formerly "The View From Up Here"

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

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 13, 2016 Wingtip Pirouette

The Liberty Gazette
September 13, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Somewhere down there, on a street corner along Route 66 is the statue of Glenn Frey and behind it, a mural of a woman in a flatbed Ford, who we all know is slowing down to take a look at him. 

Our focus is beyond Winslow, Arizona and the Eagles, but were it not for Glenn and the group the town’s name wouldn’t be permanently affixed to a particular tune. The song plays in our heads even without our conscious permission because it has to, even when you just think “Winslow, Arizona.” 

Those notes bouncing in the back of our memories, we watch and listen for air traffic arriving and departing the Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport just beyond our right wing, as we search for a large divot in the ground, a crater formed many years ago when a meteor shot through the earth’s thick gaseous layers and slammed into Northern Arizona. Just past the crater’s north rim we spot the white water storage tank, our first turn point in the Thunderbird 150 Air Race. The intersection of two dirt roads just beyond the tank indicates turn two and matches up perfectly to the latitude and longitude we’ve programmed into our airplane’s GPS.

These first two turns were chosen to give air racers a unique view of the famous crater. Pirouetting, we sweep around the rim flying the short distance from turn one to turn two and then point our nose south toward turn three, another jewel, an airpark at the edge of the Mogollon Rim. Or, if you ever read a Zane Grey western novel, you’ll know it as the Tonto Rim. The two-hundred-plus mile-long upheaval of land mass separates the high country north and east of Phoenix from the higher Colorado Plateau. During monsoon season it is one of the most lightning-struck pieces of ground on the earth. Today, not a cloud in the sky and we can see for what seems like forever.

We had been needing a change in scenery and welcomed this trip to Arizona, chasing old and new friends around the Western Sky and Arizona’s high, high desert. Overflying the Navajo Indian Reservation and Petrified Forest National Monument we reached Holbrook in just eight hours of flight time the day before the air race, in time for a potluck dinner at Mogollon Airpark, at the residence of our overnight hosts, Curt and Ellen. When they heard there was to be an air race with out-of-town pilots they graciously offered a room in their beautifully designed hangar home for our stay.

During the evening in the hangar full of pilots and food we discovered that our hostess, Ellen, attended the same high school as I did, and was even in my class, although she moved our senior year and graduated elsewhere. We reminisced about people and places we both knew well, amazed that we’d never met before this flying event brought us all together. 

Crossing the race finish line was not the end of our respite from the working world. We took the opportunity to spend time with friends in Phoenix and Tucson before winging our way back here. But with new friends in high rim places, we’ll look forward to a return trip to Zane Grey country in the not too distance future.

September 6, 2016 Now on Sale

The Liberty Gazette
September 6, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A tweet (as in Twitter, social media) shared by a co-worker showed a picture of a promotional sign advertising a certain service by a relatively new company. What was unusual about it was that particular sign in that particular store.

Costco Wholesale, “a membership warehouse club, dedicated to bringing our members the best possible prices on quality, brand-name merchandise”, has the large membership it does in part because of good prices. So we often think bargain when we think of Costco and other wholesale clubs. 

But then there’s the other piece - quality brand names. And these days, it’s not only merchandise. As we recently saw from that tweet, Costco is advertising services, too. 

For those who travel by air frequently there are some reasonable options to airlines. Of course, learning to fly would be tops on my list, but a company or individual could also buy an airplane (or helicopter) and hire a pilot, charter a flight, or, that person or business could join a club. We call it a fractional share and there are several such companies built around variations of this concept. 

One of these, Wheels Up, explains their uniqueness: “Unlike with traditional fractional or jet card programs, joining the Wheels Up club does not require a significant up-front financial or long-term commitment. You aren’t purchasing an asset, you are joining a club. For a reasonable initiation fee and low annual dues, you become part of an exclusive private aviation network, providing aircraft at reduced rates with guaranteed availability. A Wheels Up membership means guaranteed occupied hourly pricing on a pay-as-you-fly basis, paying only for hours flown, no hidden charges or unnecessary management or service fees.” 

Sound nice, and even though the initiation fee may be reasonable and the annual dues low, the invitation to be in an exclusive private anything is alluring to most folks.

The lower priced option at Wheels Up is the Individual or Family membership. Corporate members will, of course, pay much more. But a person can join for just $17,500 (that’s the reasonable initiation fee), and then only $8,500 per year dues. That entitles the member to guaranteed flights with 24-hour notice, which, of course, will be paid for per flight. Sounds good, and there are lots of folks for whom this works out well. I wonder though, how many of them shop at Costco?

If you’d asked me that last week I might have had a different answer. But now knowing that Wheels Up advertises at Costco I am going to assume they’ve done their market research and that there are enough Costco members who could also be Wheels Up members. 

