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!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017 Aerial Fireflighting

The Liberty Gazette
October 17, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Our college flying team gathered on the flight deck as the air tanker pilot spun tales of derring-do in aerial firefighting. He explained the little button on his control yoke, the airplane’s steering wheel. Behind him, the instrument panel was dark in comparison to the light shining through a virtual greenhouse of windows. Most airplane cockpits are too small to fit more than two or three people, even in big airliners. But the spacious cockpit of the C-119, a Korean War era plane nicknamed the Flying Boxcar, held our group of ten with room to spare.

The little button, which got more than a little attention, was a release button, like those used by bombardiers. This one opened doors on the belly of the airplane allowing up to eighteen hundred gallons of fire retardant to fall from a tank. That’s ten thousand pounds. The entire load could be dispersed in less than a second, or the drop could last up to ten seconds. One member of our group got a little too close to that button. The pilot quickly blocked her itchy fingers to prevent spilling expensive, gooey fire retardant and painting the entire ramp bright red.

Years ago, the airplanes dropped a yellow-green type of fire suppressant called Borate, which earned them the nickname, Borate Bombers. Borate was made from Borax mined from the California desert. It not only smothered the fire, it killed all the vegetation. The weight of impact was enough to cut off oxygen to the fire so the Department of Agriculture looked for something that could do the same, but wouldn’t be so harsh on plants. Phos-Chek is the suppressant used today. It’s usually dyed red with iron-sulfate so pilots can see where they have dropped their load. Once the fire has been put out, the sulfate and phosphate salts act as fertilizer to promote regrowth.

One of the airports where our flying team practiced precision landings was an air attack tanker base. Hemet Valley Flying Service operated a number of aircraft including several Flying Boxcars. The airplanes were old even then and have since been retired from service, replaced by DC-10s, 747s and others. The 747 “Supertanker” carries more than ten times the load the C-119 was capable of lifting.

While I marvel at their forms as they glide across lakes to scoop up water, and sweep down valleys with seeming grace to disperse their cargo, I do not forget the reason they exist. They are frontline weapons in a fight to save lives.

Dozens of helicopters and airplanes have been dispatched to help put out these fires that have devoured much of Napa Valley, California’s wine country. The two Canyon fires near Anaheim have claimed over 8,000 acres. The Palmer, Atlas, and Tubbs fires have burned more than 20,000 acres, and resources are stretched. This has been a tragic year of natural disasters. With each event, aviation has provided significant rescue and support.

ElyAirLines.blotspot.com

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

October 10, 2017 St. Exupery and the Palms

The Liberty Gazette
October 10, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Of the books written by Frenchman, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince” (1943) is probably best known among non-aviators. In the minds of prop heads and turbine cowboys, however, the writer-poet-aristocrat-aviator is to this day one of the most often quoted flyers, with relatable declarations like, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.”

Natural disasters and those brought about by the will of evil remind us that many of our everyday concerns are tyrannized by petty things. The antithesis to the oppression of wretchedness is born in people such as those who rush to the aid of people in need. We’ve seen a great deal of that during emergencies, and praise the heroes who put others first. Among many aviators who commit beyond the emergencies to the long term welfare of the less fortunate are Mark and Kirsten Palm, serving in the East Sepik province of Papua, New Guinea.

With only one hospital in the province to serve over 500,000 people spread out over millions of acres, medical care is either for those in luxury or luck. For most, the hospital is three to five days travel along the 700-mile Sepik River.

Mark founded Samaritan Aviation to use his sea plane to transport medical staff, patients, medicine, and supplies all over the country. Saint-Exupéry may have appreciated the association of his quote to the selflessness of the Palm family: “Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself.”

One of Mark’s favorite experiences in bartering life came when he was called to fly out to a remote part of Papua to pick up a pregnant lady whose water broke three days prior. Her husband presumed what he’d been told was true–the baby couldn’t still be alive–but he hoped someone would save his wife. Mark flew her to the hospital, while the husband paddled up the river for three days. When he arrived, he found not only his wife alive, but their newborn son as well, and named him Samaritan.

Mark and Kirsten want their three children see things that are bigger than themselves. We think Saint-Exupéry would agree.

