You Fly, Girl

"All those who see me, and all who believe in me, share in the freedom I feel when I fly."

Interview: Angela Masson

American Airlines Captain retirement photo DEC 2007
Angela Masson is a true Renaissance woman. She is a painter, a singer (her album is called Jet Lady), and a belly dancer. She also has two masters degrees and a doctoral degree.

She is the current president of the ISA+21 -- The International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

Angela set a record as the youngest woman to ever cross the country solo, when she participated in the 1972 Powder Puff Derby. She was the second to fly as a Captain by American Airlines. She flew as Captain for over 20 years, and was the first female Chief Pilot for American Airlines, retiring in 2007.

Read "The Tale of Two Pilots", about Angela Masson and Viola Gentry, the oldest and youngest participants in the 1972 Powder Puff Derby

Talk about your childhood. My father was a physician and my mother is still a registered nurse. My parents met in the elevator at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where they both worked, and where I was later born. After raising three children, Mom returned to school and became a clinical psychologist. Papa, besides being an FAA First Class Medical Examiner, was a brilliant internist/cardiologist, far ahead of his time. He developed and demonstrated the prototype echocardiograph machine.

When I was about three years old, he built a toy for me he called a "doodle-board" which was a bunch of switches and circuits drilled into a piece of plywood. On the other the other sides of the board were rows of buttons, knobs and sliders, which when manipulated, caused lights to flash and a cacophony of noises to erupt. My first flight engineer panel!

Margo and Jack Masson by Angela Masson, 1977, oil on canvas, 50 x 62

You were in Italy in 1969, as an artist and go-go dancer. Mom had noticed I like to paint, and kept me in art supplies at home. Later, when we moved to the Griffith Park area of Hollywood, my folks turned the two-car garage into an art studio for me, complete with new floor, plaster walls (to fresco), track-lighting, full-length work table, and a sizeable sculpture area. A family friend, an Italian attorney, Vincenzo Caputo, came to visit. He had been watching my work develop over the years, and thanks to his efforts, I was invited to show my work in galleries all over Europe.

Portrait of Lowell Ponte by Angela Masson (oil on canvas)
photo from Il Gazzettino 07 Agosto 1969

During the end of my sojourn in Italy I ran low on money. Disco-type clubs were brand new, and a local venue hired me to sit in front of a video camera and "look pretty" so people would come into the club. I also danced in a cage (dressed in jeans and a t-shirt), and poured flavored Cinzano at the bar. So I didn't starve and it was a great way to learn a second language.

Where did your music name, Tangela Tricoli, come from? In 1979 I married an airline pilot named Rocco Tricoli. A few years later, when cable TV first came out, I had my own variety-talk show. The "T" in front of "Angela" made alliteration with the last name Tricoli. The TV show was called "Tangela Tonight", and the songs from the show were included in the album "Jet Lady" by Tangela Tricoli.

Although only 1000 albums were pressed (and most disappeared from a storage facility in Texas), the album became an outsider music classic after being "re-discovered" by composer/producer Eric Lindgren. A friend of his found one in a used-record store and gave it to him. An unknown and audacious entrepreneur has a stash of the originals selling on E-Bay for $300.00 each.

The re-mastered CD ( includes digital out-takes from the TV show. Check out

You'd been taking flying lessons from the age of 15, and owned a plane since you were 21. My ever-inventive father built a large sail-boat from scratch, a trimaran, in the back-yard. It was a wonderful boat and the family enjoyed it often on adventures to Catalina.

Eventually Dad traded the boat for an airplane. It was a Cessna 175 - N8230T. Then the family trips included going everywhere in this clunky contraption of an airplane. Mom wasn't entirely happy with this rickety, aging machine, and Dad shortly upgraded the family RV to a Cessna 310. My younger brother took to flying immediately and was the first one of the three kids to solo. I was next, and my younger sister fooled everybody by soloing in a glider at age 14. She is now a physician.

