Thursday, October 15, 2009

Samuel 'Sammy' Homer Mason, Jr. 1917-2001

Born Samuel Homer Mason, Jr. in Los Angeles, December 15, 1917, Sammy began what was to become a distinguished flying career at the age of 16. Following his marriage to Wanda Lee Hintz in 1941, he settled in Tulare, California to fly for the Rankin Flying Academy to train pilots in Stearman biplanes for WWII.

After the war, Sammy selected a Stearman for the air show circuit. With its distinctive international orange and white checkerboard wings, “Checkers” and Sammy, along with friends Rex Wells, Ray Goudy and others, formed the Hollywood Hawks and made aerobatic history in the postwar ’40s, incorporating a number of aviation “firsts” into his act, most notably a Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) bottle mounted under the fuselage. Sammy and Checkers were profiled in the April 18, 1949 issue of Life magazine.

In 1950, with a growing family, Sammy went to work for Lockheed Aircraft as an engineering test pilot under his close friend, Tony LeVier. During his 27-year career with Lockheed, Sammy again made history: In 1967 he became the first pilot to demonstrate a full complement of aerobatics in a helicopter, performing at the Paris Air Show in the compound version of the Lockheed 286 rigid-rotor helicopter.

Sammy retired to Santa Paula Airport where he instructed pilots in aerobatics and increased proficiency, among them actor Steve McQueen, who became a close friend. He earned a degree as a Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation Science and in 1987 he became an Honorary Fellow in the prestigious Society of Experimental Test Pilots