<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Wednesday,  May 29 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
News / Northwest

FAA halts Washington wing-walking flights, revokes owner’s pilot license

By Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times
Published: March 30, 2024, 5:31am

The Mason Wing Walking business in Sequim that allowed paying thrill-seekers to clamber over the wings of a 1940s Stearman biplane while in flight is no more.

The Federal Aviation Administration has revoked the pilot license of Mike Mason, who flew wing-walking flights for the past 12 years in Sequim in summer and in California in the winter.

The FAA “Administrator has determined that an emergency exists related to safety in air commerce and that immediate action to revoke your Airline Transport Pilot certificate is required,” the federal agency wrote in a March 18 letter to Mason. Mason was barred from piloting any plane, effective immediately.

Though the government has now ruled his operation unsafe, in an interview last August Mason claimed that an FAA inspector had given him the all clear to conduct wing-walking flights when he started flying them in 2012.

He said he was assured he was exempt from the standard regulations governing commercial air carriers under rules specific to flight school, acrobatic and aerial photography missions.

The FAA said then it was investigating this claim. The “emergency order of revocation” letter to Mason cites the outcome.

Based on multiple wing walking flights in Sequim last summer and further such flights in Santa Paula, Calif., in December, “you have advertised or offered passenger-carrying aircraft operations to the public without authorization,” the FAA ruled.

During these flights, each lasting about 25 minutes and costing $1,000 to $1,400 for the thrill ride, the wing walker climbed out of the cockpit, tethered to a cable, at about 3,500 feet up.

He or she strapped into a harness on a fixed rig, standing atop the wings as the bright red biplane performed aerobatics, including flipping upside down so that the person’s head pointed straight down at the ground.

Then, disconnecting from the rig but still tethered to the cable, the wing walker climbed out onto the wings and lay astride a pole fixed horizontally between the upper and lower wings of the biplane, flying Harry Potter-style.

The FAA investigation determined that those flights “were careless or reckless so as to endanger the life or property of another.”

The letter states that in addition to operating his business without authorization, Mason violated air safety regulations by performing acrobatic flight maneuvers when the paying passenger had no parachute.

This conduct “demonstrates you presently lack the degree of care, judgment and responsibility required,” the letter concludes.

Mason was instructed to surrender his revoked pilot certificate to the FAA immediately, subject to a fine of $1,828 per day for each day he fails to surrender it.

Mason and his wife have two children, one of them disabled. The flying business is their livelihood.

The letter says the FAA won’t accept an application for Mason for a new pilot certificate for one year.

Mason has appealed the FAA action, though he remains barred from flying during the appeal process. The FAA will schedule an appeal hearing, likely in April. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Complaints from residents

The FAA ruling kills what had become a controversial business operation.

Originally, Mason flew out of a grass airstrip at the Blue Ribbon Farms development in Sequim, where the family has a home. Many residents there are former airline pilots and have hangars for small private planes beside their houses.

Blue Ribbon residents are bound by pilot-friendly covenant rules that explicitly allow airplane takeoffs and landings and prohibit noise complaints. But the covenant bars using the airstrip “for commercial purposes.”

The homeowners board heard complaints about the number of flights Mason was conducting causing disruption during the summer. Mason then moved the flights to the nearby Sequim Valley Airport.

However, Mason’s wife Marilyn continued to give clients preflight ground training at the airplane hangar beside their Blue Ribbon house.

The training ran about three hours before the wing-walkers went up. They learned the footholds and handholds used to climb across the airframe, and how to secure the harness on top.

The dispute intensified when the board in 2022 sued the Masons to try to stop them from operating out of the location entirely.

Morning Briefing Newsletter envelope icon
Get a rundown of the latest local and regional news every Mon-Fri morning.

In filings, the board expressed concern that it might be found liable if an accident were to kill a wing walker. No insurance company will cover wing walking.

In a separate setback that forced another move for the business, last summer the FAA rescinded permission for Mason to fly where he had habitually conducted the wing walking flight: a little offshore over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The FAA received noise complaints from residents along the shore and withdrew permission to use that area, which it controls because it’s close to airways where other planes regularly fly.

So Mason then switched to flying inland, a few miles south of the airport between the shoreline and the Olympic Mountains, away from any airways so that no FAA permission was required.

But that drew the ire of people living in the new flight area, because the Stearman is a very noisy plane.

Chrysalis Carter, who has lived for 30 years at her quiet rural home on Blue Mountain between Sequim and Port Angeles said Mason was flying low over the property four to six days a week in good weather last summer.

She could see the wing walkers standing on the plane quite clearly. The noise was so disruptive and constant, she said, she and her husband considered moving.

Told of the FAA action Thursday, Carter let out a sigh and said “I’m utterly relieved.”

The court ruling in the Blue Ribbon homeowner case barred the Masons from using either the Blue Ribbon airstrip or their hangar for the wing walking business.

Mason’s appeal of that Clallam County Superior Court judgment is still pending, though unless he wins his appeal of the FAA ruling it may become moot.

In an interview Thursday, Mark Long, chair of the homeowner board, was circumspect about the FAA decision.

Long, a pilot of small airplanes himself, said he and the board took legal action only to force Mason to move the business off its property.

He said the board did not want to complain to the FAA and go after Mason’s license.

“We’re pilots,” Long said. “We feel bad whenever we hear somebody’s had their ticket, their license, revoked.”

“That was never our intent,” he added. “We know it’s his living. We hope he gets it back.”

The forced closure of Mason Wing Walking may remove the last opportunity anywhere for well-off amateurs to take their chances with this daredevil bucket-list stunt.

The U.K.-based Wing Walk Company offers a similar service, although it straps its clients to the rig on top of the plane for takeoff and landing and the duration of the flight. There’s no actual walking on the wing while in the air.

In the U.S., professionals perform wing walking at some small air shows. But Mason’s operation was the only way for a member of the public to sign up for such a ride.

Loading...