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, May 25, 2010

May 25, 2010 Adventure at Big Country AirFest, part 1 of 3

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.

www.ElyAirLines.blogspot.com.

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 18, 2010 Improvements at the Liberty Airport

The Liberty Gazette
May 18, 2010



Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
Certain improvements at the Liberty Airport have been on the books a couple of years now, and with Gary Broz in the City Manager’s office it looks like more will be coming. It’s nice to have him on the side of the airport. Because of his recent request to pursue funding for 10 T-hangars, we’re hopeful the LCDC will come through with money to match the insurance and FEMA reimbursements that are due to the city. For some of that money it’s “use it or lose it,” with the deadline approaching soon. And, it just makes sense for LCDC to spend money for hangars rather than take it out of the city’s already stretched budget. After all, LCDC’s purpose is economic development, and that’s one of the jobs of an airport, to help stimulate an area’s economy by making it accessible. To attract money you have to have something the people with money want. That’s the idea, to bring money to Liberty.

As for FAA grants, the protocol is airside improvements first, then later things like hangars, and FAA’s hangar grants aren’t the best they have to offer, so LCDC is a good choice. For other airport development funding the FAA is the primary giver of grants, and someday if Liberty so impresses TXDOT, we could be awarded state grants as well. There are a multitude of grants available though, from many different sources and in all areas of development. That’s where an experienced grant writer comes in handy. Someone who knows where the money is and how to get it is a real asset to a city that wants to lessen the burden on its local tax base.

Mike: The airport wish list includes an airport manager, a courtesy car, and a much needed terminal building with restrooms. Area businesses will have reason to celebrate acquisition of a courtesy car and a full time, experienced airport manager. Quite often in this column we write about other airports we’ve visited and courtesy cars provided so pilots can go into town and patronize local businesses. The City of Granbury offers four former police cars for this purpose and their city benefits greatly.

Real restrooms are needed at the Liberty airport. I remember when we were finally able to celebrate getting a port-a-potty at the airport. But really, that just doesn’t cut it. We’re competing with airports across the country, not just across town. Hopefully in a new terminal building the restrooms will be accessible after hours. If we’re going to spend money to attract visitors we better be able to offer always-open bathrooms.

Through numerous presentations and communications over the past three years to city council, the Chamber, Lions Club, on “The Party Line,” through this column and others, we’ve maintained that our airport needs to give back to the community. Treated right, any airport can breathe new life into a community. There is so much room for improvement that the sky’s the limit. Liberty’s $219,000 annual economic impact could turn into millions if the airport is wisely developed. Long-range planning, vision and know-how are key ingredients to getting the job done. As we say, “airports are for people who don’t fly,” because so much that touches our everyday lives requires availability of viable, well-run airports.

We’ve worked hard getting the word out over the past few years. It’s exciting to see some light shining through.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

May 11, 2010 Learn to Fly Day

The Liberty Gazette
May 11, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Whether a pilot has been flying for a short time or is a seasoned pro every aviator remembers his/her first flight. That first flight could have happened on a whim or could have been something a person was contemplating for years. Either way, for many pilots that first flight was enough to cement their desire to learn more, to stick with it and achieve something many only dream about. Every pilot is different and will learn at their own pace, some taking to it more naturally than others.

Linda: International Learn to Fly Day was announced at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture at Oshkosh in July of 2009 as an effort to increase interest in flying and to encourage the aviation community to get others involved in promoting aviation and flying in general. This year’s International Learn to Fly Day is Saturday May 15. EAA chapters and several other aviation associated businesses, organizations and flight schools are participating in the event at airports all around the country. Similar to the EAA’s Young Eagles program, the idea is to give people that first flight experience or at least give them enough information on where to get it. Since its inception in 1991, the Young Eagles program has given over 1.7 million kids between the ages of 8 and 17 their first flight. The International Learn to Fly Day event has no age restrictions. So now all those moms and dads who watched a child enjoy the discovery of flight can now participate in the fun.

Since facilities, equipment, and personnel differ among each EAA chapter, commercial flight school, or participating organization, presentations of the Learn to Fly Day will be unique variations on a theme. Some will offer a 30 to 40 minute presentation with things like how much it costs, how long it takes, what you will learn, how to pick the right instructor for you, where you can fly, ways to save money on your training, mistakes to avoid, and more. Some flight schools and EAA chapters will arrange for a tour of a flight school and meeting with instructors. Many will offer aircraft on display for you to sit in and learn something about the instruments and controls. Some flight schools will be offering introductory flight lessons as well.

Mike: Participating organizations in the Southeast Texas area include the 1940 Air Terminal Museum located on the west side of Hobby Airport, Houston Light Sport Aviation LLC located at West Houston Airport, JustFly! Flight Training at David Wayne Hooks Airport, and Brazos Valley Flight Services at College Station’s Easterwood Airport. The 1940 Air Terminal Museum’s program will coincide with their monthly Wings and Wheels event which this month features Beechcraft aircraft. They have invited flight schools who participated in their March event to return for an afternoon presentation. There may be more by the time Saturday rolls around so you can check the EAA’s website for the event, www.learntoflyday.org, or call the Learn to Fly Day Hotline at (800) 399-6144. Free tickets are available to these events through the Learn to Fly website. If you’ve ever thought about learning to fly or are just curious what it’s like, we encourage you check out a participating facility for International Learn to Fly Day and enjoy a fun learning experience.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

May 4, 2010 TXDOT awards: Airport and Manager of the Year

The Liberty Gazette
May 4, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
Jim Little retired as a highly decorated Colonel from the U.S. Air Force and returned home to Big Spring, Texas. He had worked as an administrator, master instructor and planner while serving our country, and when he returned to civilian life he became the manager of the McMahon-Wrinkle Airport, formerly an air force base. As chairman of the air park development board and airport manager, Col. Little worked with TxDOT Aviation to build a top-flight air terminal facility. The 8,800’ runway of the old bombardier training base has been upgraded and now allows aircraft the size of Boeing 737s to land there, which translates to greater economic development for the area. As a founding member of the air museum that honors the airport’s great history, Col. Little helped organize the hugely successful base reunion which brings hundreds of visitors to the airport every year. And, he works for the future as well as preservation of the past. Under his guidance and direction the EAA’s Young Eagles program in Big Spring is giving young people their first flights in light airplanes, encouraging a whole new crop of future pilots.

