formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

January 15, 2019 Herb Kelleher

The Liberty Gazette
January 15, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The skies mourned, but downtown Dallas high rises lighted them in colors of Luv last week, paying respect to Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher. Herb passed away on January 3, leaving a legacy and a ton of friends.

Our own local friend, Kathleen Burnham, worked for Herb for many years. She shared her unfiltered thoughts. “Really don’t even know where to start. My heart is broken over the loss of our fearless leader and the BEST boss a person could ever dream of having. I am beyond blessed that I was hired at SWA in 1979 when SWA was still small and everyone knew everyone. Herb would board an airplane and knew everyone’s name and it always made our day to have him on our flight. Herb iced cups, passed out peanuts and visited with all of our passengers making their day as well. I never once saw Herb without getting a huge hug and a big kiss on the cheek! You will be so missed Herb, loved forever and always be my hero! May God rest your precious soul. You may be gone but you will NEVER be forgotten!”

Herb was unique, and you’ll hear the sense of loss from his large contingent of friends. He brought a refreshing twist to “CEO,” and the tributes to this “brilliant maverick” are still flowing in.

Linda: I remember standing in the jetway with Herb and many others as we waited for Captain Alan Crawford and his family to walk off the plane after Alan’s retirement flight. The jetway was jam-packed, and there was Herb in the midst of it all, celebrating with everyone, ready as ever to encourage and cheer others on.

Maybe his secret was that he didn’t seek the spotlight, but that he sought to be the spotlight for others. One thing’s for sure: he lived his life fully, and it was in his nature to be a people-magnet. He didn’t even have to try. And that was reflected in the fun atmosphere on Southwest Airlines flights.

As one employee put it, “Where else could you wear shorts to work, dress up at Halloween, tell jokes and sing on the PA system?” She’s right. The first time I heard a joke from a flight attendant aboard a Southwest Airlines flight, I thought, how refreshing – a sense of humor!

He certainly blazed a new trail and did things like no one else. He modeled the role of a CEO as a human being, one who didn’t act like he underwent transformation at “CEO school,” where they tend to emerge having learned how to alienate themselves from their minions. Kathleen explained it well. “I don’t believe a Texas company has a founder as compassionate, loving and selfless as Herb Kelleher! The love you give, is the love you keep!”

Here’s to Herbert David Kelleher, who said, “It is my practice to try to understand how valuable something is by trying to imagine myself without it.” He was a valuable man.

January 8, 2019 Splashdown!

The Liberty Gazette
January 8, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: At the end of 2017, I found myself facing a deadline. My employer offers a flying stipend we can use for flight training, but it’s a use-it-or-lose-it deal by the end of the year. I hadn’t used it, so we dashed up to Seattle for Thanksgiving week, hoping I could get a seaplane rating.

What was I thinking?! Seattle, in the late fall?

The ceiling wasn’t high, but it was high enough. The visibility was good enough. But the wind gusted, making waves too strong, beyond the limitations of smaller aircraft. No seaplane flying occurred that week, and I came back home and spent the money refreshing my tailwheel and aerobatic skills. First in a Super Decathlon, then in an Extra 300. Fun, of course, but I still didn’t have a seaplane rating.

Then came December 1, 2018 and I found myself in the same position, not having done any new training. This time, however, I wised up and chose Southern Seaplane in New Orleans, where the weather might be better than in Seattle.

I lucked out and started my training with Nate, a young man the older guys referred to as "the prodigy." I understood why right away. Great instructor. He followed all the rules of good, sound teaching.

The minimum requirements are two hours of training with the same instructor followed by a one-hour proficiency flight with a different instructor. I flew with Michael for the proficiency flight. Of course, you can take longer if needed, but I found the instruction to be of such high quality that I didn’t need more than the minimum required.

After three hours in the Cessna 172 on floats, I met with the FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, Lyle Panepinto. We sat down for the oral exam I had studied for, then went out to the plane for the check ride. I was required to show him I knew how to perform various types of taxiing in water, then off we flew, following a channel away from New Orleans, then over the Intercoastal Waterway for some splash-and-go’s.

