When thinking of farm and ranch equipment people probably imagine tractors, four-wheelers, pickups, and other traditional apparatus. Bryan Prevost has another tool in the garage—an airplane.
Prevost is a third-generation pilot and fourth-generation farmer/rancher on the family ranch near Lambert, MT. The airplane he flies, a 1953 Piper PA-18 Super Cub, is also a multi-generational member of the family, having been purchased by Prevost’s dad, John, in 1976.
Prevost refers to the plane as a family member because of its usefulness and the sentimental ties it has with him and his dad. At the time the plane was purchased, Prevost’s dad was learning to fly and renting a plane when it was decided buying an aircraft would be cheaper in the long run. The Piper was purchased from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
While in high school he had an interest in aviation, probably due to growing up in the back seat of that two-seater airplane, flying with his dad. However, as he admits, he wasn’t an exceptional student, especially in the areas of science and math, which are essential in becoming a pilot, so a high school counselor advised him to not pursue that course. He listened, and went to college to become a teacher, but after a few years decided that wasn’t his calling and returned to the farm.
After returning to the farm, and still in his mid-20s his interest in flying professionally had not diminished. He had started lessons in his teens and decided it was time to go back to college and get a degree. He enrolled at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, MT, and graduated, completing a degree in aeronautical science with ratings as a private pilot with instrument rating, commercial pilot, multi-engine pilot, as well as a certified flight instructor with instrument ratings.
Although he still wanted to be a commercial pilot, Prevost returned to the farm after graduating. He noted, “One year turned into three, and three into six, and the next thing I have a wife and kids; then my dad passed away [in 2011], and I just kind of took it over. That’s how it worked out.”
But looking back, Prevost has no regrets. He noted, “I could have become an airline pilot and would have lived out of town and had job security and probably making some good money. But I would rather live where I live right now than to live in a big city.” He added, “I wouldn’t give any of this up. No, I don’t make the big money like some guys do, but the reward I have out here is far more than anybody can pay me.”
Using the airplane as a piece of farm equipment comes into play when checking on his commercial black Angus cattle. Prevost said he can use it to check fences, water tanks and cattle in about 30 minutes, where doing it all on the ground would take several hours. The outings often require him to land in fields. He noted most of his landings are on dirt or turf with touchdowns on asphalt occurring primarily when he needs to land at an airport to refuel.
The plane also comes in handy when it is time to move cattle, but not to actually herd them. That is all done from the ground. Prevost said when it is time to move animals, they are trailed about 10 miles. He will fly around the perimeter of the pasture the morning of a move to see where the cattle are located. Additionally, he said there seems to always be a few animals that turn back, so he can go back up in the airplane and fly over the area to locate the stragglers before going back in to retrieve them on the ground.
While he doesn’t regularly fly in the winter, mostly due to lack of a good heater in the plane, he has helped find missing cattle. He relayed a story from several years ago when, after a snowstorm, a neighbor’s bulls were missing. He went up in the plane to fly over the area and locate the black bulls against the white snow.
Prevost told WLJ about a time he was flying for pleasure and saw a cow and calf out of the pasture. He said he would have never known they were out until much later if he was just looking from the ground.
As for the choice of plane, tying it back to a piece of equipment, Prevost said this particular airplane model would be his choice time and again. He said it is perfect for his needs, with enough power to quickly get around the ranch, but it also flies slow enough to let him observe the pastures and fields below. He compared choosing an airplane to selecting a particular model of pickup. “For what I do, and how I fly, the Piper Super Cub is perfect. If someone told me I had a pick of different airplanes, I would always go back to what I have right now.”
Looking to the next generation, Prevost said his son, now six, is beginning to express an interest in flying. And, it will just be a matter of time before his 4-year-old daughter takes her place in the back seat for family flying adventures.
Prevost noted he learned to use the airplane on the farm and ranch from his dad, saying the hard work of becoming a pilot and work on the ranch go hand in hand. “As much as I put into my flying, I do the same for the farm and my cattle.” He added, “I’m very fortunate to be able to do both.” — Rae Price, WLJ editor