FAA bans Sequim wing-walking flights, revokes owner’s pilot’s license

The Mason Wing Walking business in Sequim, which allowed thrill-seekers for a fee to cling onto the wings of a 1940s Stearman biplane in flight, no longer exists.

The Federal Aviation Administration has revoked the license of pilot Mike Mason, who has been flying wings for the past 12 years in Sequim in the summer and in California in the winter.

The FAA “The Administrator has determined that a commercial air safety emergency exists and that immediate action is required to revoke your airline pilot certificate,” the federal agency wrote in a March 18 letter to Mason. Mason was banned from piloting any aircraft, effective immediately.

Although the government has now declared his operation unsafe, in an interview last August, Mason claimed that an FAA inspector had given him the all-clear to conduct standing flights when he began flying them in 2012.

He said he was assured he was exempt from standard regulations governing commercial air carriers under specific rules for flight schools, aerobatic missions and aerial photography.

The FAA said at the time that it was investigating the claim. The “emergency revocation order” letter to Mason cites the result.

Based on multiple stand-off flights in Sequim last summer and further such flights in Santa Paula, Calif., in December, “you advertised or offered passenger 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 wingman climbed from the cockpit, tethered by a cable, about 3,500 feet up.

He or she was strapped into a harness to a fixed device, standing on wingtips while the bright red biplane performed aerobatics, including flipping upside down so the person’s head was pointed straight down at the ground.

Then, detached from the rig but still attached to the cable, the winged walker climbed onto the wings and lay on a pole fixed horizontally between the biplane’s upper and lower wings, flying Harry Potter-style.

The FAA’s 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 aviation safety regulations by performing acrobatic flight maneuvers when the paying passenger did not have a parachute.

This behavior “demonstrates that you currently lack the degree of care, judgment and responsibility required,” the letter concludes.

Mason was ordered to immediately surrender his revoked pilot’s certificate to the FAA, 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 with disabilities. The flying business is their way of life.

The letter says the FAA will not accept an application for Mason for a new pilot’s certificate for one year.

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

Complaints from residents

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

Initially, Mason flew from 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 jets near their homes.

Blue Ribbon residents are bound by pilot-friendly agreement rules that explicitly allow aircraft takeoffs and landings and prohibit noise complaints. But the treaty prohibits the use of 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 flights to the nearby Sequim Valley Airport.

However, Mason’s wife Marilyn continued to give customers pre-flight ground training in the airplane hangar near their Blue Ribbon home.

Taking about three hours before going up, the wingmen learned the basics and handholds used to climb through the airframe and how to secure the overhead harness.

The dispute intensified when the board in 2022 sued the Masons in an attempt to stop them from operating entirely off-site.

In the filings, the board expressed concern that it could be found liable if an accident killed a walker. No insurance company will cover walking on the arm.

In a separate setback that forced another move for the business, last summer the FAA revoked Mason’s permission to fly where he had typically performed the flight on foot: just offshore over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The FAA received noise complaints from residents along the coast and withdrew permission to use the 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 coastline and the Olympic Mountains, away from any airways, so no FAA clearance was required.

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

Chrysalis Carter, who has lived for 30 years in her quiet rural Blue Mountain home 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 disturbing and constant, she said, she and her husband considered moving.

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

The court’s ruling in the Blue Ribbon Homeowners case prohibited 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 ruling is still pending, though if he doesn’t win his appeal of the FAA ruling, it could become moot.

In an interview Thursday, Mark Long, chairman of the homeowners’ board, was cautious about the FAA’s decision.

Long, a small plane pilot himself, said he and the board took legal action only to force Mason to remove the business from his property.

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

“We’re pilots,” Long said. “We feel bad every time we hear that someone’s ticket or license has been revoked.”

“That was never our intention,” he added. “We know it’s his life. We hope he brings it back.”

The forced closure of Mason Wing Walking could remove the last chance for wealthy hobbyists everywhere to take their chances with this daring bucket-list stunt.

UK-based company Wing Walk offers a similar service, although it tethers its customers to the platform on top of the plane for take-off and landing and the duration of the flight. There is no actual walking on the wing while in the air.

In the US, professionals perform wingwalks at some small air shows. But Mason’s operation was the only way a member of the public could sign up for such a trip.

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