Samaritan Aviation was born out of the impact of need when Mark went on a mission trip with a friend during college and considered what he could do to participate in life. From his vision are now two sea planes, three more pilots, a medical director, ministry and support staff, working to fill the medical void.

With Mark’s vision, it is easy to hear Saint-Exupéry saying, “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” (from “The Little Prince”)

Click here to see the interview with Mark and Kirsten.

But you can see so much more if you go directly to Samaritan Aviation’s website.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

October 3, 2017 Elder Travel

The Liberty Gazette
October 3, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Here we are into autumn, and soon we’ll be thinking about holiday travel–Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's. Now’s the time to consider a safe travel plan for our elderly loved ones, because preparation can make a substantial difference in a healthy trip.

On a recent airline flight, an elderly woman suddenly felt like she was about to pass out, and got the attention of another passenger, who pushed the call button. No doubt the flight attendants were relieved that a doctor was only two rows away and rushed to the side of the vacationer-turned-patient.

The elderly woman did pass out, her arm muscles spasmed, and her breathing was labored. As the doctor massaged her chest bone she came to. His diagnosis was dehydration, which brought quick action by the crew to get water for her. Unfortunately, the water didn’t stay down, and the scene was repeated four times. Pass out, wake up, drink water, throw up, pass out again… Not a great way to start a vacation.

After a few hours, the episodes subsided and the doctor returned to his seat next to his wife.

Unfortunately, this startling situation isn’t uncommon among the elderly. To learn more on flying at advanced age, we consulted the Journal of Travel Medicine, where Dr. Iain B. McIntosh, a Scottish physician who lectures on geriatric medicine, explains the physiological disadvantages of the older traveler, and what can be done in preparation for travel. If this applies to you or someone you know, you should read Dr. McIntosh’s article, and follow up with a physician.

As we advance in age, Dr. McIntosh explains that decreases in cardiopulmonary and renal function can affect us at altitude. An airplane’s cabin air pressure depends on the altitude flying, but can be as high as the equivalent of eight thousand feet.

With age and altitude, we are less able to handle hypoxia, and our body’s ability to regulate water, sodium, and body temperature is affected.

When we have trouble regulating temperature, including sweating, hyperthermia and dehydration become a greater concern, especially in higher temperatures. In lower temperatures, our body’s poor regulation can cause hypothermia and exposure. When Dr. McIntosh considered temperature extremes, he cautioned that the possibility of stroke increases, and stress in general can increase the risk of heart attack.

Lots of walking and carrying luggage can put an unusual amount of stress on muscles, including the heart, while sitting for long periods brings concern of venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean our older family members should stop flying. The doctor’s advice is to get a health check before travel, stay on schedule with medications, and consider extra insurance and/or the availability of medical care on the trip. Our recommendation is to read his article: Iain B. Mclntosh. Health Hazards and the Elderly Traveler. Journal of Travel Medicine. Volume 5, Issue 1, Version of Record online: 28 JUL 2006.

Wishing you healthy holiday planning.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September 26, 2017 The People of Liberty, Texas v. Hurricane Harvey

The Liberty Gazette
September 26, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

We had planned to bring you wonderful stories from Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, but unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey’s deluge ruined that. Ten days of Vacation Croatia turned into four days of Vacation Rodeway Inn, Humble. Trapped on our way to the airport shortly before it closed, thinking we’d get out just in the nick of time, there was no place to go but the next hotel parking lot. We have nothing to complain about. While so many lost so much in the floods, our house was untouched. That fact is due to the superheroes who saved Liberty from becoming part of an enlarged San Jacinto river bottom.

Breaking from the world of aviation, we want to thank those we know of who spent days saving the levee around Travis Park, and ultimately the city.

These are the people to whom we are grateful that we had a house to come home to when we could finally escape Humble:

Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) #5 members, James Poitevent, Skeet Raggio, and James Leonard. James Poitevent was at the levee from Sunday morning on through the week. He oversaw the entire operation like Mel Gibson in the middle of the firefight in “We Were Soldiers”. With his contacts in construction and the oilfield, he raised up a mighty army to face down Harvey’s attack.

