October 22, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
When a private airport south of Lubbock, Texas, invited the public for an October Saturday of flying, food, and family fun, the airpark’s new owner summed things up with this comment on his airport’s Facebook page: "Wow is all I can say!"
The Oct.19 fly-in event at Lubbock Executive Airpark was clearly a hit with area aviation fans who turned out in hundreds to celebrate the re-emergence of an airport that as recently as last spring had appeared headed for other uses. That unhappy prospect had evaporated when Mark Drake, a local businessman and pilot who was keenly interested in keeping aviation alive at the airport, intervened.
Now, he said by phone, aviation is back in the driver’s seat at Lubbock Executive, with aircraft owners returning to the field, pilots relishing a made-over lounge, and future plans envisioning new hangars, GPS-based instrument approaches, and the lengthening of the 3,500-foot-long paved runway.
When Drake took over the airport, formerly known as Town and Country Airport, from a previous owner who had purchased the facility at auction seven years ago, aircraft based on the field had dwindled from more than 100 to 42. Weekends saw drag races on the taxiway—with the runway more likely to be in use for pit operations than flight operations.
Drake had already moved his own Beech Bonanza to another field, "and the more I stewed on it, the angrier I got," he said.
The part-time commercial pilot, whose primary business manufacturing and distributing parts for the International Scout off-road vehicle is based at the airport, found his concerns mounting as the field—located just south of Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport’s Class C airspace—seemed destined for closing.
"I had to figure out a way to do something different," he said.
When it seemed inevitable that a transition from airfield to racetrack might become irreversible, Drake acted—by buying the place. By October, when remodeling was under way and expansion plans were unfolding, it was time for the airport to re-emerge in a public celebration of aviation.
About 50 aircraft participated in the fly-in, which drew several hundred people and news media to the field. Pilots offering airplane rides introduced 56 youngsters to aviation as participants in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program. Hungry visitors munched burgers and hot dogs, with the proceeds raising funds for the Raider Pilots Association, a West Texas aviation group.
With 72 acres available, "there’s a lot of room to park airplanes" at the airport, Drake said.
Drake was thrilled with the turnout, as he noted on the airport’s Facebook page. And he expected a bit more news coverage in the coming days as local news crews made plans to record a competition in which contestants attempted to drop a basketball into a hoop from a Piper Super Cub (at an altitude of 50 feet agl).
Mostly, Drake is absorbed with development plans for Lubbock Executive Airpark including adding 20 hangars in the coming year, shepherding an application he has prepared for GPS approaches, and working on a land acquisition project that would facilitate lengthening the runway to 5,200 feet.
Local pilots seem to like what they are seeing at the field, and are coming home. Drake said the number of based aircraft has climbed back to 63; tenants range from owners of light sport aircraft and production singles to pilots of a Beech Baron, Piper Aerostar, and Cessna 421 Golden Eagle twins.
"I’m on the right track, I think," he said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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