsepower Stearman about 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Galesburg airport.