Santa Paula Biplanes on American Idol

January 19, 2011
Santa Paula News

Santa Paula pilot Pete Mason answered a phone call in his hangar at the local airport last week from the production staff of the American Idol TV show.  They were asking about using his vintage Boeing Stearman bi-plane as a backdrop for the reality show.  After a short discussion, he said sure and then they said, “we also want the red one.”

Ooops, that is his wife’s beautiful red Stearman that just finished a year-long restoration last year.  He told them they’d have to negotiate with his wife, Rowena, for that one.  They wanted both bi-planes, and they wanted them just a couple of days later.  And they wanted them in Playa del Rey, where there is no airport.

Pete didn’t hesitate to agree to have his Silver Stearman appear on the Idol set, however, he knew that Rowena would not be happy at the thought of taking her red Stearman apart.  Pete offered Idol several different airplanes to go along with the silver Stearman as options for the stage, but in the end, they wanted the red Stearman.

Just where did they want the airplanes Pete asked?  Well, back in the 1940’s Howard Hughes built what was then the largest airplane hangar in the world where the famous Spruce Goose was built.  Today, the massive hangar is used as a sound stage for movies and TV and the folks at American Idol wanted to decorate the set with 1940’s airplanes.

The answer was easier said than done.  Take the airplanes apart and truck them down the 405 to Playa del Rey.  What comes to mind is the old YouTube video of a 747 landing on the 405 freeway.

Over the weekend they rounded up some friends, their son Sam, a flat bed truck, some big trailers, a fork lift, lots of padding and took the pair of planes apart.  By Sunday night the planes were on the set ready to be reassembled.

After two days of shooting American Idol show, it was over and the planes were moved off the set before being disassembled and hauled back to Santa Paula.

The Masons were happy to have their planes in such a historic location.  Aside from being the home of the Spruce Goose, the famous hangar was where numerous scenes from Titanic and Avatar were filmed.  Pete is no stranger to TV and the movies.  His Stearman has been used in the JAG series, Tuskegee Airman, and Independence Day, among others, plus it’s frequently seen towing a banner over Ventura County.

By Friday, the planes were back in their hangars at the Santa Paula Airport.

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