Mason Gaines was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He joined the Army National Guard in 1980 and trained as an Air Traffic Controller before being selected for flight training in 1982. Mason graduated from US Army flight training in 1983 and flew UH-1H helicopters for three years while completing his bachelor’s degree in Aviation at the University of Oklahoma.
In 1986, Mason joined the Air Force and trained as a fixed-wing pilot in the T-37 and T-38. Over the next 26 years he flew over 6,000 hours serving as a primary jet instructor pilot and maintenance test pilot in Texas, C-130 and MC-130 special operations pilot in North Carolina, Florida and Okinawa, and U-2 high altitude reconnaissance pilot in California and South Korea. After commanding a U-2 squadron overseas, he concluded his military career with assignments at the US Embassies in Thailand and Singapore.
Retiring from the Air Force in 2011, Mason spent five years with the FAA flying a Beech King Air 300 as an Airways Systems Inspection Pilot or “Flight Check” pilot where he certified instrument procedures and navigational aids throughout the southeastern United States and Caribbean. In 2017 Mason returned to flying the C-130 for a cargo airline based in Alaska where he is once again flying the venerable Hercules to destinations around the globe. Mason holds an FAA ATP certificate in both airplanes and helicopters and has owned a variety of light single-engine aircraft since 1988. He currently owns a 1980 Cessna 180 that he uses for SouthWings' missions.
Married to his wife of 36 years, Mason resides in NW Florida and has two children. He enjoys all types of general aviation as well as snorkeling and scuba diving. “Coming home after serving more than 10 years overseas, I’ve gained a renewed appreciation for how great our country really is. Flying with the FAA throughout the southeast and flying all over Alaska in my current job, I am forever amazed at how much unspoiled wilderness we have here in the United States; and I am dedicated to preserving and protecting it”.