TXDOT Aviation Director Dave Fulton handed Col. Little yet another award, for Airport Manager of the Year. As Fulton addressed over 450 attendees at the 2010 Texas Aviation Conference last month, he told the crowd that Col. Little “has been instrumental in maximizing the usage of the facilities located on the old air force base grounds with an occupancy rate over 95%.” Dave Fulton thanked the veteran for making that airport “the outstanding facility it is today.”

Of course, it takes community leadership with vision and understanding to find the right kind of person to be airport manager. The same is true for the airports named as Airport of the Year. According to Dave Fulton, this year’s winner was nominated for several reasons. “They have developed an airport management system which welcomes input and volunteerism, works in cooperation with their airport board, elected officials, business and industry, and other interested parties to ensure continued progress.” What a great idea!

Mike: It was Wood County Airport that was recognized as this year’s Airport of the Year. Their airport board has committed to an aggressive maintenance and improvement program utilizing grants and TxDOT personnel expertise to tackle vegetation problems, seal cracks, establish pavement maintenance programs, and improve ditches and drainage. Three new hangars will further their progress since aggressively competing for a Navy contract.

The United States Department of the Navy, following a long search for an airfield conducive for a testing ground, determined Wood County had exceptional qualities making the airport ideal for testing. Rear Admiral, Nevin Carr, Jr. noted that the exceptionally well-maintained conference facilities, availability of Jet-A fuel, and superb support provided by airport staff were key components of choosing the airport for the naval testing project.

When we look at all the honorees at the TXDOT Texas Aviation Conference we see people and communities who have a great deal of understanding of the aviation industry as a whole and who have the vision and drive to carry their plans through to fruition. They also have community leaders who recognize this and support them. Congratulations to Col. Little, Wood County, and all the winners of TXDOT Aviation awards. Well deserved!

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

April 27, 2010 Aviation art

The Liberty Gazette
April 27, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
Although art has not the precise and exclusive definition as do answers to math problems, we could call it a deliberate arrangement of elements affecting our senses or emotions, creativity from the heart, or stuff that comes from artists. I’ve strolled through galleries appreciating talent, perspective, and ideas, wishing I had the patience it takes. Not surprisingly, my favorite subject of art is aviation. And what an incredible world of aviation art there is.

An Internet search using “aviation artist” will net a host of associations and world class artists. Take a look at www.asaa-avart.org. This classy website belonging to the American Society of Aviation Artists showcases extraordinary talent and appreciation for all things aviation. Some drawings, paintings, and photos seem to absorb me into themselves, such as Cher Pruys’ watercolor, “Airbase” which takes me back to our honeymoon in Maine where I first flew a seaplane. Serene, yet exciting, viewing this painting I imagine sitting on the pier, my pants rolled up enough not to get wet as I dangle my legs in the water, feet swayed by tiny waves gently soothing docked seaplanes; docked seaplanes with great horsepower, eager to be loosed from their harnesses. Gerry Asher’s “Woman’s Work” corrals the wonderful memories I have from meeting Major Nicole Malachowski, and racing against some of the few remaining Women Air Force Service Pilots. Here is Nicole, the first woman USAF Thunderbird, who benefited from the WASP’s dedication. On the ramp at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, she calmly faces reporters and proves that, like her WASP predecessors, gender has no bearing on pilot skills.

Mike: In Kyle Weber’s “Capt. Bruce Weber – Navy Cross” the Commander of the VF-31 Meat Axers, Capt. Weber scores a direct hit on the IJN Battleship Ise during the attack on Kure Harbor in Japan. It reminds me of the time we had a couple of years ago with Distinguished Flying Cross recipient, Captain Dusty Kleiss, a hero in the Battle of Midway. When I see Kyle’s painting of an F6F Hellcat escaping unscathed, leaving behind explosive evidence of the pilot’s success, I can nearly feel the G-load making me one with the seat in the climbing turn as I hear Dusty telling of flying his dive bomber at enemy ships, and saying with a shrug, “We just did what we had to do.” For me, through this and similar paintings I can imagine in deep appreciation for people who would risk their lives for the sake of our country. Gil Cohen’s inside view from the cockpit of a B-17, “Almost Home,” is the picture that paints thousands of words with the faces of the men approaching the safe shores of Dover; relief, the day’s great burdens lifted.

While aviation history may not sound as though it could be romantic or beautiful, John Reinhold has made it so in the amber glow of “A Golden Time”. As a viewer, you are a bystander, perhaps a passenger waiting to board the Inter-Island Airways Sikorsky S-43 parked near the shoreline on one of the Hawaiian Islands, a cluster of palm trees in the distance. Or maybe you’re there to pick up one of the disembarking passengers, while crew members prepare to unload luggage onto the cart.

