The Liberty Gazette
January 14, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: A couple Sundays ago the Elyminator sprang up into a stiff headwind, eager to help a friend begin the journey into the joys of airplane ownership. Dean with his newly minted private pilot certificate had just ended his search for a plane of his own. Though he is building an RV-9, that airplane is at least a couple years away from taking flight So Dean bought a Grumman Cheetah to maintain his flying skills while he custom-builds his new steed. Finding one at an airport near San Antonio he struck a deal with its owner. Since he had learned to fly in a Cessna and was not familiar with the handling differences of a Grumman we flew out to help him bring his prize home.
Mike: When I think of a small 3,000 foot long grass airstrip I think of something like the crop duster strip at Gum Island next to Highway 146 south of Dayton, or the airstrip called Dunham Field near Crosby that has around 20 hangars along its 2,800 feet of turf. Another example is the West Liberty Airport located west of Dayton north of 1960 near the county line. These two privately owned airports are open to the general aviation public. Private runways like the ag-strip are not. So as we flew westbound into the late afternoon sun we expected to find something similar to Dunham, but we were surprised.
Zuehl Field takes its name from a small ghost town nearby. Its 3,000’ long by 200’ wide grass runway is so close to Randolph Air Force Base that the traffic pattern for Zuehl is restricted to the east side. At first sight I would not have guessed it to be an airport if I hadn’t spied the four-engine Douglas DC-4 sitting next to a hangar at the north end. That was my first clue this place was different. The four engine transport is just one of over 100 airplanes based here. The Zuehl Airport Flying Community Owners Association maintains the 230-acre airport. The runway seems to offer a lot of elbow room compared to most private landing zones that are hemmed in by trees on most sides. The taxiway-street layout lends to the feeling of openness.
Linda: The approach in gusty winds presented some challenges but the landing was uneventful and we found Dean and his wife Marilyn standing out in the brisk wind waiting for our arrival. Dean had already done the walk-around preflight inspection twice before we arrived and a ground run to warm up the engine. Mike completed his own inspection and he and Dean climbed in and started up. I took off in the Elyminator ahead of them. Climbing out I turned east over I-10, Dean and Mike only a mile behind. However since Dean was still learning his new machine Mike took some time to help him settle in and I continued on keeping in radio contact with them. They were not far behind when I landed back at Ellington.
Mike: Soon Dean and Marilyn will say good-bye to long car trips and long airport security lines as they travel the country in their ‘new’ magic carpet.