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!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

June 6, 2017 Dan Cooper's Smokin' Deal

The Liberty Gazette
June 6, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: How much above the ticket price would you pay if airlines offered to pack a parachute under the seat? One evening in November of 1971 a Northwest Orient Airlines passenger paid $20 cash for a one-way ticket and the airline actually provided him with not one, but four parachutes and rebated him $200,000.

I say that tongue-in-cheek because it’s the one act of air piracy the FBI has not been able to solve. A passenger, who called himself Dan Cooper, mistakenly identified by the press as D.B. Cooper, bought a last-minute ticket and boarded a Boeing 727 bound from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.

He took a seat in the rear of the cabin. Once airborne, he handed a note stating he had a bomb to one of the two flight attendants who was seated nearby. She dropped the note in her purse thinking it was his phone number, something that must have happened quite often. Moving closer he whispered for her to read it and gave her a glimpse of the explosive device inside his brief case. He didn’t look or behave like the typical hijacker of the day. Dressed neatly in a shirt, tie and black overcoat, he was polite and relaxed. He took his time and his plan appears to be mostly well thought out.

The flight attendant took his demands to the captain and they were forwarded by radio to the airline’s Seattle office. Then the plane circled for two hours as the sun set and the authorities gathered the dough from several local banks and parachutes from a local skydiving operation. When the airplane landed the hijacker ordered the crew to taxi to a remote and well lighted area of the airport. He commanded the pilot to turn off the cabin lights. This was to keep sharpshooters from being able to target him. The airline’s operations manager approached the airplane from the rear and the hijacker lowered the rear boarding ramp, a feature unique to the Boeing 727. One of the flight attendants collected the parachutes and the money.

Once the airplane was refueled and the parachutes and ransom money in negotiable American currency were on board, the hijacker let the passengers and one flight attendant leave. He instructed the crew to fly toward Mexico City, allowing for a fuel stop in Reno. He also wanted them to remain at ten thousand feet and keep the cabin unpressurized. Airborne, he directed the remaining flight attendant to join the three pilots in the cockpit. Following her obedience, he lowered the rear ramp, walked to the end and jumped off into the darkness.

Two Air Force fighter jets were following but because he wore dark clothing on a dark night, they didn’t see him exit the airplane. It is thought that he jumped someplace near Mount St. Helens.

There have been theories as to what became of him, but no answers. It isn’t known if he even survived the jump. The FBI closed their investigation after 45 years and 60 volumes of data and notes, yet the case has not been solved.

Who was Dan Cooper? No one knows, or no one’s telling, but he got a smokin’ deal on that airfare.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 30, 2017 Remember Them With Pride

The Liberty Gazette
May 30, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: To continue honoring Memorial Day, we are sharing the lyrics to a special song written for Tom “Daddy” Ken Whitfield, the British Royal Air Force pilot we spotlighted last week. Whitfield’s best friend and fellow RAF pilot, Leo Harris, lost his life during WWII when his engine failed and his Spitfire took him down into the Mediterranean Sea. In memory of them, the ones who sacrificed all for a free world:

Remember Them With Pride – by Steve Goodchild

In peacetime calm between the storms in Stockton town there I was born
Between the wars, and took my father’s name,
But not his trade – no, not for me; my school days made it plain to see,
Once schooled, within the schoolroom I’d remain.
You grow up fast in troubled times – I learned they’d swarmed across the Rhine
And cut a westbound swathe towards Paris,
Ambition then I set aside – from call-to-arms I would not hide
And I signed-up to defend democracy

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea, their names we must remember – heroes
One and all - they stood to turn the tide,
They held the sky; they held us safe, and those who’d fall to no known grave
Nor resting place – Remember Them With Pride.

From Biggin Hill, to fields afar we flew through hardship to the stars
Gibraltar’s Straits; the convoys to defend’
They hit me once and took me down - I crashed and burned, but once aground
Survived, and found my way back home again.
When all was done in ’45, and thankful that I had survived,
I put it all behind me as you do,
A change of clothes; a change of name; pick up the threads and once again
The noble task of teaching to pursue.

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea …….

So down the intervening years of family fortunes, hopes and fears,
I soon forgot the gauntlet we had run,
And as each September came around; new faces lost all needing found
Thirty-eight years passed – my time was done.
That Spring in Nineteen eighty-eight, I paused outside Valetta’s Gate
And strained to screen my eyes against the light,
A name in bronze engraved in stone of marble wrought and brought from Rome,
Neath gilded eagle, proud and poised for flight.

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea …….

With eyes closed and a silent tear, I wandered, winding back the years
And there – he stands before me clear as day,
His flying helmet hanging there – in leather, much the worse for wear!
He said “I missed you Tommy when you flew away”.
Up there, in cockpit five miles high, our friendship forged in hostile skies
We’d parted in Gibraltar and moved on,
Along the strand that evening-tide I left my name in sand and smiled,
That his in marble-memory still lives on.