Part of the test required that I prove I can land the floatplane in a specific spot, then under different conditions. The spot landing went well, so I went on to show Lyle my landings and take-offs in glassy water, rough water, confined space. Because the way water behaves has a significant effect on a float plane, each of these requires a different method to accomplish.

I returned to the base a happy new commercial seaplane pilot.

As we secured the airplane to the dock, Lyle informed me that those who fly in Alaska don’t consider pilots flying in the Gulf to be seaplane pilots. "You’re now officially a Louisiana Ditch Pilot," he affirmed. He didn’t even charge me extra for the pure enjoyment of listening to his thick Cajun accent.

I already miss landing on water. It’s a different skill, not necessarily harder, just loads of fun.

January 1, 2019 Thoughts from Jan Oreck

The Liberty Gazette
January 1, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Trend-setting vacuum cleaner king, David Oreck, and his wife Jan were the subject of our stories the past couple of weeks. We’re sharing just a bit more on this aviation-loving couple, because Jan had more she wanted you to know.

For starters, she advises that, "If you make your local airport a destination, people will come. People of all ages look for things to do close to home – but especially older folks – where they feel welcome and included."

We and all others who have experienced the unique world of flying know this, that the health of an airport is directly tied to the health of a community. For instance, the Louisiana Regional airport hosts a "Second Saturday Fly-in" fish fry, and people from the area come, too.

And as Jan and others have pointed out, we need more young people in aviation. One thing that helps is when airports look and feel inviting. Barbed wire fences and signs that wreak of unwelcome don’t further the healthy goal. What if you were interested in a new adventure and were met with such a sight? So, take it from a remarkably self-made successful business man and the woman who has been at his side – airports are vital to a community’s well-being.

Jan was chatting with me from their Mississippi home on six hundred acres, with a one hundred-acre lake, where their hospitality is well known. David still has his fleet of airplanes, and he still goes to work every day in a building they own which used to be a federal reserve bank, built in 1923. David says it was built in honor of the year of his birth. That’s when Jan gives him "that look." Perhaps, it was forecasting his success.

She also shared this thought to ponder.

David had been in the military during World War II, serving as a navigator on B-29s. Many years later the Orecks received a call from a man named Mark who wanted to know more about his own father. He had learned his dad served with David, so he hoped for stories that would fill in the gaps about things he didn’t know. As Jan sat and listened, she considered the irony, the unknown, and all the twists and turns life takes. She heard David tell Mark of the dangers he faced navigating bombers in war.

There were many casualties aboard B-29s shot down. Survivors have wondered why them – when the odds are uncomfortably high, why did one guy make it home, and not another? "What if," as Jan has often contemplated, "their plane had gone down – the one David and Mark’s dad were on?"

The world would have been a different place. Thankfully, both survived the war so that today we have Oreck vacuums and we all enjoyed cheering for Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Mark Spitz fifty years ago, because his dad and David made it through on a B-29.

One second can make a difference. So can one life. Here’s to a happy, prosperous 2019.

December 25, 2018 Jan Oreck

The Liberty Gazette
December 25, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Pilot, veteran, entrepreneur, lecturer, and philanthropist David Oreck made an appearance in this space last week. Now you’ll meet his lovely pilot wife, Jan.

They met on a blind date forty-two years ago. David had a Cessna 421 and when Jan flew with him, she often asked questions. After they married, he brought home an airplane for her – a Super Decathlon. She was a bit overwhelmed at first.

"I appreciated the gift, I mean, what a surprise, an airplane! But I told David there was just one problem: I didn’t know how to fly. He immediately answered, ‘You’ll learn.’ Then I had that fleeting thought of self-doubt and I asked him, what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t fly this plane? When he said, ‘Then I will,’ that took all the pressure off me, and I was ready to give it a try."

