Fieldnotes – The Pilot

I heard about Ed Musselman from Kenton Rowe, the photographer who has been contributing many outstanding photos to this series. Kenton was on a photo shoot last year in the Lewistown area, and needed some aerial shots. He arranged to have Ed Musselman fly him. Kenton later described what it had been like flying with Ed – “The safest I’ve ever felt in an airplane” – and mentioned in passing that Ed was 92 years old. I decided then I wanted to meet him.

We met in Lewistown at the Bistro on Main St., the restaurant where Ed meets for lunch with a group of local pilots most weeks. The ground rules for the pilot’s lunch, Ed told me, are simple: no religion or politics, and no ringing cell phones. After lunch, I followed Ed back to his ranch, about 18 miles northeast of town, in the shadow of the Judith Mountains. He lives alone there, with his Golden Retriever, in a simple frame house built in the 1870’s by the grandfather of his late wife.

The house is cozy and modest. Magazines cover the kitchen table and the coffee table in the living room. A glance at the bookshelves reveals that Ed is a passionate reader with broad tastes. The magazines are also diverse, but aviation journals predominate.

“I keep up on every development in flying,” Ed told me. “I always have.”

While he Ed is up on the latest developments in technology with regard to planes, home computers are another matter. “I haven’t crossed the digital divide,” he said. “At this point, it’s not likely that I ever will. I just don’t see the point.”

His family insisted that he carry a cell phone with him, but that’s about the only concession to technology that he’s willing to make.

His health, he told me, is excellent. As to how long he will keep flying: “As long as I can parallel park my truck,” he said, “I feel confident in a plane. It’s so much safer than driving, especially if you know what you’re doing. And the freedom of flying your own plane is unlike anything else a person can do. That feeling is one I never want to give up.”