Many gifted aviation artists are pilots, their personal histories as incredible as their work.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

April 20, 2010 Fuel stop at Pine Bluff, Arkansas

The Liberty Gazette
April 20, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
From the rear seat I shot video while Mike flew right seat and my 13-year old nephew, Levi, sat in the left following Uncle Mike through on the controls. Levi has ridden in small planes before but to fly it himself was a first. We circled over his house and he was amazed with the view from up there. After landing and engine shut-down he exclaimed, “Wow! I need to get my license!” We had flown to the Hendricks County airport near Indianapolis the afternoon before and now hurried back to my sister’s house to get ready for my niece’s wedding.

The wedding was beautiful and we stayed longer than we probably should have, but it’s hard to leave family and fun. A couple of turns over my sister’s house and on we flew southwest-bound. A few uneventful hours later the airplane was ready for a refill and I was ready for an emptying, so we stopped at Grider Field in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Grider Field opened in April, 1941 as a U.S. Army Air Corps primary pilot training field. The terminal building looked really nice from outside but unfortunately the good folks in charge in Pine Bluff have overlooked a really important thing that fortunately most airports do not overlook: access to a restroom after normal business hours. I had Shane’s number in my cell phone; he’s been Pine Bluff’s Airport Support Network Volunteer for a few years. The Network is a great thing, personally and professionally; I like having like-minded contacts at airports all over the country. Shane suggested we go to the north end of the field where we’d find the EAA hangar. “It’s an old World War Two hangar, next to an avionics shop. Tell them you know me and you need their restroom.”

Mike: Erich was relaxing, nursing a can of Sprite. He greeted us and led us through the 69-year old building, toward the restroom on the opposite side. Stepping into the dark hangar we came face-to-face with a rebuild project, a Fairchild PT-19. Carefully walking around the PT-19 we continued between two rows of airplanes: a Ryan Navion next to a camo-green tailwheel L-3 to our right; a few steps further a blue and yellow EAA biplane on our left and a red high-winged Stinson on our right. At the end of the rows sat a BT-13 Vultee on our left and a T-6 “Texan” on our right. Surely great stories are hangared here.

The PT-19 was one of the planes at Grider Field during training for WWII. The local EAA Chapter discovered some forgotten PT-19 wings and center section in a barn in the Midwest. The parts being in poor condition a new center section was fabricated from scratch using the old one as a template. Erich told us one member of their chapter was at Grider Field when that very airplane was used as a trainer. He’s a valuable resource for the younger guys restoring this bird to flying condition.

The Navion is undergoing repairs, and Erich and his Navion partner Rick promised us a ride when they get finished in a couple of months. Since Pine Bluff is on our route to Indy, I think we’ll be stopping by to check on their progress.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

April 13, 2010 Pops & Props

The Liberty Gazette
April 13, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
The 1940 Air Terminal Museum, a project of the Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society, was founded for research, promotion and preservation of the rich aeronautical heritage of Houston and Southeast Texas. HAHS President Drew Coats had an idea back in the mid-1990’s that somebody ought to save the old airport terminal at Hobby, with its unique architecture and history. His years of hard work are paying off. Under Drew’s leadership the non-profit corporation obtains funding through grants, contributions, memberships, gift shop sales, airplane raffles, and special events. Mike and I recently attended one of those special events, the annual Pops & Props Gala.

Transported in time in the aura of the restored terminal we enjoyed fancy dining, dancing by the incredible Terpsechorean dance team, and period music cascading from the upper level performed by the Houstonian Big Band. The term “two left feet” describes me pretty well, so I’ve steered clear from dance floors, but that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating talent. I learned that the lady in the flowing blue gown (Sandra, from Vienna) was dancing a Waltz with her amazingly graceful yet masculine husband (Rob, from Holland). I’ve not seen a more beautiful dance. Hearing they were also going to perform a Tango and a Foxtrot, I leaned over and whispered to Mike, “Hey! Tango and Foxtrot–two words in our phonetic alphabet,” just as the dazzling couple glided within inches of us and he dipped her back so that she was facing me, kind of upside down like. Continuing to whisper to Mike at that point would have been rather uncouth. Timing is everything. “Come Fly With Me” was the song they chose for their Foxtrot, and other dancers joined them in fun formation dances.

Perusing the silent auction items, we found four or five things we fancied but won only the art deco model of a Lockheed Constellation.

Sitting at round tables seating ten offers an entertaining opportunity to listen to parts of conversations blend. The talk to my left of F-16 fly-overs was sprinkled with recipes to my right for chocolate ice cream with cinnamon and cayenne pepper, and vanilla ice cream with brown sugar and bacon mix-ins. I’ll take the F-16s, thank you. Low on the fly-overs, please.

Mike: Proudly guarding the stately terminal on the ramp outside were a 1968 North American Shrike Commander, which sported an inspection plate signed by aviation great Bob Hoover. Bob flew a Shrike in his air show routine but not this particular one. His autograph appears on the airplane because its owner won an auction last year to have dinner with the esteemed aviator, and brought a piece of the airplane to dinner, asking Hoover to leave his mark.

The museum’s own Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar, a beautiful 1940’s tail-wheel airliner and corporate plane, joined the Shrike along with a Cessna T50 Bobcat, and of course, the museum’s raffle plane for this year, a 1958 Cessna 175. By the way, raffle tickets are $50, only 2,500 tickets will be sold and the drawing will be held July 17th during the museum’s “Wings and Wheels” event.

We had a grand time, and thank Megan Lickliter-Mundon, the museum administrator, and Drew Coats for inviting us to be their guests. Check the museum’s website for details and plan a trip soon. History buffs and aviation nuts will love it. www.1940AirTerminal.org.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

April 6, 2010 Young Eagles

The Liberty Gazette
April 6, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Some attended the annual Biplane Fly-in in San Marcos, while others flew their Grummans to Stinson Field in San Antonio for the American Yankee Association fly-in and museum tour. Both of those were undoubtedly fun-filled gatherings, but we had committed to another that day, a Young Eagles event. Some weekends just get filled with more to do than one has time. Evening choices left us deciding between the Grace Flight Gala and fundraiser, and the 1940’s Air Terminal Museum “Pops and Props” fund raising dinner. With so many aviation events landing on March 27th it’s great that the weather cooperated for all.

