Masat trained at school that became Top Gun

Posted 6/16/22

What is it like to fly a high-tech fighter aircraft? Alba resident Ken Masat paused a moment, straightened in his chair and began to explain. 

“As you near the speed of sound, there is …

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Masat trained at school that became Top Gun


What is it like to fly a high-tech fighter aircraft? Alba resident Ken Masat paused a moment, straightened in his chair and began to explain. 

“As you near the speed of sound, there is quite a bit of turbulence and noise.” His jaw set as the tension became evident in his face. His fists clenched and the muscles in his arms tightened. “Then as the Mach number continues to increase, the sound barrier passes behind the aircraft.” He leaned forward in his chair. “And then,” he slowly exhaled. The air whistled from him. “You enter into smooth silence.”

The occasion of the moment was an interview with a real Top Gun graduate, conducted on the Masat homestead just northwest of Alba-Golden School. 

Masat knows from what he speaks. In his six-year stint with the U.S. Navy in the 1960s, Masat executed 126 recoveries onto the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard and accumulated over 1,000 flight hours in the F-8 Crusader aircraft. 

That service included a nine-month combat deployment off the coast of Vietnam, as the aviators of Fighter Squadron 191 flew missions to interdict North Vietnamese combat units as well as logistics infrastructure. 

With the remarkable public response to the recently released Top Gun motion picture, it was appropriate to hear from someone who lived the role. 

Social commentators will likely postulate many reasons for the huge numbers of movie-goers who have streamed in to see the movie. Whatever the reason, folks have turned out in large numbers, including at the Historic Select Theater.

Masat smiled when commenting about the movie. “Well, of course, the job of the movie to create non-stop action, not reality,” he noted.

There were however, some remarkable parallels. From the adrenalin which is an undeniable part of flying high performance aircraft, to the fact that Masat arrived to his initial flight training on a Triumph 650 motorcycle, the movie heritage and Masat’s personal experience did share some commonality. 

His path began in the Naval Cadet Program. At the time, the Navy accepted undergraduate students with some college under their belt to attend flight training. 

As Masat explained, getting selected for the program was tough, and it had a 50% failure rate. Those who succeeded then proceeded to flight training at Pensacola, Fla. Again, one of every two student aviators washed out. The naval cadets who completed their training received their wings and their commission on the same day. 

Eighteen months into training, Masat earned his Naval Aviator wings and began a lifelong love affair with flying. Aviation would take him from combat sorties over Vietnam to a long career as a commercial pilot. 

After recounting some of his most memorable events of his stint flying Navy Crusaders, Masat offered thoughts on the characteristics which all naval aviators share. “You have to be prepared for everything,” he reflected, “You must be competent, confident and fearless.”

Masat shared that Navy training generally takes care of the competence, competence over time develops confidence, and developing fearlessness requires “practice-practice-practice.” 

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to come from excellent farming stock, be raised on a diet of hard physical labor, and possess a bent for adventure. As recounted in Masat’s recent biography, “Muskrat Ramblings” (published through StoryWorth), his upbringing in rural Brunswick, Neb. provided those elements in spades.

Researchers may note that Masat’s combat deployment with VF 191 occurred six years before the founding of the Navy Fighter Weapons School – known as TOPGUN. However, Masat completed the air-to-air combat maneuvering training which preceded his joining the tactical squadron. This intensive training would develop into what would become the TOPGUN school.  

There is a marked difference between a man who has principles and a man who lives those principles.  Masat has reaped the benefits of a principled life, evidenced through three significant events.  

The first was the life-long investment that is rearing children. Masat’s seven children have grown to become contributing members of society. The four children of Ken and Margo Masat – Sarah, Rachel, Sterling and Royal – were almost 100% home-schooled. 

As many in Wood County (and across the nation) are aware, the family became nationally-renown as musicians, performing as The Masat Family. The senior Masat paused the interview to explain just how special that experience was. “There is nothing which can compare to it – it is the most important part of my life.”

A life-changing commitment steered Masat through much of his adult life. The date was Dec. 13, 1979. On that day, after having been introduced to scripture, Masat wrote in his pilot’s logbook, “I commit my life to the Father.” 

That simple statement has guided his actions over the past 43 years. 

Almost exactly one year after having made that commitment, Masat met Margo. The two became an immediate team, and their interactions today give witness to their commitment and love.

Anyone who knows Ken Masat is aware that his principles often manifest themselves in the many strong opinions he freely voices. He is not a man who passes an opportunity to challenge authority, or custom or accepted practice. 

That can, and has, cast him as an unpopular, or thorn-in-the-side, actor with many government bureaucracies. His opinions on the use of military force overseas, the taxation system, and the dangers of government overreach are just some of his strongly-held beliefs. 

Yet, he is no protester. Rather, he arms himself with facts and pursues knowledge relentlessly. When considering his stance on any particular subject, something he said about his early days flying the Crusader rang true.

As he discussed piloting the Crusader – which was basically a 22,000 lb. rocket – Masat stated, “You had to respect the aircraft.” Reading his memoir and reflecting on his opinions, it became obvious that respect for the issue at hand, and respect for the people from whom our national decision-makers draw their power is a central theme in his arguments. 

One wouldn’t expect less from a Top Gun.