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Wichita Falls Living Magazine

West Texas Airfare

From rescue missions to hunting trips, Dustin Johnson of Cedar Ridge Aviation puts his flying talent to the test for the Wichita Falls Area.

Written by James McAfee
Photos by Emmy & Co Photography and provided by Cedar Ridge Aviation

Dustin Johnson of Knox City made the decision early on to not follow in the footsteps of his farming father and grandfather. Instead, he began a flying career that led him to become the founder and owner of Cedar Ridge Aviation. As a pilot and small business owner, Dustin provides a variety of valuable services to farmers and ranchers in a wide area of the south-central part of the United States. His fleet of helicopters and airplanes also aids in reducing the number of destructive wild hogs for any and all landowners that suffer their devastation. 

As a native son of Knox City, Dustin grew up working in production at Johnson Melon Corporation, but after graduating from Knox City High School in 2005 he decided that he definitely didn’t want to be in the farming industry as a producer. Johnson Melon Corporation had gained recognition for the production of watermelons when Knox County became the Seedless Watermelon Capital of Texas.

“I never had the desire before to fly, but I decided to go to helicopter flight school in San Antonio,” Johnson said. 

After earning all necessary ratings, Johnson purchased his first helicopter and started Cedar Ridge Aviation. “I got every job I could find and never turned down any job,” he said, pointing out that he handled predator control (wild hogs) and worked with cattle. 

“The owners paid for those services at the time, but then in 2011 pig hunting became legal to sell to hunters that didn’t actually own or lease the property,” Johnson said. “That was a life changer for me. Now I could do public hunting for hunters, and that took a financial burden off the landowners as the hunters would be paying for the privilege.”

Two years later, he started crop dusting for farmers. “It’s a lot easier to raise crops when you have an experienced application team,” Johnson said. Currently Cedar Ridge’s team handles crop dusting assignments from April to September in a wide area including Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois. Aerial hunting trips take place in North Texas from September until April. Cedar Ridge now has a lodge in neighboring King County on the old 6666 Ranch that features four private suites and two bunk rooms, accommodating up to 20 hunters on weekend hunts. Johnson also provides the helicopters for the Big Country Veteran’s group that hosts an annual event for veterans each April, allowing the veterans a chance to kill pigs and coyotes.  

Johnson also doesn’t mind lending his talents and helicopters to help others, gaining recognition in recent years for many rescue efforts. “I’ll go anywhere I can help,” Johnson said. Operating under the slogan ‘The West Texas Airfare,’ Johnson delivered blood and food when Hurricane Harvey hit south Texas as a category 4 storm in 2017. “We also did house-to-house searches and cut fences to more than 10,000 cattle trapped in water nearly up to their heads,” he added.

It seems youngsters over the years have heard of others floating down the Brazos, resulting in Johnson getting called to assist with the searches when they come up missing. Last year, he got a call from Knox County Sheriff Hunter Embesi about a large family missing on the river following a float trip. “We found them in 30 minutes,” Johnson said. “The kids were standing in the middle of the water in, ankle to waist deep water. We got two out at a time. That was a bad decision, deciding to float like that.”

Johnson was also successful in rescuing a man at Fort Phantom Lake in Abilene when he drifted over the spillway. “He grabbed hold of a tree and we got him out,” Johnson said.  He has been successful many times in locating individuals, but rescue missions aren’t his only emergency service. Recently, Johnson purchased a “Bambi bucket” for the helicopters that can scoop up water and assist when wildfires are reported. 

With a fleet of 12 helicopters and 4 airplanes, Cedar Ridge Aviation provides a sizable variety of services to residents of the Big Country and beyond that has proven to be a labor of love for Johnson. †


Summer 2022 Issue
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