The Liberty Gazette
April 30, 2019Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
For a relaxing sit, choose among the twenty or so large, sturdy rockers lining windows outside the terminal building, facing the runway. Grab an ice-cold water from the cooler, and be a spectator of take-offs and landings, or if you’re flying in, come rest after a long flight while the lineman refuels your plane. The view at the West Houston Airport near Highway 6 and Barker Cypress welcomes everyone. There’s plenty of space for observation and lots of friendly folks.
There’s also an opportunity to take a flight in a 2006 Waco YMF-5. Painted blazing yellow with splashes of brilliant red, the open-cockpit biplane swoops low over treetops and high over the Houston skyline. Its throaty engine roars, as the pilot shows passengers what it was like to be a barnstormer.
At the controls is Lt Colonel Karl Koch, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. While stationed in various places around the world, Karl served as an F-16 instructor pilot. He also flew combat missions over Iraq. These days, he’s an engineer for an oil company, but his weekends are his, free to take people up for a leisurely flight in his Waco.
When Karl was 12, his mother didn’t want him to fly. But in secret, his older brother bought him a “discovery flight” in a glider. When their mother saw young Karl in the glider, being towed by a tow-plane, she knew all she could do then was wave. Karl knew this was the one thing he wanted to do. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1995, and by his retirement, he had received numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf clusters and the Bronze Star.
Working for an oil company has its benefits, but nothing compares to the freedom of flight. Or, as Karl says, “The biggest thrill in Texas, is flying over Texas!”
He takes time to listen to his passengers. Sometimes, there’s a young adult about to graduate from high school, interested in the military. Sometimes, there’s a person who at mid-life has finally reached a point where the kids are raised and there’s extra time and money to learn to fly. Sometimes, there’s a couple who just wants to enjoy a Texas sunset from a special vantage point. Whatever brings them to the West Houston Airport for a ride in an open-cockpit biplane, Karl commits to bringing them joy, answering questions, and sharing his passion for flight.
Woody Lesikar began making this West Houston Airport one of the most hospitable places in Texas back in 1962. This place, this activity, these people create the kind of atmosphere that makes you want to stay all day.
If you’re looking for something to do on a lovely Saturday, make your way west. If you’re in time for breakfast, it’s on the house. You can book a ride in an elegant biplane at TexasBiplane.com. When you get there, you’ll see Karl, ready with a smile.