Flying High: The Fat Tire Cowboys

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irt and dried grass swirl in the air as a spring breeze rolls down the runway. The sun is slowly setting in a clear, blue West Texas sky. The low, steady drone of an engine can be heard, first faintly, then much louder. Over a grassy area running between a line of hangars and the Slaton Municipal Airport taxi way, a Cessna 185 Skywagon roars into view. The small, high wing aircraft boasting large tires first flies effortlessly down the makeshift landing strip, 10 feet off of the ground. It then circles back, lands, and comes to rest in the field.

As the airplane door opens, golden light reflects off of the clean, white door. A pair of brown, leather boots step out of the sparkling machine and onto the ground by the large, black tires affixed to the airplane. A group of men, wearing boots and some—cowboy hats, approach the airplane.

An unsuspecting passerby would say the happy banter echoing off of the metal hangars were originating from the group of cowboys standing around the airplane with big tires in a field. For the most part, they would be correct. But they are no ordinary cowboys; they are the Fat Tire Cowboys.

We are not traditional airplane people,” La Rosa stressed. “We love it. We just go out and do it; we live it.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys are a group of Texans, primarily raised on the Llano Estacado, who share a background in agriculture and passion for aviation. What began with a simple YouTube post has blossomed into an international brand under the leadership of Bryan Rosa, from Tahoka, Texas. Rosa is better known as “La Rosa” to the other cowboys and their 28,000 followers across social media applications.

After La Rosa was shown fellow Fat Tire Cowboy Chad Bartee’s new bush plane, he knew he had to have one. Later that year, he bought and modified the same type of aircraft by replacing the standard 8-inch tires with a 31-inch pair, allowing the airplane to land in plowed fields, rock-filled river beds, and virtually any non-pavement runway.

La Rosa said the pair of pilots then took a trip to the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. There, he created a video showing the airplanes flying over striking landscapes. After posting the video and receiving overwhelming positive feedback and views, he created the Fat Tire Cowboys along with a logo and shirt.

“We were doing all of this crazy stuff anyways,” La Rosa said. “Might as well go ahead and post it for other people to see, too.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys’ passion for flying goes beyond a hobby. Although all of the cowboys have careers outside of aviation, the group can regularly be found planning their next adventure in their hangars any given day. La Rosa said flying is more than a form of transportation to the cowboys. The cowboys fly because they love every part of the journey from the moment they pull their airplanes out of the hangar – to the moment their fat tires touchdown.

“Aviation: the essence of it brings richness to your life – it’s unexplainable to most people,” La Rosa said. “It’s the beauty of it all; you have to have knowledge, and you have to master all of these facets of science and the aircraft and how it behaves.”

The spirit of traditional cowboys lives within the Fat Tire Cowboys. The same drive and intensity that is needed to protect a herd of animals or bring a crop to yield can be applied to aviation. Many of the cowboys’ adventurous spirits and passion for aviation can be traced back to their agricultural roots.

A career pilot of 33 years, Scott Lane recalls working on his family’s farm and ranch near Dimmit, Texas. While driving farm equipment at 12 years old, he remembers watching the crop dusters fly by as he sat on a tractor all day.

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Lane recalls as he points toward the sky. “So, I went and did it.”

For others, the journey to the sky was not as simple, but the benefit of having a past in agriculture is clear. 

We are not traditional airplane people.

Koby Reed, a fifth-generation cotton farmer from Seagraves, Texas, grew up watching his grandfather fly. He loved everything about the plane – the smell, the look – but he never made the time to learn. After he realized he was nearing the end of his 30s, he wasted no more time and got his license.

Learning to pilot the skies, Reed said, was easy after growing up on a farm. After years of working on farm equipment, he possessed a deep understanding of mechanical equipment that he has carried over into aviation. Most importantly, through farming, he learned to have a determined mindset.

“Growing up on a farm, you’ve got to be out there.” Reed said. “You’ve got to make it work at the end of the year, and somehow make the crop work. That was the drive instilled in me; you’ll never quit keep going.”

Time and technology have changed the landscape of the working cowboy, but the culture and foundation remain the same. As the Fat Tire Cowboys brand grows and their audience increases, they hold on to their roots and their cowboy attitude.

“Every flight is an education,” Lane said. “Aviation is something that you learn from every flight every day.”

The future for the cowboys looks bright, but no matter what, they are enjoying each day, one flight at a time.

“That’s the fun part about it,” La Rosa said. “We have no clue, but we are enjoying the ride.”

Beyond their shared love of aviation, the cowboys share a true sense of community.

After seven years of restoration on La Rosa’s late father’s Piper Cub, a particularly bad hail storm rolled into West Texas. The massive hail punched holes through the hangar’s skylights and into the carefully painted canvas that makes up the airplane’s wings.

Surrounded by shards of plastic skylight and fragments of the Piper Cub, La Rosa stood in his cold hangar. With years of painstaking work seemingly lost, it would be easy for him to walk away from the aircraft, but giving up was not an option.

Just as a cowboy shepherds his herd in all weather – the Fat Tire Cowboys rallied together to rebuild what had been lost. Before long, the hangar was again filled with the group’s usual banter as the cowboys swept up any evidence from the disaster and got back to work.

Today, the Piper Cub again flies through the sky.