Angela Masson with Twin Bonanza N754B
- flying Part 131 MAC - LeMoore Naval Air Station, FEB1976

Describe the progress of your career as a pilot. Claire Walter's, the famous Ninety-Nine of Claire Walter's Flight Academy at Santa Monica Airport, gave me my first "real job" flight instructing. She had the ROTC flight contracts for the military, including the Air Force, Navy and Marines. It was our job to provide the ROTC cadets with their first 40 hours of flight training.

Later I worked with another woman pilot, Liz Wexler, for Express Airways. We flew on military contract for the Navy, Part 131 MAC, based out of LeMoore Naval Air Station. Women weren't allowed to fly in the military then, but as "civilian contract pilots" we still lived in the BOQ at LeMoore, and hauled aircraft parts daily between Navy bases in a twin Bonanza. We even wore Navy uniform jumpsuits and big fat, Navy issued boots that made me feel like Bozo the Clown.

One day one of my ex-ROTC students stopped by in his A-7. I could only sigh. Here was one of my students, zooming around in a jet that I was not allowed to fly, just because I was female. That didn't seem right to me.

Still in college, finishing my Bachelor's in Fine Arts and Architecture, I promptly switched my major to Political Science. I reasoned the problem of women not being allowed to fly in the military was a political problem that could be solved. Men were using the training to apply to the airlines and NASA. Hey, I would like that training! Maybe I could be an airline pilot or astronaut? I pay taxes for that training, too!

I finished a Master's degree in political science, but realized in the process I could probably make more headway tackling the issue through the channels of public administration, and switched my major again, getting another master's degree along the way in Public Administration.

I focused my research in collaboration with the school of Aerospace Safety and Systems Management at the University of Southern California, and eventually completed my doctoral dissertation, Elements of Organizational Discrimination: The Air Force Response to Women as Military Pilots. The paper addresses main issues which the military represented as reasons to bar women from the military, and especially flight training.

This paper was presented before Congress during the hearings on admitting women to the military academies. A copy is retained in the Congressional Records.

Shortly afterwards, September 22, 1976, I was hired by American Airlines. I was elated, of course, and honored when Robert Crandall, then President of American Airlines, mentioned he had read my paper.

Angela Masson flies an "Integrated Flight Deck" simulator as a research test pilot for NASA, Langley Research Center, VA - 2006

You were the first woman to be type-rated on the Boeing 747 on June 30, 1984.

(Some of the pioneer women captains for the major airlines were Emily Warner, Bonnie Tiburzi, Beverly Bass, Nancy Aldrich)

Always eternally grateful for the opportunity, I was the second woman hired at American Airlines. When Bonnie Tiburzi retired early, I inherited the designation of "Senior Female Pilot at American Airlines", a title I retained for over a decade, until retirement. And, maybe because of it (or perhaps in spite of it), I always wanted very much to be the best pilot I could be: fly the largest, fastest, most modern equipment; take on the most difficult and challenging destinations; fly the longest and/or newest routes; and make sure that in doing so, represent what is the best of what we, as women, can be and do.

And, yes, I am very proud of all my "sisters" who fly. The fact that now more women are flying makes everyone's job easier. As more women choose to make flying a career, there is less individual pressure to set a standard, to be perfect, or to represent our gender as a "token woman."

American Airlines Captain Angela Masson working
with Maintenance on the Boeing 777, 2007

In 1972, at age 21, while flying in the Powder Puff Derby you set a record as the youngest person to fly coast to coast in a high performance aircraft. . When I first started flying, it never occurred to me that women pilots were anything special. The Ninety-Nines were abundant in those days, friendly, supportive and loads of fun. I took to air-racing like a fox after a rabbit and never looked back.

The Ninety-Nines, as purveyors of many more air races than any men's groups, encouraged my early efforts and were always there to help. My first local air-race resulted in winning the "Tail End Charlie Award" - last place - but it was so much fun I was right back at it.