The other two WCID members, Walt Patterson and Victor Lemelle, held the fort in Ames, watching over ditches affecting Ames and the Liberty Municipal Airport.

Alton Fregia, of Daisetta, brought five tractors and numerous men who worked twelve-hour shifts. They made a formidable team.

We were in trouble, folks. Serious trouble. Had it not been for the community coming together, bringing equipment and manpower, most of the city would likely have been under water.

Arnold Smart, of Smart Oilfield Service, brought pumps, as did Curtis Hudnall of Curtis & Son Vacuum Service. Dwight Lumpkins, of Clay Mound Sporting Center, brought two pumps. Dwayne Johnson, of Johnson’s Trucking brought a track hoe and himself. John Hebert, lifetime superhero, supplied fuel for all these vehicles.

Oscar Cooper, of Cooper Electric, was there from Sunday morning on, trying to keep an ailing pump running, one of two owned by the city and the WCID.

David Chandler, of Oilfield Welding and Fabrication in Daisetta, brought his expertise and equipment, and we’d have been bad off if he hadn’t. David used a plasma cutter to cut steel plating to cover a grated hole so the water wouldn’t blow up through a drain.

Tim Killion, of Texas Armory, flew drone reconnaissance for an aerial view of water levels.
City Manager, Gary Broz and City Engineer, Tom Warner were just as dedicated to the safety of Liberty and stayed on the scene during the critical time.

Surely there are others unnamed here, but no less heroic. Thanks are inadequate for what our neighbors did to save our city.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

Friday, September 22, 2017

September 19, 2017 How the Coast Guard Watered Their Roots

The Liberty Gazette
September 19, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The United States Coast Guard began as part of the Treasury Department and was tasked with stopping rum runners and moonshiners during the prohibition era of the 1920’s and ‘30’s. I know of a Coast Guard pilot who flew back then. Once while searching for illegal stills in the hills of Kentucky, he let his airplane get too low. The corn whiskey makers shot him down. He climbed out of the wreck and spent two weeks on the run and finally escaped the area. Had he been caught by the mountain dew peddlers, nobody would have known what happened to him.

The Coast Guard was created out of two other entities: The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, and the U.S. Life-Savings Service, which helped shipwrecked sailors. The origins of these groups date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively. In 1878 the U.S. government took over and merged them in 1915 to form the U.S. Coast Guard.

While the USCG focus is on the water, its aviation roots reach back to the beginning of powered flight. Four members of the Life-Saving Service were on the team that helped Orville and Wilbur Wright move their Wright Flyer to the top of Kill Devil Hill during each of their historic flights in 1903. They couldn’t have known the extent to which their group would be involved in important aviation efforts in the future.

Cementing their reputation as training some of the finest pilots and sailors was the famous rescue on New Year’s Day, 1933. Lieutenant Commander Carl Christian von Paulsen, head of the Miami base, received notice that a severe storm near Cape Canaveral had caught a boy in its clutches and swept him and his skiff out to sea. Paulsen gathered his crew and took off in the amphibious aircraft named Arcturus to save the boy.

Even with strong headwinds, heavy rain affecting visibility, and twelve to fifteen-foot swells, Paulsen and his crew found the boy over thirty miles from shore. As they landed on the tumultuous waters the Arcturus’ wings sustained damage, rendering the aircraft un-flyable, but they pulled the boy aboard to safety. Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen taxied through the raging ocean with amazing skill and determination. What was left of the wings ripped away from the aircraft, leaving only the boat-like fuselage when they beached. All survived, and the dramatic heroism set the course for the future of the Coast Guard, and the critical role of aviation in search and rescue missions. Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen received the Gold Life-Saving Medal.

My cousin, retired USN Rear Admiral Jack Trum, graduated from Annapolis in 1940, survived World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, while serving thirty-two years in the Navy. He held people like Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen in the highest regard, proclaiming, “The Coast Guard, now those are the real sailors. When everyone else is heading to port, they are putting out to sea. They save people’s lives.”

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

September 5, 2017 Get it Write

The Liberty Gazette
September 5, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: When advising writers, Mike’s favorite topic is how badly Hollywood gets things wrong when portraying anything aviation. There’s no shortage of examples.