Jan trained every day during the week out of Lakefront airport in New Orleans. When it was time to solo, her instructor, Al, hopped out of the plane and said, "Take it up, three times around, a full stop landing each time."

Many, if not most students don’t feel ready to solo when the instructor knows they can do it. Jan started to say, "Wait!" but it was no use. Al was out, portable aviation radio in hand, waving her on.

All her training had been done on Runway 18-36, which is oriented north-south, so when the tower controller sent her to Runway 9, the east runway, she had to do a mental reboot and figure out where to taxi.

"The first time around," she says, "I was nowhere near landing in first third of the runway. I heard Al’s voice in my head: ‘If you can’t land in the first third, go around.’ The second time, I landed."

Then the controller told her to land on a different runway, which she suspects was Al’s idea. "I handled it. But that took a lot of moxie," she laughed.

Jan loved the early challenges of learning flight planning, finding an airport, and flying. She earned her private pilot certificate within a few months.

"These days," she says, "I’ll go from our farm in Mississippi to lunch in Gulf Shores because I can. I’m happy putting around in my girl."

The Orecks have hosted fly-ins at their farm the first weekend of November to commemorate the founding of the women’s pilot organization, the Ninety-Nines. "We have a ‘Top Gun’ theme and everyone wears flight suits. We’ve turned it into our own version of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ We sing and have a wacky time."

But she’s quick to point out that flying is so much more than going somewhere. Many of her friends flew supplies into Houston and Beaumont after Harvey. After Katrina, Jan was able to take off from her grass runway to see if there was a way out for people who were trapped.

"Flying is very serious, but when we’re done, we jump out and shout ‘Wahoo!’"

December 18, 2018 David's Gifts

The Liberty Gazette
December 18, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: It was the ice landing on Lake Superior when young David was bitten and smitten. This was some time in the 1930s, and that pivotal flight was in a Ford Trimotor on skis, a special surprise his dad arranged near their home in Duluth, Minnesota.

The aviation bug and all things mechanical would never cease to excite him. When David was old enough, he signed up for the Civilian Pilot Training program in North Dakota so he could ferry airplanes to Europe before the U.S. entered Second World War.  But when Pearl Harbor was attacked, David joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. During his time in the Pacific Theater he served as navigator, including bombing missions over Japan in B-29s.

After the war, David got a job in sales with RCA. He didn’t stop flying completely, but he was dedicated to his job and worked his way up to General Sales Manager. As a result of his energy and drive, that job taught him much about how to build a business. During his last years at RCA, he worked on a project for a central antenna system in New York City. Apartment buildings would be wired for television use, similar to what we know today as cable television. He got involved in many other things, and even started a charter aircraft service on the side and did much of the flying.

Linda: Then one day, this very busy man got the idea that vacuum cleaners did not need to be as heavy as they were. With his mechanical knowledge, he could have them built better, and lighter. When his eight-pound wonder wasn’t an immediate success door-to-door, he reconsidered who the best customers might be. Perhaps the cleaning staff in the hotel industry. After all, if you were pushing a vacuum all day, how thrilled would you be to lighten the load?

You may remember his commercials where he demonstrated the strength of his vacuum by using it to pick up and hold a bowling ball. Or the commercials where he said, “Call this number to make me stop singing.” After twenty years of persistence, and the belief that Winston Churchill was right – “Never, never, never give up,” – David Oreck’s vacuum cleaners became an “overnight success.”

More recently, the Oreck family has been selling candles. Mike just got one in a gift exchange at one of our aviation parties.

David has also had a collection of airplanes that are so cool, you’ll drool. Among them are a Stinson Reliant, a Waco, and a Staggerwing. Just one of those would be something to brag about. But don’t get the idea David is that type. He and his sweet wife, Jan, who is also a pilot, are quite generous. Their philanthropic missions range from the Jewish community in New Orleans, to several science museums in Colorado, to scholarships for Women in Aviation International. Not bad for a guy whose only “silver spoons” were his tenacity, and the wonderful gift of flight from his dad.