The family had a new Bellanca Super Viking at the time, which sported a Continental engine. I was rapidly burning it up with this new avocation. So, for my twenty-first birthday the family surprised me with brand new Bellanca of my own, powered by a 300HP Lycoming engine that I could run continuously at full-throttle. Whee! N8236R, I called him Romeo.

Angela and Romeo, Bellanca Super Viking N8236R, 1972

The Powder Puff Derby was just too much fun. Gini Richardson, a previous PPD winner, took me under her wing, literally (probably at my parents behest), and flew the route once with me before the actual race. Thank goodness. VOR and ADF were the only nav-aids then. Even DME didn't come until later. If you were out of range, or too far between signals, you were flying the original way -- pilotage-- by your compass, landmarks and your wits. And, flying low for racing, one was frequently below the VOR signal.

Anyway, on one leg of the race it was very stormy, and flying low below the clouds there were no VOR signals. I was burning way too much fuel, trying to go fast, but counted towns, one, two, three, like Gini had taught me, and made the race fly-by-airport just as the sun was about to set and the engine was about to run out of fuel. It quit right after I taxied into the parking spot. You would have thought I planned it that way (maybe a Bob Hoover trick?). However, both running out of fuel, and flying after sunset, were grounds for disqualification. I made it, but, a little too close for comfort!

It was a surprise to learn, after the race, that even though I'd only placed half-way in the race results (50/92, average speed 196.12), I had been the youngest-ever solo-pilot to complete a coast-to-coast flight in a high performance aircraft. Monitored by the FAI, the flight had been officially recorded.

The winners that year, Marian Banks and Dottie Sanders, flew a Pipe Comanche (1/92, average speed 207.21). They were wonderful and gracious. Flying back to the West Coast they took me as their "wingman". Wingwoman? Baby Bird soaring beside the experienced Mama Birds. They taught me along the way how to find airports in murky conditions, how to land in visibility that was way too low when you had no other choice, and how to get weather reports from unusual sources. We landed between rainbows in New Orleans, and spent an extra day there so they could teach me how a cultivated Southern Belle might have champagne and oysters for breakfast. All (VIP) Very Important Pilot stuff.

The route of the 1972 Powder Puff Derby

You retired in 2007.

Captain Angela Masson with Boeing 777 Domestic Flight Crew, LAX-MIA, 2007

I was lucky in that I was able to enjoy two last trips before retirement. One International round-trip between Miami and Buenos Aires, Argentina (one of my favorite places to play), and another "last trip", a Domestic route between Miami and Los Angeles. (See above photo).

But...retirement? What's that? I'm so busy I haven't noticed I'm retired yet. First, I bought an old church and have fixed it up to be habitable. It's perfect -- spacious and airy -- for all my art projects. I'm a member of the St. Augustine Art Association [her paintings are on display downtown].

And right now I'm serving a term as President of ISA+21 - The International Society of Women Airline Pilots. What a wonderful group of women! All extremely bright, vivacious, tenacious and full of fun. The organization gives away thousands of dollars in financial scholarships every year to career minded women pilots, including two 777 type-ratings this year. See the website for application details

Self Portrait by Angela Masson, 2005
Oil on canvas 46 x 60

Self Portrait by Angela Masson, 2009
Oil on canvas 30 x 40

Do you still belly dance? My mom used to tease me when I would get too serious. "Why don't you relax?" She would say, "You can be a belly-dancer if you want!" That sounded like fun. When the opportunity arose I was ready. And I love it. Dancing is such great exercise, and having a belly doesn't hurt. I took ballet for 13 years, then modern dance. Switched to belly-dancing when a friend recommended the Mid-Eastern Dance Exchange with Tamalyn Dallal in South Beach, Florida.

I was very fortunate to study also with the gorgeous and talented Bozenka (who choreographed for Shakira), and at schools in Sao Paolo and New York. My last performance was at Longy's Pickman Hall, Cambridge. If you like bellydance photos check out the work of Denise Marino.

Angela ~ Bellydance #3 ~ by Denise Marino OCT 2003

All photos and paintings copyright Airplanet Productions. For use contact

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