So far, 2100 members have joined, giving them access to a fleet of 55 airplanes already at the company’s disposal, with an Uber-like app that facilitates passenger-flight matches.

So business aviation is now on sale at Costco. Kudos to Founder and CEO Kenny Dichter for growing the business aviation market in innovative ways. Now even $17k private airplane subscriptions are sold in bulk on pallets at Costco. Impressive.

August 30, 2016 Welcome Home

The Liberty Gazette
August 30, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Those miles of runway I’ve thanked for a special trip with Mom to her hometown (August 16, 2016 Gazette) are the strips of pavement that made possible a journey of many stories. Launching from Baytown, flying above countryside and towns to the cornfields of the Midwest, I found treasure buried deep in stories that sparkled to life as we stood in the very places of Mom’s memories.

One of the most significant pieces from the built world of that time was the house where she grew up, at 12th and Charleston, Mattoon, Illinois, nearly a century old when Mom’s family acquired it. One of her vivid memories is of a portrait of the builder and original owner, Mr. Hasbrouck.

His likeness which hung at the top of the stairs was of such large dimensions that his descendants had no room for it in their homes. My grandmother assured them it would be no problem for Mr. Hasbrouck to remain with the house he built circa 1836. Mom didn’t know his first name, but telling us how she’d say “Hello, Mr. Hasbrouck” as she passed by his portrait brought a gleeful smile and a twinkle in her eye that was enough for me to imagine a cute little imp dashing through her very active life full of spunk and charm.

Yearning to know more about the house that sheltered my mom – the doors through which she passed to get to the next adventure, the walls that absorbed or echoed her chatter, the floors on which she skipped or tip-toed, to dinner, to bed, and up for breakfast, and the roof that helped her feel secure – made me sad it was gone, having been razed around 1954 for a bank which now occupies the property where she played, its presence I resent. It would have meant so much to be in the spaces where she played hide-and-seek, and shared secrets with her sisters, and practiced her singing for church the next Sunday.

Searching the internet for photos of the house led me to discover that Mr. and Mrs. Abram Hasbrouck had eight children, among them, Helen. Helen became Mrs. Isaac Craig, had four daughters, and in her late years moved back to the old house then owned by her eldest daughter, Louise Craig Neal, who took care of her until Helen Hasbrouck Craig passed away. Mr. and Mrs. Neal had four daughters, including Elizabeth, who became Mrs. John Cartmill and raised her two sons, John Craig Cartmill and Robert Hasbrouck Cartmill, in Tulsa. John Cartmill passed four years ago at the age of 91. Reading his obituary, my heart nearly melted at the serendipity:

Flying was his first love. He was one of the first to graduate from the Army Air Corps Combat Flying School in Lubbock TX in 1942 and served in World War II as a Glider Pilot. Continuing his love for aviation as a member of the Tulsa Skyhawks for many years, he had a particular love for soaring and spent many delightful hours under the cumulus clouds of Oklahoma.

His brother, Robert, passed just one year prior:

…a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy Annapolis MD and earned a PhD. in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy and was a veteran of the Korean War. His broad work experience included engineering, hydrology, meteorology, teaching, and farming. After retiring from NASA’s Earth Resources Laboratory he wrote a book, The Next Hundred Years Then and Now, comparing predictions made at the beginning of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

On the cover of Robert’s book is a tiny photo of the house his great-grandfather built at 1121 Charleston Avenue, Mattoon, Illinois.

That mile of runway: Priceless. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 23, 2016 Heavenly Frozen Vents, Batman!

The Liberty Gazette
August 23, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

: At 13,000 feet I don’t really need oxygen but I have my mask clamped on anyway. The engine hums effortlessly and I scan the dimly lit gauges in the early morning darkness as black gives way to grey. My sister slumbers, cocooned in a sleeping bag and occupying the entire rear seat of the Cessna. Wayne, our friend, keeps me company recapping a recent motocross race he did inside of a volcano in Hawaii.

This is our second leg since the wheels broke ground at 5:00 a.m. We waited an hour in Sacramento, planning to be in the right place when the first readings come in from the weather observer at the South Lake Tahoe control tower as it opens for the day.

Approaching the Squaw Valley radio beacon the Oakland Center controller informs us the field’s weather is above the minimums needed to perform the instrument approach, but not by much. We are cleared for the approach which takes us over the radio beacon on a continuous descent southeast across the lake. Slowing the airplane, I’m anticipating a lot of turbulence as we descend into the bowl, but it never comes.

The clouds open to a magnificent view. Resting before us is a majestic mountain, its slopes covered in glittering white, reflecting the early morning rays. This is heaven, more accurately Heavenly. Heavenly Valley Ski Resort is where we plan to spend our day. Down a side-valley to the right sits the airport, five miles distant. A controller clears us to land.