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea …….

They held the sky; they held us safe, and those who’d fall to no known grave
Nor resting place – Remember Them With Pride.

     Mike: We do remember them, and they make us proud. Thanks to Steve Goodchild for permission to reprint his song. You can find the music of Steve Goodchild and Horizon Ridge at https://horizonridge.ca.

      ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 23, 2017 No Known Grave

The Liberty Gazette
May 23, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Tom Kenneth Whitfield was a British Royal Air Force test pilot in the Spitfire Mark IX. On November 9, 1942, Whitfield and his 611 Squadron engaged some Germans flying Folke Wulfs over France. During the battle he was separated from the rest of his squadron. While checking the map to find his way back to Biggin Hill his airplane was hit by enemy fire. It was too damaged to make it far, so he made a crash landing at the Hawkinge Airfield in Kent. Doctors removed shrapnel from his left side and in six weeks Whitfield was back in the air.

Mike: Flight Officer Reginald (Leo) Harris was also in the British Royal Air Force during WWII, serving with Whitfield in Flight 611 Squadron. On August 23, 1943 he was flying his Spitfire as usual on a mission when the airplane’s engine failed. He’d been flying low looking for submarines which gave him no time to bail out. Officer Harris perished in the Mediterranean. His best friend, fellow Flight Officer Tom Whitfield, grieved his loss, and decades later while vacationing in Malta, Whitfield and his wife visited the Royal Air Force memorial.

Harris had been one of over 2,000 men lost over the Mediterranean, and when Whitfield found Harris’ name on the memorial he wrote a poem dedicated to his memory.

In this week before Memorial Day, in memory of Leo Harris, Tom Whitfield, and the many men who sacrificed all for the security of a free world, we’d like to share Officer Whitfield’s poem, which was published by his son, Aidan Whitfield, at http://www.611squadronrauxaf.co.uk/news/070702/TKWhitfield.html.

And Have No Known Grave

In February, nineteen eighty-eight
I stood outside Valetta City Gate
And screwing my eyes up-sun against the light
Beheld a gilded eagle, poised for flight,
Crowning a capital, pinions outspread,
Into the tramuntana turns its tyrant head.

PER ARDUA AD ASTRA, plain to see,
And underneath at 1943, In mute memorial to our glorious dead
One and a half columns I had read
Before, in shock, I saw a name I know
HARRIS R.H.W. F/O.

I shut my stinging eyes and there he stands, Helmet and goggles dangling from his hands,
A fighter pilot to his very roots, From ardent eyes to well-worn flying boots.
He smiles and nods his head as if to say, 'I missed you, Tommy, when you flew away'.

Crouched in our cockpits up to five miles high, We forged our friendship in a hostile sky,
Then parted at Gibraltar; I moved on
But felt, alas, the golden days had gone.
My name I scratch in sand upon the shore;
His name in bronze lives on for evermore.

By T K Whitfield

Linda: Next week, the day following Memorial Day, you’ll be treated to the lyrics of a special song that was written by Steve Goodchild for Tom Whitfield, commemorating his dedication to freedom, and to his best friend, reflecting on that day when Harris died and Whitfield flew on. We heard Steve and his band Horizon Ridge perform this song in Houston and we can’t wait to share it with you. You can find out more about Horizon Ridge and their music at https://horizonridge.ca/about-us/band-bio.html.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 16, 2017 Land on the Line

The Liberty Gazette
May 16, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Amid the backdrop of the snow-covered slopes of Pike’s Peak and the Rocky Mountains, a white and blue plane made a descending left turn. This was the final airplane in the last group of planes to take their turn in the spot landing segment of the competition. There would be plenty more action to come in the annual National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s Safety Conference. My peers and I, the spotters and judges, kept our eyes on it from our assigned positions several feet apart, on both sides of the runway.

I had done this before. A previous year I performed these same watchful tasks alongside a runway in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where, because of unexpected rain, everyone there sported stylish trash bags to serve as raincoats. This time I kept the collar of my jacket turned up, my wool cap pulled down snuggly, and my hands tucked into my pockets. Out there by the runway at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs the chilling winds cut right through all my layers.

As the plane made its final approach we anticipated its touchdown point would be somewhere within the 300-foot long box, each side of which the spotters stood. Each pilot would aim for the target line drawn 100 feet inside that box. Depending on where it actually touched ground, the closest spotter would mark the landing. I stayed focused in case it would land in front of me.

White stripes were painted on the tires so that we could tell the exact point the tires touched the pavement. The wheels would begin to roll when the plane touched down, which they did not do in the air. When the wheels landed and started moving that white stripe would, too, indicating the landing spot.