The Experimental Aircraft Association sponsors the Young Eagles program, designed to introduce young people to aviation and take them for their first flight at no cost to the kids. And, while Young Eagles can go hand-in-hand with the Boy Scouts’ Aviation Merit Badge program, they are not one in the same. The Boy Scouts require that the airplanes flown be production built aircraft, not kit or amateur built, and require pilots have a minimum of 250 hours “in type.” To fly Young Eagles pilots must have 500 hours total time, but aircraft type is not restricted. So, EAA’s Chapter 12, the Ellington Chapter, sent out a request for qualified, experienced pilots with at least 500 hours. The reward: getting to take youngsters for the first (or sometimes second) flight.

Linda: We flew our Cheetah to Houston Southwest Airport in Arcola early Saturday morning. Chapter President Matt, who is building an RV-9, prepared a filling pancake and sausage breakfast, after which fellow member Dan used Miss Cheetah for a ground school lesson for eleven Young Eagles participants. I flipped switches, moved flaps, ailerons, and rudder, as the kids learned what makes an airplane fly. Finally, Mike took the first of his four passengers aloft for an introduction to aerial adventure. When he returned we traded places, alternating flight duty the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon. Some “Eagles” said very little–I think they were in awe of it all–but Mike had one who was a real chatterbox. The energetic youngster was full of questions about “the view from up here.” Some of the parents came along for the ride; most of the kids thought the cows looked like ants. I was particularly pleased that one of the children who came for the experience was a child with Autism. The boy, his brother, and their dad were given a wonderful flying experience by one of our fellow pilots. After demonstrating to one of my “Eagles” how the airplane handles, I had him follow through with me on the controls. This was his second flight, his first being in a Stearman, and he was so pumped about flying that he intends to become a USAF fighter pilot. Near the end of a gratifying day we bought some barbeque just outside the terminal. The business owners’ son was the last child we flew and now wants to become the first pilot in his family. Judging from the huge smiles, I’d say the day was a success.

After a quick change of clothes we headed up the road to Hobby and enjoyed an evening of 1940’s era entertainment. More on that next week. Until then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

March 30, 2010 Lynda Meeks goes to camp - Acro Camp

The Liberty Gazette
March 30, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
Professional pilot and founder of Girls With Wings, Lynda Meeks, posted on her Facebook, “I’m going to camp. Acro Camp.”

Few things will grab my attention more than acro – aerobatics, that is. After congratulating Lynda on something that sounded so very cool, I checked it out.

Acro Camp is a documentary feature film in the works. It will capture the drama and excitement when four ordinary pilots come together for four days to fly aerobatics for the first time. Filming starts May 12 in Michigan. The casting call went out sometime in January. Knowing Lynda Meeks and all she is doing to encourage children to follow their dreams, she is a good choice for the show.

The other “campers” will be Paul Berliner, a 12,000-hour airline pilot; and pilots Michelle Kole, and Jim Rodriguez a Major in the Air Force Reserve where he is a lawyer and Judge Advocate. Two instructors, Barry Sutton and Don Weaver, will keep the campers happy with spins, loops, and rolls.

There’s more information at the project’s blog and website at http://www.acrocamp.com/, and of course on Lynda’s blog at http://www.girlswithwings.com/.

This movie project has taken up a great deal of creator Steve Tupper’s time who, when not flying or filming, practices law. He was surprised at how much is involved in making a movie, and said the hardest part was selecting the cast, which he referred to as “darned near perfect.” My dad produced a few movies, commercials, and radio shows in his day, so I have some idea of what Steve is talking about.

Preparing his newly picked cast, he instructed them to buy and read Geza Szurovy and Mike Goulian’s book, Basic Aerobatics, while Steve focused on technical issues, such as camera mounting.

As I read his blog, I got more of that “small world of aviation” when I read that Steve had flown with one of my favorite acro pilots, Billy Werth. Mike and I met Billy while on a trip to Indy a couple of years ago. He taxied up to the fuel pumps in his Pitts and we talked for quite awhile. But Billy just keeps showing up, especially practicing over my sister’s property. Sometime later my sister told me that Billy was engaged to this gal, Haley, who used to live across the street from us when we were little kids. I remembered Haley as a cute little two-year old with blond pigtails. My sister remembered collaborating with Haley’s sister and stuffing little Haley in a hamper one day. And now, here she was, engaged to Billy Werth!

So back to Steve Tupper and Acro Camp. Steve was struggling to find a place to mount a camera in the Pitts they will use for filming. There’s just no room inside the cockpit, so he’s working now on rigging an outside set-up. Of course, if the camera is outside the cockpit, a microphone will have to be wired to the pilots. Steve said he’d probably have to tape the mic behind their ears. “It’ll be easy to tell a cast member–just look for the red spot behind the ear where repeated applications of gaffer tape have removed the epidermis.”

I’m excited for my friend, Lynda, and the rest of the cast, for what Steve Tupper calls the “really cool things going on.”

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

March 23, 2010 Mike's first solo

The Liberty Gazette
March 23, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Out of many significant occasions in a pilot’s flying life, the first solo flight is a big one. Another is the moment the FAA designated examiner says, “Congratulations, you are now a private pilot.” Getting to each of these points is a big adventure built upon many smaller adventures. Adventure does not mean free and easy sailing. Adventure means challenges along the way and obstacles to be overcome, and sometimes doubts interrupt for awhile. But if learning to fly was easy, what kind of adventure would that be? Boring!