Mike: When it comes to credible airplane scenes, one of the most egregious transgressions is Die Hard 2. The fails in that movie are many, like when one of the bad guys takes over air traffic control. We’re supposed to believe that by refusing to clear them to land he can hold planes hostage in the air until they run out of fuel. That’s ridiculous. In reality they would fly to another airport.

Linda: In preparation for a presentation to writers on writing believable aviation scenes, we welcomed questions in advance. One of our guest writers was concerned about the plausibility of aviation scenes in her story. She had some interesting questions, some fueled by incidents that happened earlier this year. That is, can airlines remove a passenger due to overbooking?

Yes, and here’s why. As an airline customer, you are only buying a journey from here to there. Not a seat, not a flight. Carriers spell this out in the contract of carriage to which you are bound when you buy your ticket.

Most airlines overbook by five to fifteen percent, depending on several factors which are decided upon with very serious statistical analysis to serve the profit goals.

This, of course, begs the follow-on question, what rights do bumped passengers have? In a word, compensation.

The more complete answer is if an airline overbooks, they must first ask for volunteers to give up seats before yanking paying passengers off the plane. If they don’t get enough volunteers, they will offer money or free tickets. If they reach the maximum they’re willing to tender and there still aren’t enough volunteers, they can remove people from the flight.

Here’s what you’ll want to know if this happens to you. They’ll have to provide a written statement of why you were bumped. They must also re-book you, and if you will be significantly delayed, you’re entitled to payment up to $1,350. You don’t have to accept a voucher. They must cut you a check if you request it.

These rights won’t apply if you relinquish your seat voluntarily. They also aren’t valid unless the removal is due to overbooking. Any other reason, such as a change in planes, problems with weight and balance calculations to ensure a safe flight, or a delayed or cancelled flight, does not come with promises or reimbursements.

If you’d like to know more about your rights as an airline passenger you can go to
https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/flights-and-rights.

Mike: One more thing. If you buy a business class ticket you will not be removed due to overbooking. You might not get to sit in business class, but you’ll get a seat. The ticket price buys this benefit, and you don’t have to be a celebrity to receive this special treatment. But you might not want to watch Die Hard 2 on your flight.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

August 29, 2017 Safety in Racing from Aviation

The Liberty Gazette
August 29, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: World War I Ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, was a pilot and race driver. He was president of Eastern Airlines, owned Rickenbacker Motor Company, and raced in the Indianapolis 500 the first four years it existed as such. He even owned the Speedway for a time. But when he went to war he was, like all other pilots, denied a parachute.

Commanding officers refused to allow American fighter pilots to wear parachutes, thinking they’d be less aggressive and bail at the first sign of trouble. Concerning the deaths of two friends, Captain Eddie wrote in his journal, “Cannot help but feel, that it was criminal negligence on the part of those higher up for not having exercised sufficient forethought and seeing that we were equipped with parachutes for just such emergencies.”

Those higher-ups finally realized pilots were more important than airplanes, but it was too late for some.

For decades people talked about what a great idea it would be if not just pilots, but airplanes too had parachutes. Last week we mentioned Boris Popov’s airplane parachute that has resulted in hundreds of successful floating landings when engine trouble prompted pilots to pull the chute.

Many safety enhancements have come from the aviation and auto industries, and speaking of pop-offs, that’s what they call the pressure relief valve that was one of the mandatory changes on Indy race cars in 1974, following the previous year’s horrific fiery crashes. Major changes to Indy car fuel systems also required fuel tank capacity reduction, from seventy-five gallons to forty, and the breakaway gas tank.

Breakaway tank technology wasn’t new, but made its way to Indy because the crashes in ‘73 might have been survivable.

Engineers with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor, had worked with engineers from Bell Helicopter and Goodyear, testing their research on military helicopters. Choppers were dropped, data analyzed, refinements made, and in 1970, after a decade of work, the Crash-Resistant Fuel System was added to Army helicopters used in the Vietnam War.

