By Marie Fasano
Anyone who listened on frequency 122.8 near Payson, Ariz. recently might have heard an unusual announcement. “This is Sky Queen one. This is Sky Queen two.” Miss Rodeo Arizona 2007, Katie Hill, and 11 other 2008 rodeo queens from states throughout the country had an airplane ride out of Payson Municipal Airport (KPAN). The visiting rodeo queens got a chance to see the beautiful Arizona Rim Country from the air. Ten pilots flew the queens above the shimmering waterfall at the Tonto Natural Bridge, on to the green ridges of the Mogollon Rim and over the town of Payson.
Early on a Friday morning, the rodeo queens sprinted down the steps to the tarmac, looking radiant wearing tall western hats decorated with their state crown.
“The girls were excited last night and talked about the rides,” said Donna Rutherford, chaperone.
Nancy Landino, the rodeo coordinator for this event, told the pilots that the flights are a highlight each year.
Seven years ago, Sandra Butler initiated the flights.
“When I was a sponsor for Miss Rodeo Arizona 2000, Aimee Tewalt, I wanted to give her a special send off as she completed her reign,” Butler said.
Butler talked to her husband, Tom, a pilot, and he agreed to give Tewalt an airplane ride. He also told other pilots at Payson Airport about it and several offered to give rides. Now they’re a tradition. Each year at the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo, visiting rodeo queens from various states get a flight from the Payson Pilots Association.
“At the state rodeo queen pageants, the girls always talk about the airplane ride they’ll get when they go to Payson,” Butler said.
Payson, located high up in Rim Country at an elevation of over 5000 feet, claims a western heritage well known for its rodeos. The mayor of Payson, Kenny Evans, stopped by to see the queens off on their flight. He told everyone that it was great that the aviation community and the rodeo folks joined for this special day.
“No one else does this for us,” said Miss Rodeo Iowa, Aleigh Beahm.
The women went up in a variety of planes. Bill Day in his Piper Arrow coordinated the event. Pilots and their planes included Jon Barber, Cessna 205; Jim Garner, Cessna 205; Rich Henry, Cessna 172; Ned Hines, Bonanza; Russ Hudstead, Diamond motor glider; Ernie Pritchard, RV7A; Jerry Ramey, Bonanza; Ron Ward, Cessna 195; and Eric Ward, Cessna 180.
After her ride, Miss Rodeo Florida, Sydnye Weber said, “Arizona is my favorite place I’ve visited. I never knew it was so beautiful.”
Miss Wyoming, Stacy Jo Johnson, flying with Day, was thrilled with her flight.
“This was my first time, and it was awesome,” she said.
Before her flight, Miss Rodeo Nebraska, Kristen Schott, said she had gotten sick once in an airplane and was afraid it would happen again. She and Miss Rodeo Florida flew with Eric Ward.
“The first bump in the air, and that was it,” Ward said. “They were OK after that.”
“I didn’t even get sick,” Schott said. “It was beautiful.”
The young women had many questions for the pilots: “Why is it called experimental?” “Were we really going that fast?” “How do you know where the other pilots are?”
Miss Rodeo New Mexico Teen, Kaycee McDaniel, went up with Russ Hustead in the motor glider.
“I felt like a bird,” she said. “When the motor was turned off, it was so calm. It was awesome.”
Flying with pilot, Ned Hines, Miss Rodeo Arizona repeated, “Payson traffic, 181 Alpha Charlie—I’ll never forget that.”
Following the flights, Darla Annabel, owner of the Crosswinds Restaurant at Payson Airport, treated the rodeo queens to breakfast. Dick Mumma, president of the volunteer management of the airport, the Payson Regional Airport Authority, bought the meal for the pilots.
At the breakfast, Ron Ward asked, “Who’s taking flying lessons?”
Two hands shot up—Miss Rodeo Colorado and Miss Rodeo Wyoming.
Bill Day and wife Brenda were sponsors for Miss Wyoming, who stayed at their home.
“She was so excited that night after the flight that she called her father and said, ‘Dad, I want to take flying lessons,'” he recalled. “Her father responded, ‘Maybe I’ll take them too.'”
After the flights, one could tell from smiles on the faces of the pilots that they too enjoyed seeing the excitement of their passengers.
“We don’t need an excuse to fly, but you make it special,” Ned Hines, president of the PPA, told the rodeo queens.