December 11, 2018 Aunt Bee's Big Moment

The Liberty Gazette
December 11, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Season 8, Episode 23. And…action!

After a bowling game, Andy Griffith and friends gathered in the living room reminiscing their best shots, when Opie interrupted. He wanted to know how to spell “renaissance.” Helen, his teacher, who it seems was sweet on Andy, recited the word and spelled it like a contender in a spelling contest. After all, she had won the Kansas state spelling bee in eighth grade.

This started a buzz of bragging that turned into a wasp nest—at least for Aunt Bee. Goober claimed his fame was winning the county fair’s pancake eating contest. He gobbled fifty-seven of them. Andy’s big moments were scoring a winning touchdown in high school and being elected sheriff. Howard was proud of his courage when he moved to the Caribbean for a time. As they shared their stories of adventure and accomplishment, poor Aunt Bee felt left out.

Later that night while washing dishes, she lamented to Andy she’d never done anything important. She longed to say she had done something not many other people had. Opie jokingly offered a magazine ad for learning to fly.

The next morning, Aunt Bee shocked everyone when she announced she was going to visit the flight school in that ad. Andy objected, saying she might not like it, but Aunt Bee fought back, because maybe she wouldn’t, but she’d never find out standing there.

She took a demonstration flight and was so excited she decided to start flying lessons right away. She would finally make her own big moment in life. Despite Andy’s discouragement, she let him know in no uncertain terms that it didn’t matter whether she succeeded or failed at her goal to solo an airplane. It was the challenge she was accepting.

Lesson one introduced Aunt Bee to the pre-flight walk-around and gauges on the instrument panel, which seemed overwhelming at first. Soon, back home in Mayberry, the guys heard a plane overhead. Camera cut to inside the cockpit to learn that Aunt Bee didn’t purposely wag her wings at them. She was just trying to control the airplane.

Back on the ground, her apron on and serving Andy coffee, she fretted about all there was to learn when the only instrument she recognized was the clock.

Her first landings were a bit rough, but improved with practice. She studied her sweet heart out, “chair flying,” and even read Aviation Journal while under the beauty salon hair dryer.

On the day of her solo flight, Aunt Bee carefully made the circuit and a decent landing, to the cheers of everyone watching. Afterward, Howard reflected on his “big moment,” arguing there’s nothing like the beauty of the deep blue sea. But Aunt Bee’s line trumped them all. “Well yes, the ocean is beautiful, but if you ask me, the sky is the prettiest. Especially when you’re up there all by yourself, like a bird, with the whole world at your feet.”

Cue the whistling theme song.

December 4, 2018 Roy Clark

The Liberty Gazette
December 4, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

“I have never been to a memorial service where there’s a full band playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ but this was one to get up and boogie to,” said our friend Lisa Jewett of the memorial service of music legend, Roy Clark.

Lisa manages the airport in Grove, Oklahoma where Roy and Barbara Clark had a home and spent half the year. “He’d come to the airport just to talk. I knew him not as Roy the superstar, but as Roy the person. Every time he and Barbara stopped in, I knew we’d be a while because he just wanted to chat. He talked about the set of Hee! Haw! and traveling tales and flying, and he had friends all over the world.”

As a kid, Roy longed to fly. Growing up poor in Meherin, Virginia, he collected cereal box tops to send away for a cardboard cockpit. But his magic on banjo and guitar earned him the name, “Superpicker,” and the money that followed allowed him to reach his dreams. He bought a Piper Tri-Pacer, learned to fly, and took his father, who had always wanted to be a pilot, for his first airplane ride in it. Later, Roy flew a sleek Beechcraft Debonair to gigs far away and returned home when the last autograph was signed.

But he worried about fatigue after long evenings on stage. Smartly, he invested in a high-performance Mitsubishi MU-2J turboprop and a professional pilot to be his sidekick. In the cockpit, this picking pilot took flying seriously. Life was precious—everyone’s.