The technology would be applied next to civilian aircraft, and eventually to automobiles. But after that devastating year at Indy, and the realization that the lives of race drivers Art Pollard and Swede Savage might have been spared, officials mandated changes to fuel systems.

The race was on to adopt aviation innovation. They’d make tanks from different materials, re-position them to be less susceptible to rupture, and install fittings that would break away on impact. This had become an emergency. No one wanted the hell fires of 1973.

It’s a time I still remember with chills. The year after these changes, fan favorite and math-teacher-turned-race-driver Tom Sneva flipped and smashed into the wall in turn two. He climbed out of the broken car, dazed, but okay, the blazing parts yards away. For Mr. Sneva, it meant he’d return to be the first to break two hundred miles an hour at Indy, and today he can play as much golf and gin rummy as he wishes.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22, 2017 But Seriously, Folks

The Liberty Gazette
August 22, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: If you say “cirrus” in the right crowd, any member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, any weather worshiper, will know you’re talking about a non-threatening cloud. Cirrus clouds are those thin wisps you see way up high, but not as high as stars, or even satellites. If we didn’t think Siriusly about it, we might think it sounds like our weather is going to the dogs–like our astronomical humor–but when it comes to cirrus, it’s a good day to be outside.

When strong winds in the troposphere sweep the carefree cirrus, we see long, delicate streamers. Cirrus is a Latin word, meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair. That’s a pretty good description of their appearance from afar, but these fair weather friends are actually made of ice crystals, formed when precipitation falls through colder air, and freezes. To further cloud the issue, although these “mares tails” pose no threat, they sometimes indicate a change in weather is on the horizon.

But what’s in a name? Would that which we call a cirrus, by any other name still draw lines like chalk dust spread by angel wings, or decorate with dainty sky feathers?

What fogs the picture these days is an aircraft company that makes both piston and jet airplanes. The company, Cirrus Aircraft, came up in an internet search ahead of the cloud type when I entered “cirrus.” To say I was blown away is a dramatization of an understatement.

Cirrus Aircraft builds airplanes with ballistic parachutes. These chutes aren’t the kind pilots strap on their backs. These are manufactured into the airplane. While the parachute was engineered into the Cirrus design to meet certain FAA requirements, the marketing opportunity turned out to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Cirrus couldn’t pass FAA tests requiring an airplane to be able to recover from a one-turn spin, so they integrated a parachute and asked the feds to accept it in place of a spin recoverable design.

Orders rained down on happy Cirrus sales representatives when non-pilot spouses agreed to strap the family budget with the perception that their favorite pilot would be safer in an airplane with a parachute.

But cirrusly, folks, it’s true. For almost a century people talked about the whole-airplane parachute idea. But not until 1975 did someone finally do something about it. It was a guy whose hang glider collapsed, who was angry over feeling helpless while in a four hundred-foot plunge. In those falling moments Boris knew, if he’d had a parachute, his odds of surviving would be better. Fortunately, he did survive and what he did in response to that anger was build a product that saves lives.

We’ll have more next week on safety initiatives. I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys the irony that Ballistic Recovery Systems was founded by a man with the last name of Popov.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017 Wins and Fails

The Liberty Gazette
August 15, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Another Indy Air Race is in the books – seventh annual – and once again we celebrated. Not just air racing, but the annual airport open house and benefit.

The fastest airplane, a Glasair, completed the one hundred thirty-three mile course at two hundred fifty-six miles an hour. The slowest airplane in the field, competing in a smaller horsepower class against similar airplanes was a vintage 1946 Stinson 108 which flew one hundred and nine miles an hour.

While racing feeds the competitive appetite, the best part of the Indy Air Race is joining in support of Down Syndrome Indiana. In the festive atmosphere families run from bounce house to face painting to candy and games with super heroes and island princesses. Of course, guests are drawn to the uniqueness of airplanes on the ramp, and race pilots happy to talk with them about flying. Every year, this is a winning day for everyone.

It also brings another chance for us to visit with family: Mom, sister, niece and nephew, and our brother-in-law, Mike Lyons, the cyclist.

