Aviator John J. Mason Has Spent His Life in the Pursuit of His Passion
While many of his contemporaries are hitting the links on Saturday afternoons, John J. Mason can likely be found at the Montgomery County Airpark or in the cockpit of one his planes. From his first flight when he was 16, Mason can remember a fascination with aviation. That fascination grew when he was a fighter squadron crew member with the Marine Corps reserves at the old Anacostia Naval Air Station. The passion didn't fade after he left the marines.
"I continued to fly and bought my first plane in '63," says Mason, now a licensed commercial pilot with 7,500 hours of airtime. In his hangar he currently has a Gulfstream G100 and an Aerocommander twin engine prop plane he's owned "a really long time."
The Gulfstream, which Mason co-owns with local businessmen and close friends Robert Snyder and Joseph Gildenhorn, is equipped to fly non-stop to Europe, as well as South America and the Caribbean.
For anyone interested in learning to fly, Mason, who was the chairman and CEO of the National Savings and Trust Company (now Sunstrust Bank), recommends getting a pilot's license through a concentrated flight school course and then logging as much as air time as possible.
"Flying is a skill you acquire," Mason says. "The secret is to keep it up. " Being a good pilot is "a question of training," he notes. Pilots often train on simulators that can replicate any situation a pilot may encounter, including engine loss, a reality Mason has faced. "I had an ‘uncontained failure' in a jet," Mason says as he displays photos of an engine that blew apart due to a faulty turbine wheel. "But you're trained for it. Once you're sure the plane is flyable you get so busy with checklists and things that you forget about being scared."
In addition to the 12 to 15 airplanes he has owned over the years, Mason has trained on many others, including a P-51 Mustang WWII fighter plane. He has also flown simulators of several other military aircraft, including the new F-22 fighter jet. "It is unbelievable technology," Mason says. "It has a Star Wars kind of cockpit."
Even after more than 40 years of owning and flying airplanes, John Mason's fascination for aviation hasn't faded. "It's just something I enjoy doing. There's always new technology and new things to learn. I have always felt privileged to be able to pursue something I've loved for so long.
TAKE THE CONTROLS BY CLAY GAYNOR Settling into the tiny cockpit of one of AV-ED Flight Schools Diamond Eclipse airplanes is akin to sliding behind the wheel of a Ferrari-a fitting analogy, according to flight instructor Jeremy Carter, who calls the aircraft the sports car of training planes. Carter was about to take me up on an intro flight, which allows people to gauge their interest in becoming a licensed pilot. After our pre-flight inspection and takeoff from Leesburg Executive Airport, Carter handed me the controls as we soared 2,000 feet above Leesburg.
Taking the joystick, I began making banking turns, being pressed into and litted out of my seat as the plane rolled from side to side- one of the most incredible feelings I've ever experienced. As Carter showed me some of the fi ner points of crisp turning and maintaining a level fl ight path, I couldn't help but be amazed by the panoramic view of Northern Virginia the glass cockpit of the Diamond was aff ording me. After showing me how to guide us back to the airport, Carter took over for a smooth touch down. Back on the ground, he explained the licensure process-six weeks of ground school for two nights a week and a minimum of 40 hours of air time with an instructor-as I fought daydreams of being back in the air.
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