Adorning the walls of countless flight schools across the country is evidence of those who faced the challenges and persevered: once sweaty-backed shirt tails cut from students’ shirts on the day of their first solo flight. Photographs, some dingy and cracked with age, signed and dated by flight instructors who knew, even if the students themselves did not, that they were ready to make that next big leap. Some may even keep that shirt tail and preserve it as a bit of nostalgia; as the years rush by they’ll rediscover it while looking through old boxes of stuff.

My solo shirt tail was tacked up on a wall inside an old mobile home used by El Monte Skyways as their office at the El Monte Municipal airport in California. My instructor, Dennis Reece, and I had been practicing touch-and-go landings when he asked me to make the next one a full stop. As we taxied clear of the runway we pulled over next to the gas pumps. Dennis slid back the canopy of the four-seat Grumman Traveler and asked me for my student pilot license and logbook. After scratching out his signature on both he climbed out and said, “One time around the patch and I’ll meet you at the FBO. Just remember what you’ve learned, and have fun.”

As I radioed the air traffic control tower to get my taxi clearance it felt different from all the times I had done it before. There was a sense of fear and yet a sense of excitement as I taxied to runway 19 and prepared for takeoff. My heart was beating a mile a minute as I rolled down the runway. The airplane seemed to leap into the air and scream skyward with adrenaline of its own. I noticed how significantly better the airplane performed without Dennis’s weight, and climbed to pattern altitude more quickly than I expected. Following all the procedures I was taught, as the main landing gear squeaked onto the runway pavement accomplishment and triumph welled up in me bursting forth, making it impossible to wipe the grin from my face.

As I climbed out of the airplane Dennis sauntered up, scissors in hand, and as he clipped out a huge swath of cloth from the back of my shirt someone walked up and snapped a picture. That was March 7, 1977, 33 years ago and I had a whole 23 hours of flight time in my logbook. The photograph and the shirt tail have since disappeared along with the flight school mobile home which was replaced by another building which was replaced again by another. But the memory of that magic moment remains.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

March 16, 2010 Steve Fingerhut, part 2

The Liberty Gazette
March 16, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
In addition to his service in HPD’s Helicopter Division, Steve Fingerhut (who we wrote about last week) has worked Houston’s Third Ward night shift, the Crime Scene Unit, where he also ran the dive team, Mounted Patrol, Dignitary Protection, Instructor of defensive tactics and physical training at the Academy, Criminal Intelligence, and Auto Theft. The day after 9/11 Steve received a call from Flight Safety, International, a professional pilot training company with 42 facilities worldwide. FSI asked Steve to set up and manage 24/7 security for their Houston location. His success there has since led to several other security jobs.

In his “spare time” he’s flown for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, assisting in Coast Guard Search and Rescue missions, flying blood, patrols, and flying mechanics and parts to downed airplanes. “We save the Coast Guard $6,000 an hour,” he explains. He has also served as Vice President of the Houston Aviation Alliance, the position Mike now holds.

Commenting on women aviators, Steve humbly related a personal experience that meant a lot to him. He gave legendary aviatrix Maybelle Fletcher her second and longest helicopter ride. “Mrs. Fletcher is such an incredible lady,” he said, “I took her up and we landed atop the municipal courts building, and the old Gulf building, and then flew over to Dunham Field in Crosby where we hovered at 800’ and I showed her an autorotation. She loved it.”

Mike: So we asked, what do you see as the true value of General Aviation to the public? He took that question and ran with it.

“Learning to fly makes you more valuable to the USA. We’re better educated citizens – we’ve had to learn about meteorology, aerodynamics, emergency procedures, and much more. As a result, we have more to offer, such as Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Grace Flights for the ill and courtesy flights for military veterans, flying blood and organs. I know that learning to fly changed the course of my life. And, without General Aviation, where are we going to get our military and commercial pilots? Civilian pilot training, where the airlines hire many pilots, is an integral part of General Aviation. We, in GA, take the load off the airline system. GA creates lots of jobs – billions of dollars and jobs – and post-9/11 it’s not real easy to fly commercial. The time, the hassle, you have to wonder if you really want to go through all that.”

To drive home the point, Steve mentioned an airline pilot friend with whom he flew to a funeral in Nebraska. “We could have taken an airliner at no cost, but time and convenience made it a poor choice for that trip, so we went in my Bonanza. We got there faster, didn’t have to endure the TSA, and landed at an airport much closer to our destination.” But one of the areas where Steve feels the greatest sense of contribution to his country is when he’s flying blood from Ellington Field to an interim destination, where it is carried on to Afghanistan. “I feel like I’m helping our troops that way. I’m a part of getting needed blood to people fighting terrorism. That feels good.”

Steve is one of several fine folks who live at RWJ Airpark in Chambers County. He and his wife, Bit, a CPA, enjoy living with their airplane and horse.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

March 9, 2010 Steve Fingerhut, part 1

The Liberty Gazette
March 9, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
By the time he was ten years old Steve Fingerhut knew he loved flying. He wanted to fly helicopters, and held on to that dream through college and later through the Police Academy. Once he was on the force, the Houston Police Officer took advantage of his night shift to take helicopter training and to build his own Mini 500 helicopter on his property in Huffman.

“I like to build things, and I knew this would help me learn more about the helicopters I was flying,” says Steve, now a commercial helicopter and multi-engine airplane pilot.

HPD offered Steve a position flying a Hughes 269C, with an eventual promotion to the Hughes 500. “HPD’s Helicopter Division has an incredible safety record,” he told us, “the worst injury they’ve had since 1970 is a broken collar bone.”