A few days before the air race there came a dark and stormy night. Mike Lyons had a group ride and when he returned he summed it up with this:

“Wins & Fails from this evening’s ride:
Win: Meeting up with friends for another ride, led by Doug.
Win: Going for it amidst questionable skies.
Fail: Murphy the dog chases us down the road.
Win: Doug turns around to lead him back to owner. 
Fail: Starts to sprinkle.
Win: Because of Murphy, we aren’t far out.
Win: Doug wisely calls off ride, all get back to the church mostly dry.
Fail: I decide to keep riding.
Win: I dodge the obvious ominous storm clouds.
Fail: For ten minutes.
Win: During the monsoon-like torrent my bike gets clean.
Fail: The front drops the temperature to 62.
Win: In an effort to stay warm I bike 20-26 miles an hour.
Fail: At 26 miles an hour, I start to hydroplane, nearly crashing.
Fail: Pretty sure I wet myself.
Win: Rain rinses me clean.
Fail: Lightning strikes extremely close.
Win: I’m not struck.
Win: It jars a ball of wax loose from left ear, I can hear better.
Fail: With wax build-up gone, another close strike leaves ears ringing.
Win: I’m not struck.
Fail: Wet myself again.
Win: Keeps raining and rinsing off.
Fail: Return to truck cold and wet.
Win: Return to truck.
Fail: Phone got wet.
Win: Dried out and works.
Win: Got in 25 miles.
Win: Should smell like a toddler after four sippy cups, but don’t thanks to riding in a hard rain. Takeaway: Despite the Wins, when everyone turns back...I should, too.”

Mike: I admire our brother-in-law’s determination to finish the ride, and to challenge a thunderstorm like a super hero with a light sabre, but we opted to stay clear of those airplane-eaters on our flight back to Texas.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

August 8, 2017 Hanging In, Hanging Out

The Liberty Gazette
August 8, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I’d climbed to seventy-five hundred feet, and would cruise at this altitude over the cliffs below me, all around. This is Cajon Pass, where adventurers are drawn to hang glide through the saddle between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. The pass offers ideal lift and wind to carry a motor-less hang glider to a vantage point above the sculpted earth, alone with the whoosh of the air. From my altitude, they appear suspended, like mud-daubers; like wings with pods dangling beneath them. I call them adventuresome partly because these intrepid souls soaring through the pass initiate their flight by stepping off a cliff, trusting their wings.

On the cliff, they strap into their contraptions, hoist their bulky load and run downhill until the air blows across their wing to create enough lift. At first, the wind catches and holds them aloft and their legs drop momentarily like an eagle’s talons ready to snatch its prey. But the force quickly pushes their bodies horizontal, streamlined with the craft, as they shift their weight to steer.

In this pass, sometimes they swoop down low along the slope, rolling from side to side, twenty feet off the ground. If updrafts are present, they stay in the air longer, soaring along the rising terrain. Once they land, in a field or a parking lot, the flyers free themselves from their people-lifting kites, satisfied by the exuberance of human flight.

When I’m in a sailplane I also use thermals – columns of rising air that develop from unevenly heated ground – to stay up in the sky. But the way a sailplane starts its adventure is different from hang gliders. My sailplane is towed into the atmosphere by an airplane. But a hang glider cannot be towed by a powerful airplane because its speed far exceeds what a hang-glider can handle; tow planes cannot fly slowly enough for them. For hang gliders the launch pad is a hill, the launcher, human legs. This has limited the sport of hang gliding to hilly areas. That is, until the Dragonfly.

The Dragonfly started life in 1990 as an ultralight airplane to meet demand. Designer Bob Bailey had one purpose in mind, tow hang-gliders where there are no hills from which to leap. Since that time with the help of these airplanes, people in flat country have been able to enjoy the thrill of soaring flight.

One of the most popular places to get a towed flight is in Florida. Most of the state is flat as a pancake, the highest point being 345 feet, at Britton Hill, near the Alabama line. With a fleet of Dragonflys, Wallaby Ranch near Lakeland, Florida has towed hang gliders nearly every day since 1992, amassing tens of thousands of flights.

Geography and geology no longer limit the hang gliding experience, thanks to the Dragonfly, a classic American success story of finding a need, filling it, and hanging in there.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com