In 1958, newlyweds Edward “Scott” and Marian Ferguson hopped in a back-to-back two-seater Beechcraft T-34 Mentor airplane at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., and flew east toward the Atlantic Ocean. Once over water, First Lieutenant Ferguson banked the training plane right, maintained a bird’s eye 500-feet altitude view, and the couple motored on down the coast to Key West, Fla. for their honeymoon, stopping overnight in Sea Island, Ga.
“When we taxied on the runway down in Georgia, a fellow comes and rolls out a red carpet for us,” Scott Ferguson reminisced with a smile. “And Marian, well, she has kind of liked airplanes ever since that day.”
Yes, the young, handsome Air Force officer chalked up some good romance points coordinating that trip 54 years ago. Back then he belonged to the base’s Aero Club for military pilots, where he could rent the retired Air Force trainer for $5 a flying hour.
The couple have flown together since then, going through about a half-dozen family planes beginning in 1964 when Ferguson purchased his first aircraft, the now-popular Beechcraft Staggerwing, a biplane.
Nowadays, the 81-year-old escorts Marian in their award-winning twin engine 1967 Cessna 310L, which seats six.
In late July, Ferguson’s Cessna took first place as the most outstanding 310 at the renowned Oshkosh (Wis.) AirVenture air show. Judging was stringent, says Ferguson, noting three groups, with three judges each, micro-evaluated about 50 Cessna 310s entered in the competition from all over the country.
“Those guys (judges) are experts with the 310, they knew everything about that plane, said Ferguson, noting the air show is the world’s largest. “They kept coming back and looking over the plane, so that kind of gave us an indication we were doing well. Yes, it’s kind of nice winning the award when you would look out and see all of the those Cessna 310s lined up that were there.”
Actually, Montana is developing a tradition of showcase Cessna gems piloted by octogenarian aviators at the Oshkosh venue. Last year, 83-year-old Roundup rancher Doug Parrott took first prize in the 310 class.
When Ferguson was asked whose dual engine is best, his or good friend Parrott’s, he replied with a soft grin, “It all depends on who you ask.” Eighty-something competition doesn’t take place only on the golf course.
The two veteran pilots met each other about 30 years ago when they attended monthly Quiet Birdmen meetings in Billings. They continue to meet today. The national aviator organization, formed in 1921, includes members who have captained planes on “the left side” at least 500 hours during their careers.
Legend has it, says Ferguson, that when Charles Lindbergh arrived in Paris following his historic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927 he had no passport or ID, but did have his metallic QB card, which members prize.
Why a metallic ID card, the aviator was asked. “It’s in case things get hot,” Ferguson explained to the still stumped questioner. “A crash, with fire.”
Parrott’s left-side hours included flying as a senior 747 captain. Ferguson’s 18,000 captain hours were mostly flying the Air Force’s cargo planes, including during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Saddled to a Pentagon desk at the end of his 27-year military career, Ferguson later moved back to the skies piloting corporate jets for businessmen for about a decade, including Colt 45 beer magnate Jerry Hoffberger, who owned the Baltimore Orioles and Colts professional sports teams.
He says in all his time flying military and civilian aircraft, he has never had a close call or mishap, in any way.
“I fly safe, I use good judgment at all times, and don’t try flying close to the ground,” Ferguson said, noting poor choices and recklessness are the two things that get pilots in trouble. “It’s no different than good driving in a car.”
Ferguson says he and Parrott are about the only two regular fliers of aircraft in their eighth decade, at least on this side of the state. He can’t recall what exactly stimulated his interests in airplanes while growing up in Sidney, but something did. He built model planes as a kid and vaguely remembers flying with his mother as passengers down to Denver from Cheyenne, Wyo., in an old Lodestar.
By 17, and just a junior in high school, he had his pilot’s license. When asked if this made him a big hit with the girls, he said, “No, not really. They were all too afraid to go up and fly.”
His wife surely isn’t. The pair’s next journey is to visit her family in Pennsylvania. Other regular destinations by air for the two include Fort Peck for boating or over to Chico Hot Springs for breakfast. The Fergusons also like to sit their red, black and white Cessna down on Mackinac Island in Michigan.
“(Scott) was just born to fly an airplane,” said Marian, when asked why her husband is a good pilot. “He likes being up there with the angels.”