Their safety record says a lot for their training program, where pilots practice autorotation during quarterly check rides. Autorotation is landing a helicopter simulating an engine failure. HPD pilots take autorotations all the way to the ground, and practice other emergency maneuvers, such as loss of tail rotor in flight, maximum performance takeoffs and ground maneuvers. It’s one thing to point the landing light at a point on the ground and fly around it keeping the same airspeed and altitude and distance from the point. Taking wind into account, that maneuver takes concentration, but at least the pilot is facing the point on the ground. Imagine trying to do that with your tail light: pick a point on the ground and fly a perfect circle around it using the tail of the helicopter as your guide. HPD’s helicopter pilots develop advanced skills.

Linda: While flying helicopters, Steve bought a Grumman Yankee, a small single engine airplane, which he kept in Crosby and used to commute to work at the HPD hangar at Hobby.

“Then one day as we were flying back from a family visit in Louisiana we had this great tailwind and I said to my wife, ‘I want to buy that tailwind!’” That’s when he moved up to a Bonanza, a bit of a jump from a Yankee in terms of power and complexity.

“My Bonanza got better gas mileage than my truck,” he laughs as he explains the added benefit of cutting travel time down to a fraction. Then last Fall Steve made another big jump, this time to a fine twin engine airplane, a Baron. It’s a beautiful plane, and soon after its arrival in his hangar at RWJ Airpark, several of us gathered to inspect and congratulate him on his excellent find.

Mike: Steve’s seen some excitement during his nine years in HPD helicopters. He’s chased law-breakers and helped get them captured. Once the Department acquired FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Radar), officers were able to see in the dark “heat signatures” of people, cars, guns, anything that provided a heat differential.

“One time a guy was hiding, it was dark, and the officers were walking this field in a line. They didn’t know he was behind them, but I could see his heat signature. I radioed to them to stop. I noticed one person didn’t stop and was able to identify him as the suspect. I was then able to tell the officers on the ground the suspect was behind them.”

Next week we’ll tell you more about this very humble and interesting area pilot. Till then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

March 2, 2010 Austin plane crash

The Liberty Gazette
March 2, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
This week, sadly, we are writing about an isolated incident in Austin in which a troubled individual intent on revenge and suicide flew his Piper Cherokee into an office building. We offer our condolences to those traumatized and grieving. Airplane crashes tend to be sensationalized so this tragic act was intended to receive lots of attention. Naturally, this brings up the subject of security again. What would Joe Stack have done if he didn’t have an airplane or know how to fly? Would he have performed this act using some other type of weapon, as others have in the past? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.

Pilots and aviation in general are already regulated more than most firearms owners. We are required to have medical examinations every six months to three years, depending on what we’re flying. Before a person can start training in an airplane they must prove U. S. citizenship, and if they are from another country they must submit to a TSA background check at least 45 days before beginning training and get final approval before they can even set foot in an aircraft or simulator cockpit. Flight instructors, flight schools and most employees of flight schools and fixed base operations must participate in the TSA’s security awareness program. In order to land at certain airports, and even fly over “protected” areas such as Washington D.C., aircraft operators must have an extensive security program in place. In some cases they’re even required to have an armed law enforcement officer on board–even after everyone has passed the vetting process. And this is for privately owned aircraft. The TSA regularly reviews the FAA’s database of current pilots and compares them to people on their “no-fly list.”

Linda: Recently the Office of the Inspector General of Homeland Security issued a final report, stating that “The current status of general aviation operations does not present any serious homeland security vulnerability.” That assessment is the result of many measures put in place by the general aviation community itself, including Airport Watch programs with a free hotline directly to the TSA to report suspicious activities, background checks, tamper proof licenses, monitoring of aircraft sales and purchases. I’m all for safety, but am real tired of the federales restricting personal freedom, freedom of the people to move about the country. We in the general aviation community do watch, but if someone is intent on doing something sensational and masks those intentions, how can we protect against it? There is sin and evil in this world, and there is only One answer to that.

General aviation serves America in places airlines do not. The airlines serve about 600 airports in this country. General aviation airplanes have access to over 4,700 public use airports and another 14,000 private landing facilities.

Mike: Joe Stack used his own airplane, total weight about 2,000 lbs. The fuel tanks hold 38 gallons of fuel–about what my pickup truck holds in its gas tank–and the maximum speed is about 150 mph. If he wanted to inflict large scale damage, he picked a weak vehicle. Jay Carpenter, Secretary of the Texas Aviation Association, said, "It's impossible to guard every person who rents a plane or rents a truck, or wants to do something ludicrous. We're as shocked about it as anyone." For all the good GA does for America, this one hurts.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

February 23, 2010 Sport Air Racing League

The Liberty Gazette
February 23, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
"It's a big country - you need a fast airplane" are the words emblazoned on the home page of Sport Air Racing League. “All pilots have dreams of being in the cockpit of a P-51 crossing a pylon at 30 feet and 400 MPH, but very few actually live the dream due to lack of money, serious danger to life and limb, money, and actually owning a P-51, which goes back to money,” says Mike Thompson, President of SARL. “The answer to satisfying the competitive instincts in many pilots is cross country air racing.” But even that has been dying a quiet death due to increasing event insurance requirements, fear of lawsuits and perceived high expenses required to host a race.

So Mike Thompson founded SARL on the principle that “anyone can race, insurance companies are the enemy, and we can do it all on a shoestring if we have volunteers and don't award high dollar prizes–a fact that also keeps the undesirables away (for the most part). We race for the glory, the education and the camaraderie. At any given race no one remembers who won what class the last time, only that they are going to win their class this time.”

