This story originally featured on Flying Mag.
As I write this, there were 1,729,694,062 websites (and counting) on the internet. While the World Wide Web can be a helpful place most of us cannot live without, many of those sites are useless fodder of little use to anyone. However, once in a while, we stumble upon a simply wonderful site, a site that has not been promoted heavily, is not bankrolled by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and is purely supported as a labor of love.
Paul Freeman’s “Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields” website is one of those sites. For aviators that are history-minded, Freeman’s bare-bones site is the Mother Lode as it does its one job very well. As the name implies, it lists 2,367 long-lost airfields across all 50 states, including 47 added in 2019. If you’ve ever thought about what your city’s aviation landscape looked like back through the years, spend an hour on this site and you will have your mind blown by the detailed information available of airports near you that have gone west.
I discovered this jewel of an aviation history site years ago. Often, I ride my electric bike down one of Eugene, Oregon’s many bike paths, in a wetland area about 3 nm from my home. There was one place that I always noticed, noting that it would make a great airfield, with a perfectly-shaped open space running roughly NW to SE. It was overgrown with natural vegetation, but it was not hard for the aviator in me to envision that this would make a great place to land a Piper J3 Cub if the grass was properly mowed.
Somewhere along the way after one of those rides, I stumbled upon Freeman’s site, and of course, searched for my Oregon location. When I discovered that the spot I had passed many times was, in fact, the old site of Willamette Airpark/T-Bird Airport, a small GA airport that was established there somewhere between 1945 and 1947, I was enthralled and had to learn more.
With very detailed information supplied by Freeman’s readers, the website told me a story of an active little airfield that I never knew existed so close to home. The site is reader-driven and is very analytical in its approach. For instance, the date that the airport was established was determined by readers scouring old sectional charts, noting that the airfield was not depicted on the April 1945 Portland Sectional Chart but was listed in the 1947 Oregon Airport Directory. It’s this kind of aviation sleuthing that keeps me on this site for hours.
Readers regularly contribute information to Freeman, including this old airfield. Reader Jay Flitton recalled, “Between 1962-1964, Willamette Airpark went by the name T-Bird Airport. My dad went to graduate school at the University of Oregon and flew out of ‘T-Bird’ a lot. My mom started her private pilot lessons there, and it’s where I had my first airplane ride in a Cherokee 140. It had a beautiful log terminal building with a giant picture window overlooking the airport. The whole terminal looked more like a ski lodge or maybe something that should be in Yellowstone National Park. It was a beautiful little airport with a lot of activity. Too bad it is gone.”
This is just one example of the incredibly detailed information found in each of the 2,387 listings on Freeman’s hobby site. Do a search near you, and prepare to sit back and enjoy a “clear and a million” flight straight down Memory Lane. You should be warned however that this site will suck you in, and time will stand still as you go dive deeper into layer upon layer of aviation history about local airfields you never knew existed.
The Pilot Behind The Site
Freeman is an aerospace engineer working as a program manager on ADS-B for L3Harris Corporation and has been a private pilot since 1993. Many of his 667 hours has been flying a Diamond DA20 from Leesburg, Virginia (KJYO).
“I’ve been a lifelong airplane guy, and also a history buff,” Freeman said. “When I started private pilot training and studying aeronautical charts, I became intrigued by the ‘abandoned airfield’ symbols, wondering what used to be there. Once aerial photos became available on the web, that allowed me to look at those same locations and piece together some write-ups on a personal website, never thinking anyone else would be interested in my little niche of aviation history.”
Freeman was just having a little internet publishing fun when he launched Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields, and the site is now celebrating 20 years of life in 2019. While aviation history is the foundation of his site, the true meaning of it becomes apparent when you spend some time reading the listings.
“After a few years, I started getting more and more emails from readers who often expressed wonder that the airfield at which they learned to fly had been plowed over,” Freeman explains. “The best part of my website’s mission is that it has motivated many aviation enthusiasts to support the continued existence of the airfields we still have. I have many people write in to say that they never realized until they went through my website how many airfields we’ve already lost, and that makes it obvious to them that many of these airfields have a tenuous existence, and if we don’t protect them, as aviators we will lose them.”
Freeman’s website runs solely on reader donations, either via PayPal or checks mailed in to pay for the site’s expenses such as web hosting, domain name registration, backup service, t-shirts/hats, and so on. Everything is out of pocket, supplemented by reader donations. Freeman says that the content on his site is available for free, but he appreciates it when readers make a donation “commensurate for what they’d pay for a good aviation book.”
After becoming one of the 2,560,800 visitors that have visited Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields between April 2002 and November 2019, you can reach Paul Freeman by email at email@example.com to ask questions, submit information and yes, to make a donation.