At his concerts, Roy would say, “Do something nice for somebody. And don’t expect a thank-you in return.” He lived his advice. Lisa’s father had been a big fan. When her mom died, she took her dad’s guitar and asked Roy to sign it. “He signed really big all over the front of that guitar, and now it’s just priceless. Dad was grieving and here was something that would make him smile, from a man who lived his life wanting to make people happy.”

Lisa found opportunities to give back to Roy. Ever since he was young he wanted to be in a helicopter. When money was no longer an obstacle, time was. One day when he was visiting Lisa, the DEA landed in a Blackhawk. He wasn’t getting around too easily by then, so she drove him in her car to the helicopter. DEA agents helped him climb inside and spent time showing him the aircraft. “He said that was the best time of his life. He did something he’d always wanted to do. He even had tears.” That’s one of Lisa’s favorite stories.
When the Saints Go Marching In!

“Roy was a simple, loving, giving man, a family man. He cared more about his family than anything else in the world. He was down-to-earth and humble, the kind of guy who would always say, ‘I love you,’ whenever he left. I like to think he spent his last days telling everyone how much he loved them.”

November 27, 2018 Jessica Cox

The Liberty Gazette
November 27, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Anyone who achieves a black belt in a martial art gets my attention. A person who earns certified scuba diver credentials is pretty impressive. People who master surfing I find quite admirable. A person who has done all three is in another league. And if that same person had accomplished all that and then earned a pilot certificate, I’d be blown away. When I met that person, I was not just blown away like catching my breath from a gust of wind. More like being blown away by a typhoon. Because this person, Jessica Cox, was born with no arms. And she has done all that.

Jessica blessed a large crowd the first weekend in November, celebrating the 25th year of Challenge Air. She came to demonstrate how she has adapted to life and is fully self-sufficient, and to encourage and inspire.

From the stage built inside the hangar of a flight school in Conroe, Jessica told the story of learning how to tie her shoes at age six. Her toes work like fingers and she has remarkable dexterity.

Figuring out how to tie the laces and get the shoes on required some thinking. She realized she would have to tie the shoes before slipping them on her feet, but it took hundreds of attempts to get it right. They had to be loose enough to wiggle her feet in, but tight enough to stay on. As she told the story she demonstrated tying over and over.

Linda: For those of us with all four limbs who tend to box ourselves in with ruts and routines, and expectations that life should be easy, Jessica has this message: Think outside the shoe!

One day after speaking to a group, a fighter pilot approached her and asked if she’d ever considered flying. At that time, leaving the ground was her greatest fear. A person with no arms has a different center of gravity and balances differently than those with four full limbs. Leaving the security of balancing on the ground was unnerving. And that’s exactly why Jessica decided she should learn to fly.

We watched as she went through the motions, talking us through how she gets her seat belt and headset on in the airplane. The first time it took some thoughtful analysis, but she thought back to when she was six because she was motivated to conquer her fear.

We won’t ruin the story by telling any more than that, because if you ever have the chance to hear her speak, don’t miss it. And, you can subscribe to her YouTube channel.

Jessica Cox is an inspiration not only because of all she has done, without arms, but also because of her genuine compassion. She is the most gracious inspirational speaker I have ever met. Be sure to see her website and buy her books. Her gift of encouragement awaits you there.

November 20, 2018 Challenge Air - The Pilot's Perspective

The Liberty Gazette
November 20, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I am sometimes confronted by unwelcome situations. But there are those who challenge life daily. To be given an opportunity to share flight with children like “Isabel” is a gift. With an autism spectrum disorder, she has a tendency to grab things. But, she’s sixty pounds soaking wet. She wasn’t going to overpower me. Since she responded well to instructions, we had her sit on her hands for take-off and landing. But while in flight, she grasped the Elyminator’s right-side control wheel to help me fly the plane.

Most of the time Isabel looked down into her lap, her hair blocking the view of her face. So I ducked down to peek. This imp’s grin nearly stretched from ear to ear. She didn’t talk much and getting her to look out the window as we flew over Lake Conroe took some coaxing, but that smile stayed the entire flight.