For instance, the SARL Founder is right now researching the phenomenon of “exhaust pumping” with the intent on making a modification to his Vans RV6 to implement it. He says other racers have made “multitudinous modifications and reported their varying success, with everyone happily stealing what worked.”

Linda: Much like my experience racing in the Air Race Classic, SARL events are as much about the trip to the race, greeting old friends, making new friends, and the after-race “glow” that any racer will tell you permeates the entire crowd. That 30 to 50 minutes of actual race time is but a part of the event; an important part, to be sure, but only a part of the experience.

Not one air racer will deny the thrill of pushing the aircraft to its mechanical and aerodynamic limits, and maybe a little bit beyond, at an altitude where a successful emergency landing is highly doubtful. There is a danger when we're out on the course. It's always in the back of our minds...and we keep it there.

Long term, the goal of SARL is to bring cross country air racing to the public. “Technology can make that possible,” says our guru, “but the technology costs money, and so far sponsors have proven elusive in this economy.” So Mike Thompson is taking baby steps.

“We have already dipped our toe using live video streaming on Justin TV. Members of our organization are working on the telemetry problems that covering an event that itself covers 100 to 300 miles, poses. The end goal there is to have GPS tracking around the course to be presented on digital projector as an overlay to Google Maps. Then we will combine the tracks for a near-real-time simultaneous ‘race’ around the course.”

SARL is an all-volunteer organization, from Mike T. running the League, to race hosts, to skunk works techies. Right now, everyone operates at a loss, but, says Mike, “I like it this way. Only the seriously interested take part.” Touche, Mike. http://www.sportairrace.org/.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

February 16, 2010 Coopers in Llano

The Liberty Gazette
February 16, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
We flipped a coin and Linda won. She got the first leg of our daytrip out to Llano, Texas to meet Liza, her race partner for this year’s Air Race Classic, the only all-women cross-country air race. Linda has participated in the event the last two years. As we climbed out northbound from Ellington Field we spoke with Houston Approach Control and got clearance through “the corridor” westbound over I-10. Once clear of Bush and Hobby’s airspace to the west it was a straight shot to Llano in one of the best weather days we’ve had recently. Linda’s partner was on her way down from Mesquite near Dallas. On this joyful flight we were accompanied by Abby and Chip, our two rescue dogs that became part of our family a couple months ago. This was their second flight in the airplane and they handled it very well.

The radio frequencies were busy with Saturday good-weather traffic as we were handed off from Houston Approach to Houston Center and then on to Austin Approach while crossing north of the State’s Capitol. Llano Airport’s frequency was busy too, as theirs is shared by several airports across the state. After landing at Llano, Abby and Chip scurried out to sniff new smells and leave a trace. Then Linda and I checked out the comfy, oversized rocking chairs on the large covered porch as we waited for Liza to arrive. Landing in a Piper Arrow, Liza and a couple of friends hopped out and secured their airplane while we housed our puppies in their portable kennels under the pleasant and watchful eye of gracious airport employees. I drove one of their two 15-passenger courtesy vans, joined by a few other planeloads of people all arriving in Llano for the same thing, Cooper’s BBQ.

Linda: Cooper’s is a popular place in town and people come from all over to eat there. We used it as a meeting place to discuss the Air Race Classic, but because of all the activity, saved that for another time. Instead, we just enjoyed the people, good food and atmosphere. All agreed it was worth flying to Llano for. This would not have been possible if the airport did not provide ground transportation. Otherwise, to pilots, Llano would be just another town with an airport and would not be as popular a destination as it is.

The Air Race Classic isn’t the only racing I will be doing this year. We have been making improvements to our little Cheetah and Mike and I will compete as Team Ely in the Sport Air Racing League which groups planes in competitive classes.

Mike: The Sport Air Racing League (SARL) has twelve races this season; six are in Texas and others are in distant locations such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Canada. Like NASCAR and Indy, you get points from your placement in each racing event and the most points in a season wins the championship title. We’ll have more on SARL next week from Founder and Chairman Mike Thompson. ‘Til then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

February 9, 2010 NASA and the manned space program

The Liberty Gazette
February 9, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
May 5, 1961 Alan B. Shepard Jr. was the first American to go into Space. Awaiting his launch into history books the astronaut laid in the capsule atop the Mercury Spacecraft “Freedom 7” when reporters asked for his thoughts. His reply: “The fact that every part in this ship was made by the lowest bidder.” This tongue-in-cheek response came 100 years after John Wise offered to build a balloon for the Union Army for $300. According to my friend, author, historian, and U.S. Air Force Veteran Charles Sutherland, “Major Hartman Bathe, chief of the Topographic Engineers, later told Wise to increase the size to 20,000 cubic-feet, and to use silk. Wise agreed but the cost skyrocketed to $850. This established the two great traditions of military aviation: late design modifications and production costs overruns.” Although low bidders are usually the winners of government contracts, somehow NASA has been plagued with cost overruns for years.

Mike: Five Shuttle missions remain before the last three Orbiters are retired. The Constellation Program was to be next; however, budget cuts have effectively ended NASA’s Manned Space Program. Enter the private sector. There are eight licensed Spaceports in the United States. The Texas Spaceport is near Van Horn. Not too far north and west of there is the more well-known Spaceport America located north of Las Cruces, New Mexico on the edge of the White Sands Missile Range. Near Burns Flats, Oklahoma is the Oklahoma Spaceport. Cecil Field near Jacksonville, Florida received its license to conduct commercial Spaceport operations on January 12 this year. These eight Spaceports across the country are offering commercial Space development services and Space tourism.

