Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The history of 2 forgotten Katy airports: Lite-Flite Ultraport and Franz Airfield

More than 30 airports in the Greater Houston area have been forgotten, according to pilot Paul Freeman. He operates the Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields website, which lists two abandoned Katy airports: Lite-Flite Ultraport and Franz Airfield.

Freeman, an aerospace engineer and personal aviation hobbyist for 21 years, said he started the website 17 years ago as of a result of his interests and out of self-preservation.

“If there’s a runway that still exists somewhere that’s abandoned, the [Federal Aviation Administration] depicts those on aeronautical charts because that might be useable in an emergency for an aircraft,” he said.

According to Freeman, a Virginia resident, the website has grown to include about 2,100 airfields in all 50 states since 1999. Website visitors make suggestions and contribute materials, and Freeman does further research and gathering before typing up an entry.

“It’s a very collaborative venture,” he said.

Lite-Flite Ultraport

Larry Haskins said his father, Norman Haskins, owned and operated Lite-Flite Ultraport in western Katy from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s.

Andrew Haskins, Larry’s son and Norman’s grandson, said Ultraport combines the words airport and ultralights. Andrew described the ultralight as “a hang glider with an engine”—a class of aircraft that Freeman said was most popular in the 1970s and 1980s because they are lightweight, affordable and do not require an operator to have a pilot’s license.

Larry said Norman leased the land on which the ultraport sat and constructed a facility from which to assemble, sell and repair ultralight aircrafts in addition to providing hangar space for patrons and offering instructional courses. Norman also sublet additional space to a Spitfire ultralight manufacturer, Larry said.

Both Andrew and Larry said ultralights earned a reputation for being dangerous machines. When the fad ended in the mid-1980s, Norman closed down the dealership and airport and built a go-kart track in its place.

Franz Airfield/King Air Airfield

Freeman said his research indicates the Franz Airfield operated between the mid-1950s to sometime in the 1980s or 1990s. Unlike Lite-Flite, it probably was not used by the general public, he said.

“I think it was basically just a private airfield with a couple hangars,” Freeman said. “It’s the kind of place where there may have just been a couple of folks who flew their planes from it: the property owner and then some of their buddies.”

According to Freeman’s research, the earliest depiction he has located of the airfield was on the 1956 U.S. Geological Survey topographical map. The earliest photo he found was from 1958, showing the airfield as having two unpaved runways intersecting in an ‘X’-shape and surrounded by four small buildings.

Freeman said the airfield probably was renamed sometime between 1964 and 1971 as the 1971 USGS topographical map labeled the site as King Landing Strip. It had just a single unpaved runway running northwest-to-southeast.

He said the site likely closed some time between 1981 and 1995. Modern photos suggest the Grand Parkway was built directly through the airfield, a phenomenon that Freeman said is far too common in general aviation.

“Our nation loses a lot of airports every year,” he said. “The continual urban [and] suburban sprawl eats up a lot of suburban airports.”


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