As with the other planes before it, the tires’ rubber made a chirp sound when they touched the ground. The spotter marked the distance from the landing point to the target line was their distance score for the spot landing contest. Penalty points could be assessed for landing entirely outside the box, and in this contest, a perfect score is zero.

It all began May 7, 1920 when nine schools competed at Mitchel Field in Long Island, New York for the first contest held by the Intercollegiate Flying Association. Yale University took first place. On their team was a naval aviator who would later found Pan American Airways, Juan Trippe, flying in a Curtis Jenny scrounged up from war surplus.

Today, the top 20 college and university flying teams, totaling about 50 pilots from around the country arrived in their school-owned airplanes. In addition to spot landings, their mettle was tested in precision flying events such as navigation and instrument flying skills, and timed written tests on regulations, flight planning, and aircraft recognition.

With the final contestant on the ground and taxiing to the staging area, we retreated to the heated motorhome where we sipped hot chocolate, coffee or tea and discussed the landings. The winners would be announced at a banquet at the end of the four day safety conference and they would proudly accept the prestigious trophies and titles. These are the best of the best collegiate pilots.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May 9, 2017 CAVU Days, CAVU Nights

The Liberty Gazette
May 9, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Every switch and control I saw clearly as I scooted along under the heavens in the light of the moon, the Milky Way and its neighboring constellations. Our GPS and other position receivers in the instrument panel gave our location in the vast space between Earth and infinity. But on these severe clear nights we also practiced the lost art of celestial navigation, and we used pilotage – that is, finding one’s way by relating one’s own bearing to points of reference on the ground, which are mapped on our aviation charts. By their street patterns and position relative to each other, I could identify Midland and Odessa from over a hundred miles away.

One night on a flight between Atlanta and Dallas, the air was fresh and clear all around except for one wall made up of many thunderstorms standing end to end, a barricade 500 miles long. This was a considerable length, but isolated and in contrast to the absence of weather everywhere else. The storm clouds’ tops reached higher than our cruise altitude of 41,000 feet. In this towering weather front alongside my flight path I witnessed lightning illuminate first one thunder bumper’s entire form, followed by the next and the next. As the connected storm clouds seemed to pass a message down the line they created a sequence of mushroom-shaped strobe lights pointing the way to Dallas. The array of continuous shots of light energy in high definition was crisp live action unfettered by fog, mist, or other cloudy weather around it.

On trips across the pond, hopping from Newfoundland to Spain, or France, we would depart the security of land and spend hours looking out over the expanse of water where ocean merged with sky. Though often cloudless, the distance to the horizon might have been 50 miles or 200, it was difficult to tell until night came. By then we could recognize the lights of the cities that dot the coast of Europe. Santiago, Spain’s runway approach lighting system is one of the brightest I have ever seen, emitting light discernible almost two hundred miles out at sea. When Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited is the order of the day, or night, the gleaming raw firmament is home to the soul of the pilot.

Linda: We call that weather condition by its acronym: CAVU. Indeed, it feels like home to the pilot’s soul.

When clouds are absent from the sky
And view unlimited to the eye
The pilot itching to fly will say
It’s a Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited day
On CAVU days expanse bright blue
Clear and crisp comes every hue
As though painted on canvas new
Outshines the sparkliest, dazzliest few
Of any diamonds known or not
That billionaires have sought and thought
To be the all that brilliance might
While missing out on CAVU flight.
On CAVU nights expanse that glows
Whisper-shares luminaire flows
Shine more than foot light for each step
Exuberance greater than footman’s pep
Say moxie and muscle with zest and zeal
Yet dove-soft showering light to steal
Darkness from its hiding place
Upon the landscape quiet grace
Save airplane noise dear to the heart
Of every pilot whose eve will start
And end with full moon CAVU night
In tumescence of a glorious flight.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May 2, 2017 Levitow's Airplane

The Liberty Gazette
May 2, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: With darkness all around him the exhausted soldier lies in tall grass trying to keep his eyes open. The bayonet affixed to his M-16 is bloodied. The heat from the gun’s barrel isn’t the only thing making him sweat. The drone of twin radial engines lumbering overhead is almost hypnotic as he prepares for yet another wave of the enemy to charge his position. Suddenly a brilliant light makes the night seem like day. Startled enemy soldiers duck for cover in front of him. Taking aim, he hears a blast from above, a different sound than the explosions all around him. He can’t see anything in the blackness beyond the blinding flare that now makes all things visible on the ground. “Thanks for the light, Spooky.”

It’s February 24, 1969. The Army post at Long Binh, 12 miles northeast of Saigon is under heavy attack by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Above the battle a heavily armed Douglas AC-47, call sign “Spooky”, offers aid to the ground troops by dropping magnesium flares affixed to parachutes. Its Gatling guns blast three- to four-second devastating bursts.

