Inspiring the First Flight

MSP Chief Pilot Alex Mason teaches and mentors aviation students at the nonprofit organization, Virtual Aviation in Minnesota

Alex Mason was jump-seating home on a Delta flight from Baltimore to Minneapolis, when he struck up a conversation with one of the pilots, Capt. John Rutoski.

Several years later, Virtual Aviation in Minnesota is now a non-profit that provides students with the materials and mentorship for a successful aviation career. Mason is on the Board of Directors and oversees all the training and mentoring of the program and teaches portions of the ground school and simulator sessions.

“Our vision is to help our next generation of pilots at a reduced cost. We’ve noticed that flight training has become very expensive and has put it out of reach for many people,” said Mason. “By offering free flight training, this opens doors for a lot more people to get involved and achieve their dreams.”

“Captain Rutoski showed me a picture of his simulators and was toying around with the idea of flight training,” Captain Mason said. “He really didn’t have any flight instruction background, so he asked me if I was willing to show him the ropes.”

As the non-profit grew, news of the organization spread by word of mouth to aspiring aviation students. Mason works with these students and gives them a test run in the simulator. Once introduced, the students often “latch on” and keep coming back for more.

“We usually try to bring them over to see if they like it, and if they get that wide-eyed reaction, then we set up a flight with one of the local flight schools,” Mason said. “If they’re hooked, we bring them back to the simulator for more training.”

Mason is a veteran when it comes to flight instruction. Before becoming Endeavor’s MSP Chief Pilot, Mason taught at ATP Flight School across the country, including Fort Lauderdale, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Raleigh, Richmond and Dallas.

Mason believes that teaching is a way of giving back and passing his knowledge on to someone who will use it in the field. The founder of Virtual Aviation has seen Mason’s dedication first-hand over the years as they continue to grow as an organization.

“Captain Mason has worked tirelessly in training pilot candidates and writing curriculum materials which are custom to the student’s needs,” said Rutoski. “His world-class knowledge of regulations and training techniques have enabled our non-profit to prepare individuals for the rigors of aviation.”

Virtual Aviation currently has over 30 students and is expanding across the country. Throughout the pandemic, Mason had a unique opportunity to teach two Delta flight attendants who aspired to become not only pilots – but Endeavor pilots. One of the flight attendants currently has a CJO with Endeavor, while the other will be interviewing with Endeavor next month.

“We invited them over and took them from having zero flight time as flight attendants, to becoming flight instructors. They’re absolute rock stars.” Mason said. “I was there on their very first day, so I will be cheering them on when they start at Endeavor.”

On Mason’s days off, he taught them ground school and helped them log hours in the sim at a very impressive pace. If he is on a trip, Mason teaches remotely from his hotel room. For Mason, along with his fellow sim instructors, seeing students achieve their dreams is a feeling of pride and accomplishment.

“They’ve overcome so much just to get into the industry,” Mason said. “We’re just trying to bridge the gap. It’s such a big industry and no one really knows how to get into it, so we try to send people off in the right direction.”