A lifetime in Aviation

Sage Bassett preparing to enter the cockpit for his first solo flight on August 30, 1954. (Photo courtesy of Sage Bassett)

Resident Sage Bassett flew his first solo flight in 1954, but aviation became his life for over thirty years including work with one of the busiest airports in the U.S.

By Almeda Girod
Resident Writer

Retired CDR USN Melvin Sage Bassett (“Sage”) is from a long line of US Naval Academy graduates, beginning with his uncle in 1909, father in 1920, and cousin in 1935. Sage (1953), his brother (l958) and two nephews followed in this tradition.

Sage’s parents met on a blind date and were married four days later, remaining together for nearly 60 years. The Bassetts often lived a nomadic life of a military family, with Sage attending fourth grade in three countries. They were stationed in the Philippines in 1940 when ordered back to Long Beach, California, as “war clouds gathered” and officials were concerned with possible danger. Sage recalls blackout drills and air-war wardens since the city was near the ocean and there was a concern of invasion by the Japanese forces. His father, the commanding officer of a fleet oiler delivering fuel in the South Pacific, communicated to the family through letters only.

Upon his father’s return in 1946, the family received orders to DC. Sage graduated from Western High School (now called Duke Ellington High School). He married his high school sweetheart, and they had three children.

Sage flew a variety of planes including seaplanes, taildraggers, jets, and multi-engine transports. His most harrowing experience was a flight deck crash in a Skyraider during a carrier landing qualification cruise. A pitching deck and poor landing technique contributed to the incident.

He retired from the Navy after a 30-year career and began work with Flight Safety International in La Guardia Airport in New York, serving as a flight/simulator/aircraft system and crew resource management instructor, involving various corporate and regional airline operators. This last assignment was of particular interest to Sage. It dealt with new theories (derived from black-box analysis) that indicated most of the major aircraft accidents occurring in the last half of the 20th century were not caused by poor airmanship but by pilots failing to understand and employ good communication skills, situational awareness, sound decision making, effective resource utilization, and cockpit discipline.        

Sage met his second wife in Manhasset, New York, at a duplicate bridge club. She was a musician and artist. He was from a family of bridge players and continues to play duplicate bridge at Riderwood.

After his wife’s death in 2017, Sage moved from Roanoke, Virginia. to Victoria Place to be near family. He delights in being involved in the lives of his great-grandchildren (Edmond and Sophia, ages 14 and 11), and attending their hockey games.

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