Abandoned Canton Airport Puts Drone in Its Place: on the Ground. OH Really?
The explosion in drone usage over the past decade has led to well-documented issues when the small, unmanned aircraft fly into the path of a much larger plane. But in Canton, one drone user contacted our "OH Really" team with a different problem: His drone refuses to fly because a long-abandoned airport is still technically on the books.
Sarah: So Kabir, who contacted you about this airport?
KB: Well, his name is Connor Clay, and I'll let him tell his story:
“I went to Jackson High School, grew up in Canton my whole life, and I had no clue that there was ever an airport there. I played golf out here plenty of times and never saw an airstrip or anything.”
Sarah: So, is he talking about Akron-Canton Airport (CAK)?
KB: That's what I thought. That's even what he thought. But no, he contacted us because the GPS for his drone claims that he's too close to something called "Lockeridge Airport," and so it refuses to fly. He showed me when I visited with him.
“This blue circle is actually Lockeridge, but then you can see these that span off—that’s Akron-Canton airport. It actually knows the runway of Akron-Canton, this little triangle here.”
Sarah: Wow, so the GPS can sense when there's an airport nearby?
KB: Yeah, it's usually a 5-nautical-mile radius around the airport. So, he lives right near what used to be Tam O'Shanter Golf Course. It's owned by the city now and is becoming a park. But it's a perfect place to fly a drone.
“I'm just a hobbyist and stuff like that, but I was just really surprised when I moved, thinking I was so much farther South than Akron-Canton Airport. And then all of a sudden, there was Lockeridge.”
Sarah: So where is Lockeridge Airport?
KB: Well, it hasn't existed since the '90s, but it was just north of Tam O' Shanter.
Sarah: So is his GPS out of date?
KB: We checked and the software updates itself, and it was up-to-date when I was there.
Sarah: Then why does his drone think Lockeridge still exists?
KB: Well, it’s actually rooted in a pretty fascinating history. The land was owned by a well-known attorney, John Locke. And he built his home there in the 1930s and 1940s, raised a family. His daughter eventually married Jim Doane, who was a pilot for Eastern Airlines.
Sarah: And he put in the airport?
KB: Exactly. He plowed some of the land and leveled it and put in an airstrip. It was likely unpaved, maybe just a sod field or turf airport or with grass cut very short. There are many of these landing strips on farms and in rural areas. In this case, the airstrip was given the airport identifier OI58.
Sarah: And that's what shows up on the drone GPS, right?
KB: That's right. Now I was wondering why he put in this air strip in his backyard when he lived near CAK. I was able to track down his sons-in-law, and one of them, Joe Joseph, lives in Charlotte. And he told me what Jim Doane was up to aside from flying passenger jets.
“You know, airline pilots have a lot of free time because they'll fly for three days and they're off for four days. So he bought a J-3 Cub and he started doing photography. He flies the airplane, holds the camera in his hand, shoots the picture, without being hired, and then he would go to the building owner or the neighborhood or the contractor or whatever it was that he shot and he would offer it to him.”
Sarah: So he was an aerial photographer on the side? That's so cool!
KB: Isn't it? That's kind of what Connor Clay wants to do, it seems, with his drone. And when I told him about Jim Doane holding a giant Nikon film camera in one hand and flying with the other, this is what he said:
“I laughed because my drone could probably take infinitely better pictures for so much less cost than they had.”
Sarah: So he would just offer these photos on spec to people?
KB: At first, but he actually incorporated a side business in the early 1960s, and Joe Joseph told me that they would shoot all sorts of places, mostly in the south.
“St. Louis, Washington, D.C., the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island, Myrtle Beach, Savannah, Charleston, Brunswick, most of Florida, most of Georgia, the Great Smoky Mountains. And I loved doing lighthouses. And we made postcards out of them [and] sold millions of them. We printed in Europe, in Canada, [and] in some Mexico.”
Sarah: So he would fly from here down south just to take postcard photos?
KB: Well, they had a base of operations in Charlotte, but when they lived up here he would actually commute from Lockeridge Airport in his own plane to LaGuardia and then jump into the cockpit of whichever Eastern flight he was piloting. That was just his commute.
Sarah: Then what happened to him and the air strip and the postcard business?
KB: Joe Joseph says that the Doanes eventually retired to Florida, and the postcard business wound down about 15 years ago since people could just take photos themselves or find them online and text them to friends and write a message. And about that same time, they sold the land to a well-known developer in Canton.
Sarah: And now there's houses near this airstrip?
KB: Well, the remnants of the strip. As far as I can tell, it doesn't exist at all anymore, and they are building houses there.
Sarah: But if that's still on the books as an airport, is there any kind of issue there?
KB: I thought the same thing. I thought, 'What if there's a plane that needs to make an emergency landing and can't make it to Akron Canton Airport and sees this thing listed on its GPS. Will they make a landing in someone's backyard and crush all these houses?'
Sarah: And what's the answer?
KB: I asked the manager of the Kent State University airport, David Poluga, if that's even remotely possible.
“Absolutely not. All the instrument approaches that are certified for an airport are monitored and routinely checked for safety and obstructions. They have to meet design standards for a number of reasons, both depending on the type of approach you have and the restrictions of surface limitations that you might have for the actual instrumentation. So it's completely an impossibility to be able to fly to an airport that doesn't exist without instrument approaches, see a house, and land there thinking there could be a runway.”
Sarah: Well that's good.
KB: It is, but at the same time, Lockeridge is still technically on the books.
Sarah: So do you notify the FAA, or how does that work?
KB: It turns out, actually, that the state is in charge of that, ODOT—the Ohio Department of Transportation. They sent me the forms that would need to be filled out to get Lockeridge officially decommissioned, and then it would be out of the GPS system, and then Connor Clay can finally fly his drone. But ...
KB: But the developer does not seem interested in doing any paperwork at this time.
KB: Maybe if they hear this, that will change their mind. I hope so. And Joe Joseph told me the same thing when I spoke with him.
“The FAA is real anal about drones now. There’s all sorts of regulations. I would really appreciate it if we knew that Lockeridge air strip was decommissioned.”
Sarah: What an interesting story!
KB: Absolutely, a very interesting family, and I’m very glad that Connor Clay wrote in with this question. Hopefully, something happens to resolve this.
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