Shortly after the wheels kiss the pavement, we are ushered into a parking spot. Climbing from the plane and unpacking our gear, the snow starts to fall. Just a little at first, then a lot. Visibility in the narrow valley drops to a quarter mile - too low for even a commuter airline to land. Weather softly envelopes the mountains and the canyons around the airport. We are the first plane to land this morning and the last, for a while.

While many of the would-be skiers are stranded in San Francisco waiting for weather conditions to improve, we explore near deserted bowls, dance off moguls, and schuss and even tumble down long ski runs, with no lift lines to speak of. Wearing ourselves out we enjoy a leisure dinner and return to the airport. Weather has improved enough for us to depart. But for the first time today, we have to wait as several airliners from San Francisco to land, several hours too late to enjoy a sensational day on the slopes.

Departing, we are soon surrounded by darkness as we climb out and cross the backbone of the Sierras. Wayne and I enjoy the warm glow from the instruments as the airplane’s heater does a great job warming our tired feet. My sister has resumed her spot in the sleeping bag on the rear seat. Her doze is interrupted by flakes of snow coming through the fresh air vent, splattering her face and dusting her hair. The vent is frozen open so she stuffs a tissue in the opening and nods off.

It’s mid-night when we touch down at our home airport. It’s been one heavenly day.

August 16, 2016 Landing on Memory Lane

The Liberty Gazette
August 16, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

“A mile of highway can take you a mile; but a mile of runway can take you anywhere.” That’s a phrase we often use because its message hits the bulls-eye. I recently had the great blessing to experience that not only can it take us anywhere, propelling us away from the earth, unveiling a vantage point that would have made the Egyptians halt their pyramid building, but a runway can also take us back.

On my latest return to my hometown of Indy I gathered up Mom and Sis and we headed for a special place: Mom’s hometown, Mattoon, Illinois. We could not have fit this trip into a weekend were it not for the runways dotting the landscape. Were it not for the ease of travel permitted by these strips of land that let us go anywhere, Mom, Barbara, and I would not have stood in front of the house at 915 Wabash Avenue (still a brick road) where Mom was born, to hear her stories of playing with her bulldog in the backyard, and her little legs hopping up and down the front porch steps.

Thanks to the runways here and there and many places in between, the three of us took this priceless trip down memory lane together. Mom’s recollection of moving day “to the big house”, at age three, the youngest of four children born within six years, made each moment come alive as we walked down the same roads, taking in the same neighborhood. She wasn’t allowed to ride with the big kids in the truck that moved their furniture a couple of blocks up and over to 1121 Charleston Avenue so she walked with the dog and the housekeeper, who she said were probably her best friends anyway. Her words created the picture I could envision of a toddler fascinated with walking atop rolled up room sized rugs and the adventure she would find getting lost in a century old mansion that was new to them.

The Mattoon and Coles County Historical Society, housed on the third floor of the Illinois Central train depot on Broadway Avenue, where Amtrak frequents today, helped open doors to more reminiscing. The beautiful old building (built 1917) presented itself to us proudly with its restored antique staircase of 10’ wide terrazzo stairs and ornamental metal and wood handrail, wood and metal ticket window, and the original benches of highly polished birch wood with 12’ backs. This, Mom said, was where she walked to greet her daddy every Friday evening when he rode the train home after a long week of work away, and where she would walk back to see him off again every Sunday evening. He was a chemist and inventor of all things railroad.

We found in the Historical Society a hidden gem of a surprise when one of the volunteers handed us a local high school yearbook of Mom’s senior year. As we turned pages to see photos of Mom in more clubs and activities than I could imagine having time for, we learned this book had belonged to one of her friends, Louise Owings, whose family owned the drug store. There, in Mom’s handwriting, was her farewell-best-wishes-happy-graduation message to Louise, and her signature with arrow to one of her many photos. The volunteer was spot-on when she remarked, “That right there made the trip worth it.”

A mile of runway can take us anywhere - even back in time where I can walk through my mom’s childhood now planted firmly in my soul.

August 9, 2016 Leadership

The Liberty Gazette
August 9, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Every muscle tenses as he pulls the control stick toward himself - into his lap. Blood rushes from his head from the G-forces. The smooth beat of the 13-foot diameter propeller in front of him throbs as the round engine pumps its monster 28 cylinders against it. As the nose of his airplane reaches a 45-degree up angle the pilot rolls to the left and stomps hard on the rudder as he eases the stick forward. The world turns around and a long stretch of sand slides into view. White foam sloshes about on a blue-green background as waves crash on shore. Ant-like figures are running about. Near the dense vegetation along the beach below he sees wreckage of an airplane smoldering. The pilot’s engine changes its tune winding up into the dive. Lining up for another pass there is a deafening roar as his wing cannons belch fire, ripping trails of splattering sand as the enemy soldiers scatter,  retreating into the woods. As he levels out over the beach at nearly 400 mph, he scans seaward, catching a glimpse of the downed enemy pilot surfacing for air.