After we landed, I thanked her for her help and to show how much it meant to me, I took off my pilot wings and pinned them on her. Still looking down, she bobbed up and down and ricocheted about like a pinball stuck in a high-scoring bumper. I signed her Challenge Air co-pilot certificate and she ran through the throng of cheering supporters as she waved her certificate above her head. This was enough to make my day, yet it was only starting.

When we put the headphones on another young girl, she chattered into the microphone repeating phrases and sounds she learned from Star Wars. Her little hands held onto the yoke as she beeped and zapped into the intercom and pointed to boats on the lake she claimed were radioing for support. I did not let her touch the push-to-talk button as the Conroe tower controllers might have thought they were under attack.

Being the pilot was a wonderful experience and while it is the most visible role, I had one of the easiest jobs. For every pilot there are dozens of others who have contributed time, energy, and sweat to make it happen. The dedication of each of those who did not sit in the pilot seat is not lost on us who did.

I was fortunate to do eight flights at Challenge Air, the last one ending as the sun set. The beauty of its reflection off the lake could not outshine the excitement and wonder of the two brothers who were my last little co-pilots.

One of them had begged his mother for a year to go flying, but when he got in the plane he said he didn’t want to be a pilot anymore. Over Lake Conroe he gazed down at the boats. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. But when we were preparing to land, he looked up at me and asked, “Can we go again?” I told him he would have to come back next year. He turned to the back seat. “Can we, Mom? Pleeease?”

My thoughts exactly.

November 13, 2018 Challenge Air

The Liberty Gazette
November 13, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: He walked through the gate looking handsome in full astronaut uniform. I wanted to take his picture, but I knew I should ask permission. It was a good thing I saw him first, because when the media realized he was in the crowded hangar they swarmed for photos.

Max is six, or maybe seven. He was quick to tell me the suit was “fake,” but that didn’t matter to me because the young man in it was as real as sunshine. And oh what sunshine he added to the day!

Challenge Air held its annual flying event at the airport in Conroe the first weekend in November. Challenge Air is where pilots and other volunteers get to make dreams come true for special needs kids, sharing the gift of flight.

Staff and volunteers work hard all year to perfect logistics. Then it all comes down to the moment the first family arrives. Each child is welcomed with enthusiasm as they wander the hangar to see clowns and balloons, play games, and join in face painting. The adults who bring them fill out the paper work which includes weight of all passengers who will be taking the flight and whether this child follows instructions or has uncontrollable outbursts. Total passenger weight figures in to what airplane they’ll be assigned, while the other information helps volunteer pilots know whether the child will be best served riding in the back with their parent or having a seat up front. Either way, a Challenge Air kid becomes a co-pilot, and that’s a big deal.

Parents attend ground school to know what to expect, then the pilot’s loading team leads them out to the airplane. This year, as a lead loader I walked eight families down the red carpet where a cheering crowd lined both sides, blew kazoos, slapped plastic clappy-hands, and whooped and hollered in encouragement. Of course, for noise-sensitive kids we waved our hands in silent applause.

The airport ramp was busy with planes arriving and departing all day and families being escorted to and from their rides.

Once I had a family buckled in to our plane, Mike took over. You’ll get to read his perspective next week.

Flight after flight, ninety-five in all, they took off with their volunteer pilots for a scenic trip over Lake Conroe for about twenty minutes. When they returned, each Challenge Air kid received special recognition from their pilot and we, the loaders, got to escort them back across the red carpet lined with cheering fans. Shouts of “Hooray!” “You did it!” “Great job, co-pilot!” welcomed them back.

Many of our co-pilots were kids with an autism spectrum disorder. Whatever their challenges are, Challenge Air comes every year to provide a unique experience. The rewards for us are priceless. Like when Astronaut Max leapt with every step down the red carpet, high-fiving everyone he could reach. And like one astonished dad overcome with emotion who said, “She never smiles, but look at her now! She’s smiling!”