French Aviator Louis Beleriot once said, “If you want to fly, don’t just simply assign tasks; but rather teach a longing for the heavens.” Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe, Texas has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last eight years, due in part to the inspiration and yearnings of director Scott E. Smith.
The military veteran and licensed civilian pilot has been at the forefront of a wave of progress to the facility he directs, just recently winning a director of the year award for the support Lone Star Executive Airport provides to the greater Houston area. Within his neat, well-organized office are two things that help to inspire Smith – a small model of the Spirit of St Louis – and a 1962 near mint condition baseball card of Mr. Cub Ernie Banks. The real Spirit of St Louis, flown by Charles Lindbergh, was the first to fly non-stop from New York to Paris in 1927. Ernie Banks, through his love of the game of baseball, was quoted as saying, “Let’s play two.” Smith’s attitude is more of a calling than an occupation—born of a combination of reaching greater heights, yet loving every minute of it.
7 a.m. – Smith arrives in the office to issue airport “NOTAMs” (Notice to Airmen), send and answer emails, and set the day’s agenda. On this particular morning, his executive assistant Mary Wilson, who has been with the airport for more than 31 years, will be out of the office at a previous appointment.
“It’s a little more hectic today, because Mary will be out of the office for a little while,” Smith said. “So I’ve got double duty. In between emails and phone calls, Smith takes time to brief us on airport protocol and safety. More than 300 flights arrive and depart from Lone Star in a given day. Smith is charged with maintaining the runways and airport grounds (which stretches well over 1,300 acres), as well as meeting the needs of more than 20 flight-related businesses, 284 aircraft, 16 jets, and 240 aircraft hangar facilities. The economic impact is well over $33 million to Montgomery County and the surrounding community.
8 a.m. – Smith gives an overview of the airport’s history. “This was once known as the Montgomery County Airport and came into being in 1930s,” Smith said. “The original runways were built by the Civil Aeronautics Authority, which was the predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It was built to create a U.S. Navy support base during World War II to conduct pilot training and drone research,” continued Smith. “However, in 1946 the airport was turned back over to Montgomery County and has been operated as a general aviation airport ever since. The name was changed to Lone Star Executive Airport in early 2003.”
9 a.m. – Smith goes over details of the “Airport’s growing pains.” “We’ve got the runway extension completed and are now up to three FBOs (Fixed Based Operations) with two really good avionics companies, as well as other great maintenance operations.” During Smith’s discussion, he turns to plans underway for the construction of a U.S. Customs facility. “Bids begin next week for construction of a new Customs facility beginning next April,” Smith said. “International, private, and corporate aircraft will no longer have to stop at other locations to clear customs. They can apply for an overfly permit and clear customs here.”
9:23 – A small jet lands and taxis just outside Smith’s office window. Smith explains that about half of all of the air traffic is due to “itinerant or non-based air traffic.” “The types of companies flying in and out range anywhere from real estate developers to big box stores to management teams to utility companies and educational operators. An airport is essential to the growth of a city. It really is,” Smith continues. “When you’re trying to economically develop your area, the governor’s office may put out a release stating that company X is thinking about relocating to Texas. A request for proposals about information about your community is sent. The questions are always, ‘What type of airport do you have, and what type of high performance aircraft can you support?’”
9:30 – Mary Wilson returns to the office to relieve Smith. He prepares for an important meeting in downtown Conroe at the Montgomery County Purchasing Department, only a short drive from Lone Star Executive Airport.
10:30 – Following the meeting, Smith makes a short check of any incoming correspondence at the county mailroom.
11 a.m. – Back at the office, Smith reviews notes and makes necessary copies of materials obtained during the meeting and briefs Mary Wilson. He then takes us on a tour of the airport facilities. One of the most fascinating things taking place is “Grass Roots Aviation.” Smith stops at a hanger housing experimental aircraft. Here we meet Larry Perryman, Denny Irvine, George Wheeler, and Jimmy Crawford, all retired Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force fighter pilots. Today, they are building their own planes. They call them their “magic carpets.” “Here we can build our own planes and work on them ourselves in the experimental class of aircraft,” said Irvine. “We all work together. Each of us knows something about everything out here. To us, it so much more than a mere hobby—it’s freedom.”