“How long would you have stayed there,” my dad asked. Jack replied “Till I had fuel enough to get offshore about a mile. Then I’d ditch. That was the difference. They’d give up ten men to get one piece of equipment. We’d give up ten pieces of equipment to save one man.”

Herman John “Jack” Trum, III couldn’t make up his mind. He wanted to fly and sail the seven seas. Where do you go if you want to do both? Join the Navy. Focused, Jack won a cadet slot at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, graduating Class of 1940. A large percentage of his classmates did not make it through WWII.

After graduation Jack served first as a midshipman on a battleship in the North Atlantic, its secret mission to find and sink the Tirpitz, sister battleship to the Bismarck. Unknown to them at the time of the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, the ship had already been sunk.

Jack ended WWII as a Naval Aviator, then flew 104 missions during the Korean War flying reconnaissance and cover for downed pilots. He talked of flying so low at times that upon returning to the ship the planes’ bellies had to be washed to remove mud.

As his career progressed he served as a fighter squadron commander, fleet oiler captain and then Captain of the aircraft carrier the USS Oriskany from 1963 to 1964. He made Rear Admiral in 1967, serving on two carrier divisions and later the commander of NAS Whidbey Island in Washington where he retired in 1972.

Jack was my dad’s first cousin, but Dad looked up to Jack as a boy idolizes his older brother. As adults, no matter where they lived, still close as brothers, each year they’d meet somewhere and catch up. During one of these meetings right after the Navy’s Tailhook scandal ended the careers of the Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the Navy, Dad asked if Jack thought the punishment was too severe.

Jack replied, “It wasn’t severe enough. They either knew or should have known what’s happening during their watch. Neglecting their responsibilities is not the quality of a leader. There is no gray area.”

We lost them both years ago but their influences remain. I’ll be thinking about cousin Jack’s response when I cast my vote in November.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August 2, 2016 Point Five

The Liberty Gazette
August 2, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: In last week’s piece I mulled over aviation-and-the-arts as topic of the week, finally pondering the potential superpowers of nail polish design to match our airplane’s paint scheme. The good news for Team Ely is that it worked. Not that the tailwinds weren’t involved in helping us get to the finish line fast, but at least stylish nails were a part of the story - fingers in red and toes in black-and-white checkered flag attracted a few good-humored photographers.

The long trip to Mitchell, South Dakota was broken up with a stop in Austin to pick up my friend Kathleen, an airline pilot who had never raced before and was going to take Mike’s place in the race since he had to work. There was a huge benefit in this substitution because Kathleen probably weighs in at half Mike’s weight - a relevant factor if you want to fly fast - so I started calling her “Point Five”.

Point Five, the Elyminator, and I pushed through headwinds all the way, stopping in Hinton, Oklahoma and Norfolk, Nebraska for fuel. The day was hot - even way up high in the sky, but hotter on the ground. The upside though is stopping at small communities where the airports are well maintained, restrooms are clean, and a friendly person opens the door to an air conditioned pilot’s lounge and offers ice cold water - with a smile.

Lady Wellman is not self-dubbed royalty but received her name because her parents just liked the sound of it. She makes visitors feel welcome in Oklahoma and you can see “a woman’s touch” in the airport’s terminal building - comfortable seating areas, tasteful decor, and tables full of snacks, coffees and teas, and ice cold water.

One of the pictures hanging on the wall at the Hinton Municipal Airport was a photo of a bear, and the words, “Bear with Me”. Turns out, the poster is the cover of a book she wrote, published by Tate Publishing. Here’s a teaser from their website: “A long awaited date should be special, except in Bear with Me, Hannah and Michael find themselves scrambling through the woods in a fight for their lives. After stumbling upon illegal activities, these two opposites are forced to discover one another's attributes in order to survive. This lighthearted Christian suspense will have you on edge one minute and laughing good-naturedly the next.”

Lady and I chatted a bit about our respective books and after some time cooling down Point Five and I hopped back in the Elyminator to fly to the next fuel stop further north, but still 100 degrees. There, too, were friendly people who offered us a courtesy car to drive in to town to get something to eat.

This is one of our favorite things about hopping around the country stopping in small towns with low fuel prices. It’s the people. The great people.

As we flew over the town of Mitchell I pointed out the only Corn Palace in existence, something my substitute race partner had never seen nor heard of before. With plenty of daylight left Point Five and I landed at our destination, joining so many friends who enjoy the same addiction we do - competing for the fastest time across the sky. Even Mike Patey, who flew “Turbulence”, his highly modified 850-horsepower kit-built Turbine Legend 438.02 mph - without nail polish.