ProFile: Kent Magnuson

by Ruth Nicolaus



Kent Magnuson did his rodeoing when he was young, and now he gets to continue in the sport with his job.
The Kearney, Nebraska man, who grew up riding saddle broncs and tie-down and team roping, was never good enough to make a living at it. But when he quit competing, he turned his attention to flying cowboys and rodeo people around the country.
He began flying small planes in the late 1970s, and introduced himself to Donnie Gay at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. At the time, a lot of cowboys were flying from rodeo to rodeo, and Gay, who was in the middle of his eight world title run, was also flying. In 1980, Gay called him and asked him to fly him to events.
Gay sold his plane to Lyle Sankey a few months later, and since Sankey didn’t have a pilot’s license, Magnuson flew him to his rodeos. Other rodeo super stars, including Bruce Ford, Roy Cooper, Bobby Brown, and more than Kent can remember, joined in, guys who were “hard on the rodeo trail.”
After the 1980s, Kent turned his attention to the corporate world, flying for four different businesses, seven days a week, from across the U.S. to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Don Gay and Kent Magnuson in the cockpit - courtesy of the family

Don Gay and Kent Magnuson in the cockpit – courtesy of the family

Then, six years ago, he and Gay reconnected. Gay was flying a twin engine Cessna and wanted to learn to fly a turbine airplane. He came to Nebraska and stayed with Magnuson for a week, learning from his experience. Now he and Gay share duties on a Merlin IIIB, a plane owned by Jerry Nelson of Frontier Rodeo. Magnuson flies for Nelson in several different capacities: with his stock contracting firm, his minor league basketball team, the Kentucky Mavericks, and his other businesses.
His schedule varies. He might be flying for two weeks, and then be home for four or five days. Being a pilot requires flexibility. “That’s one of the benefits of having your own plane,” he said, “having 24/7 access. The flight crew needs to be able to launch within an hour. You might go to the east coast or the west coast, you never know where it’s going to be. To me, that’s fun to do.”
The one thing that changes a pilot’s schedule, beyond what the boss says, is the weather. “Our biggest consideration is the weather,” Magnuson said. A second plan is always in place. “If we can’t do this, what’s plan B? Where’s the next closest airport?”
Occasionally, but not often, he’ll fly cowboys to rodeos. He usually flies cowboys over the busy Fourth of July weekend, and in mid-February, flew world champion Sage Kimzey to some events.
The best part, for Magnuson, is the people. He loves them. “The rodeo crowd is a very unique group,” he said. “The rodeo world has a different way of handling people, the way they do things, how they relate to their competitors. They’re friends, and everybody helps everybody. It’s a code of the west. If you can help, you help whoever needs it, regardless of who they are.”
Now he and his wife, Beth Baxter, barrel race and compete in the 4D events. It’s how they enjoy each other’s company. “It’s a real bonding time for us. Neither of us have any other hobbies, or money enough to support another hobby.”
Magnuson, who is in his sixties, loves his job. “My mother and my stepdad (Beverly and Glen Nutter) conditioned me, that you don’t do a job for the money, if you don’t have to. Follow your heart and the money will always be enough, sometimes more, sometimes less. You’ll always want to do the work.
“And after 35 years of flying, I still want to fly every day.”

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