Inside the plane the scene suddenly becomes as chaotic as in the rice fields below. As it maneuvers for another pass an explosion rips a hole in the right wing sending bits of hot searing metal in all directions. The pilot struggles with the aircraft as loadmaster Airman First Class John Levitow helps severely injured fellow soldiers. He’s been hit by more than 40 pieces of shrapnel piercing the fuselage and lodging in his back and legs.

The plane flies at a slant, wobbling side to side. Airman Levitow drags one of the gunners away from the open door. Moments earlier the gunner was preparing to drop a flare, a three-foot long, 27-pound tube. The flare’s 20-second fuse ignites, the smoldering tube flops about, rolling around on the floor in the back of the aircraft amid thousands of unspent rounds of ammunition.

Trailing blood, no feeling in one leg, Levitow tries to retrieve the flare before it sets off the ammo. He knows the firestorm will shred the aircraft and knock it from the sky. In all three attempts to capture the threatening flare, it slips from his slick, bloody hands. His last chance, Levitow leaps on top of it and flips it out the open door. A second later it illuminates the battlefield below.

This is his 181st mission and Airman Levitow will complete 20 more before his service in Vietnam is complete.

Now it’s January 1998. Out of the doors of Boeing Aircraft Company’s Building 54 at Long Beach Airport rolls a military C-17 Globemaster christened, “The Spirit of Sgt. John L. Levitow”.

An airplane named Levitow. Charles Lindberg’s plane is “Spirit of St. Louis”. Icelandair names their fleet after volcanoes. The U.S. Air Force names theirs after heroes.

John Levitow: the lowest ranking enlisted man to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for the highest act of valor. The citation reads, “He saved the aircraft and the entire crew from certain death and destruction.”

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 25, 2017 That Time I Saved a B-17

The Liberty Gazette
April 25, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Things didn’t go as they should have so I was forced to be a hero.

Members post pictures, often butterflies, fairies, and flowers, to be used as story prompts in the online writing group. We write what comes to mind, taking turns adding a line or two, and see what develops. Like the stalk with small white droopy flowers. Someone started off with a woman in a garden, loving life.

By Writer 5, “She walked around the edge of her garden and hummed a melody befitting the beauty before her,” I knew what this story needed: an airplane.

Thus, my contribution: “Then the B-17, Aluminum Overcast, lumbered overhead, its four radial engines drowning out her beautiful melody, but she didn’t miss a beat and sang even louder.”

Notice my respect for my storytelling mates, acknowledging their character, adding a bomber, but letting her hum louder. No harm done, right? I was horrified then to see the next entry.

Writer 7: “Her sweet song stuck in her throat as she noticed the plane dive toward the lapping blue-green waters of the bay.”

How could they even think of bringing down Aluminum Overcast, a piece of flying history appearing at every major air show in the U.S.? You can’t just nonchalantly toss Aluminum Overcast into the water! I had to save it! I added that the captain was the husband of the garden-humming chick. Surely, now, they would not cast out Aluminum Overcast.

But when the next writer had “Pam” dial 9-1-1, it was clear I had to enter the danger zone. I didn’t want to, but they made me.

Me: “All four engines stopped. No smoke, no indications. They had just filled the tanks – this was either fuel contamination… or sabotage.” (Note: suspenseful music goes here.)

“Not enough altitude to turn around, no engine power, their ship became a glider. Descending 700 feet a minute only gave them a couple of minutes before a water landing. Starting emergency procedures with his co-pilot, he was thankful today’s flight was with the training captain, Linda, the one who taught him to fly this plane.”

 (See what I did there? Even if they would kill this poor gal’s husband, surely they wouldn’t kill me!)

Writer 9: “Bracing for impact David caught a glimpse of a house – Millie’s house. He imagined her, still in her pj’s, taking her morning garden walk, unaware of the struggle overhead. No, he won’t die, not like this. He would live, he had to – for her! Taking a deep breath he worked fast and determinedly.”

That did me in. Brace for impact? They’re not going to impact, they’re going to ditch! And, Millie? What happened to Pam? She was at the airport, but Millie’s in pj’s? And what pilot qualified to fly a B-17 acts like that during an emergency? Fortunately, at this point someone said, “Linda, you have to write the rest, I don’t know how to save a crashing plane.”

Crashing plane?! It’s! Not! Crashing!

Me: “He shook it off. Strange, with all his training he would have those thoughts. Fortunately only for a split second, then his professional pilot-self returned. Linda began restart procedures even as they prepared to ditch. Number one engine: battery, alternator, mags On. To both pilots’ surprise, it ignited. She continued in sequence, skipping the pre-start checks. By the time number two started David had stopped the descent as waves spit at the belly. Climbing, they turned toward the airport, relieved that they didn't have to ditch Aluminum Overcast. David wondered what went wrong in his head, even if for only a second.”

And that was the time that I saved a B-17.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com