Local army veteran reflects on recent airshow crash

“This was the day in 2010 that Dr. Joe (right) and I met after his show at Oshkosh and became instant friends. The world mourns his loss.” ~ Max Corneau

(ROCKWALL, TX – Nov. 3, 2019) When people thank me for my service (24 years), my response is normally, “Thank you; it was my honor.” Sometimes in my head I think, “If you only knew how awesome it was be a Mohawk pilot, to be associated with that mission!”

On November 1, the Mohawk community of brothers and sisters lost one of our heroes.  Dr. Joe Masessa crashed his personal airshow Mohawk while rehearsing for the 30th Stuart, Florida airshow. He was a physician, race car driver, jet pilot and airshow pilot of this very difficult airplane to fly. Although Dr. Joe never served, he was a master pilot, physician and even an IMSA race car driver who carried the message of service before self far beyond what any citizen has ever done in my experience.

Dr. Joe absolutely mastered flying the Mohawk and made hundreds of thousands of people across this great land smile. Here is what he called his “sizzle video” as you can see it’s a lot of fun to fly and he flew it well:  https://youtu.be/P8hAbpHAwj4 .

The night of the accident, my wife and I were tabling as we have done all too often about aviation losses when she reminded that my airplane was called the “Widowmaker,” which was not comforting for an Army wife back then. The Mohawk got its nickname “Widowmaker” during the Vietnam war because of the high rate of losses suffered by its pilots and crewmembers. Those of us who flew it during 80s and 90s still got the same reminder.

Dr. Joe and I first met in 2010 at the world’s greatest aviation gathering, the Airventure at Oshkosh. I flew up to the show with my buddy Jim Parrish in his twin Cessna 340 on our annual guy’s trip. I fell asleep at airshow center awaking to the sound of Dr. Joe’s Mohawk going into reverse. I never thought I would see one fly again like this and it brought a tear to my eye.  Incidentally, my last Mohawk takeoff was six years earlier in a 3-ship formation for our unit’s retirement airshow in Savannah, GA and as I rolled on power, standing on the brakes, I also had huge tears rolling down my face and could barely see.

As soon as Dr. Joe’s show concluded that day, I literally chased down his taxiing Mohawk arriving just as the mighty turbines spooled down and he began unstrapping.  Throngs of spectators began to crowd around asking for his autograph and I held back. With only a few folks were left so as not to distract the scene, I walked up and commended him, explaining that I had been a Mohawk pilot. He asked about a certain emergency procedure and I told him I had it happen to me one very bad night looking into north Korea and he started yelling at the crowds to return. He asked if I flew in Desert Storm and I said yes. He turned, yelling louder for people to come back and talk to me because I had flown this plane in combat.  Soon the crowd swelled as we all walked around the bird clockwise from nose to tail, pointing things out. I made friend….the kind of friend you call or text anytime and vice versa.

On his airplane are the names of 1,636 unaccounted for soldiers MIA from the Vietnam War. Each time one of these individuals was repatriated, Dr. Joe placed a flag next to their name.  His airplane was literally a flying reminder to NEVER FORGET. You can learn more about the airplane and Dr. Joe here in Matt Barbour’s story from ABC 15 in Myrtle Beach, SC https://wpde.com/news/local/myrtle-beach-pilot-on-a-mission-to-remember-soldiers-lost-in-vietnam-war

The last time Dr. Joe texted me was to ask if I could join him in for a couple airshows, including the Stuart show.  He will be sadly missed by our community of Mohawkers that spans generations and wars but he left a lasting legacy for which we are all better.  Here’s to you Mohawk Joe!

Guest article by Rockwall resident Max Corneau
United States Army, Aviation
Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.)

2016 Article in Twin & Turbine by Leroy Cook: 

Grumman Mohawk Turboprop Twin

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