Noon – Lunch is served in the new Galaxy FBOs Black Walnut Café. The excellent selection of gourmet sandwiches, soups, and desserts attracts many from all over Conroe just for lunch. The chicken sandwich is especially delicious, served with a generous portion of all-white meat chicken breast grilled to perfection and topped with rich, homemade bleu cheese sauce.
The Galaxy FBO is clearly quickly becoming the face of Lone Star Executive Airport. This $15 million state of the art facility looks as if it comes directly from the age of “The Jetsons.” The facility is ultra-modern, sleek, with white walls and plenty of glass, providing the patrons with a feel for the future as well as the skies. The FBO or Fixed Based Operations concept began as a sort of “gas station” for planes. “Eventually, instead of crews running out with 50 gallon drums to refuel planes, we evolved to what I like to call Flight Based Operation,” said David Christy, General Manager of the Galaxy FBO. “Today, we have a new standard. FBOs provide maintenance, lounge areas, rest areas for pilots, and board briefing rooms, as well as a host of other amenities. In addition to Galaxy, Lone Star Executive Airport is home to two other FBOs—Wing Jet Center and General Aviation Services. The latter is known for its pride of ownership as well as its personal service. For more than 30 years, it has offered a quaint and cozy atmosphere, a throwback to flight’s golden era.
Lone Star’s FBOs are in step with the type of clientele a burgeoning industry comes to expect, where the skies truly are the limit.
Many may not realize the number of medical flights this airport services. “On any given day, we could have medical flights for organ transplants, doctors without borders, even aircraft flying patients for life-saving medical procedures,” Christy said.
1:00 – Always taking directions from the tower, the tour winds across the airport tarmac to view “Zeus” of Everything Albatross. This vintage Vietnam-era U.S. Navy seaplane is owned and operated completely by veterans. “What we have here is a Grumman HU-16 Albatross built in 1954. Any plane can land on the water once, but we can do it multiple times,” says pilot Mike Bialka with a touch of humor. “We’ve had as many as 41 emergency 911 calls saying a plane has crashed on Lake Conroe. Basically, it was built as an air/sea rescue plane operated mostly during Korean and Vietnam Wars,” continued Bialka, a former Navy pilot. Bialka, along with Stewart Lawrence, Pat Peegan, and Skeet Hemmen pilot this beautifully restored aircraft. “We love to fly ‘Zeus’ for air shows and demonstrations,” Bialka said. “We just took it to Sun-n-Fun down in Florida and we definitely make Wings over Houston every year. We take great pride in honoring our military history, reminding the public about the many lives this type of aircraft saved during wartime.” The passion for flying this aircraft is echoed by pilot and co-owner Stewart Lawrence, “This is the last of the really great seaplanes. Because they didn’t have (long) runways in the early days, everybody took off and landed on these marvels of technology. It harkens back to a very romantic era of flying, when people dressed up just to come to the airport.”
This airport is also home to one of only two U.S. Army Reserve Aviation units, the 1-158th Aviation Regiment. Originally, the unit flew AH-1 Cobras, but is currently in transition to the Apache. The Army currently has 24 of these AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters in this storied aviation unit known as “Texas Thunder.”
2:00 – As the tour continues, Smith takes note of signs that need to be added to the runway to make taxiing by planes more efficient. We also tour the airport tower. On this day, the view is breathtaking, with visibility well over 20 miles.
3:00 – As Smith begins to wind down the day’s activities, he’s just as fresh and energetic as he was when the day began. He quickly goes back into his office to complete the day’s details. The director’s day is not complete until he makes note of possible improvement requests as well as final safety reviews and work orders. With those measures completed, Smith plans to get a head start on the next day’s adventure at Lone Star by heading off to a meeting taking place in Palestine, Texas – Always “pushing the envelope” – while loving every minute of it.
10260 Carl Pickering Memorial Dr.
Conroe, TX 77303