The Liberty Gazette
May 25, 2010
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Part 1 of 3Linda: I was excited about joining the Sport Air Racing League because it means Mike and I can race together. Racing the annual all-women Air Race Classic is fun, but flying with Mike is always the best. This year SARL offers a 14-race season, about half are in Texas. We missed the first one to attend our niece’s wedding. We missed the second due to maintenance miscommunications. But we made it to Dyess AFB in Abilene for race three where we were part of the opening act prior to the Big Country AirFest celebrating the 25th anniversary of the B-1B Bomber, and featuring the USAF Thunderbirds. It would take less than an hour to complete the 112 mile, five-turn cross-county course.
Leaving Houston on Friday for Saturday morning’s race we entered what we call “hard IMC” a few hundred feet off the ground. IMC means flying blind in clouds where we fly by reference to our instruments–instrument meteorological conditions. We were in the clouds for about two hours but as we neared Abilene the skies cleared and we landed visually.
We are accustomed to seeing lots of military aircraft at Ellington, but landing at an active base was different. The rows of B-1s, the many C-130s, the Thunderbirds’ F-16s, acro planes and war birds, and a wing-walker’s Stearman were a great sight to see on landing. Mike joked that it would be a bit of a squeeze to get our Cheetah down on the 13,000-foot runway.
Mike: Dyess is a B-1B base so all race and acro planes arriving for the air show were parked in B1 hangars. What a sweet picture to see our little Cheetah tucked safely in the shadow of a B1.
Air Force personnel met and escorted us to the check-in building. A hard-working contingent of airmen handed us a welcome packet, parking pass, ID, and keys to a rental vehicle. As we exited the base and headed to the hotel we were amazed at the museum of bombers, fighters, trainers, surveillance planes. About 25 different airplanes, each in its own well-manicured park setting, were showcased along the main drive, emanating a rich history of strength, honor, and patriotism.
Returning in the morning the guards checked our credentials and ushered us through the gate.
Winding through the base and approaching the hangars we stopped at the sign that read, “Check for FOD”. Tires must be examined and any pebble or piece of debris must be removed before driving onto the ramp. Debris ingested into a jet engine can be very damaging. We added our collection of pebbles to the pile in the large green can, it’s presence a strong reinforcement of the message of safety, and entered the ramp area. Our rental van was dwarfed by the enormous hangars, one of them too small for the huge C-130 Hercules which had a special door that closed around its tail which stuck outside the hangar.
Linda: Early morning thunderstorms had threatened the day, but when the skies cleared race boss, Mike Thompson, gave the green light to pull out the planes, fuel up, and get ready. However, communications didn’t make it to the right folks in charge at the base. The hangar doors were locked, no fuel truck in sight. Somehow you’ll have to hold your breath till next week for the rest of this adventure. Till then, blue skies.