Why should we care? How does this impact us? Technology developed for the Space Program directly transfers to inventions that improve our lives here on Earth. In the medical technology field pacemakers, micro-lasers, mammography, MRI and kidney dialysis machines are inventions evolved from Space technology. The Teflon on your non-stick cookware, the Velcro on children’s shoes, and many fabrics, protective boots, and even athletic shoes are a result of the great advancements developed for Space flight. Petroleum exploration and refining equipment, solar and wind power equipment, and calculators all have their roots in the Space Program. Just about every modern product you can name can be traced back to the NASA Space Program.

Entrepreneurs and businesses make large investments to take technologies developed for Space exploration and adapt them for use here on Earth. Private businesses are often at the forefront of new technology because they are willing and better able to quickly respond to change than most government bureaucracies. NASA doubts whether it will be able to get Man back in Space before 2020; and doesn’t expect to send anyone to the Moon again before 2028. Discontinuing the Manned Space Program leaves a gap where many private sector companies see potential and are now investing in a budding industry. The private sector foresees getting Man back into Space before the end of 2011, and will likely do it more efficiently.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

February 2, 2010 Eat at Flo's

The Liberty Gazette
February 2, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Forty miles east of Los Angeles in Southern California’s “Inland Empire” lays a small airport. Known as Cal Aero Field during the 1940’s, Chino Airport is surrounded by dairy farms, which seem to be quickly giving way to housing developments. Army Air Corps pilots trained here during WWII. The movie Twelve O’clock High was filmed here and Picadilly Lilly II, a B-17G used in the movie still resides here as part of the Planes of Fame Museum’s collection and is undergoing restoration to flying status.

Chino has two aviation museums, Planes of Fame and Yanks Museum. My first flight was here in a Bellanca Citabria at the age of 15. After that flight we went to the local airport eatery, Flo’s Airport Café, an icon of what an airport café was in aviation’s golden age and nearly synonymous with Chino Airport.

Serving home-style food at a reasonable price, Flo’s opened in 1957, long before my first flight and it has prospered in good times and survived in bad. People fly to Chino from all over for Flo’s biscuits and gravy for breakfast or a burger for lunch. Many celebrities hang out at Flo’s and since the car and motorcycle clubs have also discovered it, on weekends it can be difficult to get a table.

Flo’s at one time tried to expand, opening a second café in town but that flopped. They had the same menu but people wanted the exciting aviation atmosphere and the place in town lacked that uniqueness. People enjoy watching airplanes take off and land, and with 540 aircraft based at Chino, and over 450 take-offs and landings a day, the café is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat while heading out on a trip or when pilots return. Pictures of famous and not-so-famous airplanes and pilots adorning the walls have witnessed many a colorful hangar-flying tale. Imagine the stories they’ve heard, real and inflated, of Walter Mitty heroism and adventure.

Linda: Airport restaurants are getting harder to find. In this corner of Texas the Brazoria County Airport offers terrific treats in the aviation atmosphere. The very popular Aviators Grill has “food worth landing for” bringing fliers and non-fliers alike to David Wayne Hooks airport in Spring. A busy café at Lufkin’s Angelina County Airport offers a variety of delicious delights, along with BBQ at their monthly fly-ins. And this list would be incomplete without the unmatched 50’s-style diner experience at Southern Flyer Diner in Brenham, winner of the 100 Dollar Hamburger’s Airport Restaurant of the Year award for the last four consecutive years. Owners Jack and Janet Hess work hard to make your visit memorable, with famous chicken-fried steaks, burgers, homemade onion rings and the best shakes you’ve ever had.

Mike: It’s important to note that no airport restaurant survives solely on fly-in customers. Without the strong support of the community and a thriving airport those ventures, no matter how good they are, are short-lived.

Linda: If you’ve seen the new Denny’s commercial it’ll make sense to you that Mike’s idea to write about Chino and airport restaurants came after I told him about that commercial.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

January 26, 2010 Haiti rescue efforts

The Liberty Gazette
January 26, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
A few years ago I was in a Learjet waiting to depart from West Palm Beach Airport when an old Douglas DC-3 made its approach and landed with the sun right behind it. I was able to capture that image with a camera I had with me. That DC-3 and three others like it are operated by Missionary Flights International (MFI) of Fort Pierce, Florida.

MFI has been serving missionary operations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas since 1964. They are among the many organizations and individuals who are helping with relief efforts after Haiti’s massive earthquake.

Port-au-Prince, the capitol city of Haiti, the poorest country in the Caribbean, is about 630 nautical miles southeast of Miami. It’s about 1,400 nautical miles from Liberty, as the crow flies.

When the disaster struck, MFI’s DC-3s delivered some of the initial aid the fastest way possible, by air. Ships can deliver more goods at one time but it takes time to round up supplies, and then journey by sea takes many more days.

An MFI DC-3 will make the trip from Fort Pierce to Port-au-Prince and Cape Haitian in just hours carrying about 5,000 pounds of food, medical supplies and toiletries. And on their first trip outbound they carried 23 evacuees from the devastated area.

But the challenges facing pilots flying into Haiti are many, including security and logistics. Sometimes there is not enough room to land. On January 14th the ramp at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport was congested with 44 aircraft, meaning several other aircraft had to be turned away.

Then, as supplies of fuel began to dwindle, some of those that had made the journey were not sure they would have enough fuel left to depart. MFI’s planes landed at Great Exhuma in the Bahamas for fuel. The U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, to the area so they could use helicopters in the relief effort.

MFI is not alone is their service to the poor countries of the Caribbean. They partner with Mission Aviation Fellowship which operates three single-engine aircraft inside Haiti. MFI is also assisting the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse which leased a DC-6 to deliver 25,000 pounds of relief supplies to Haiti last week.

In Haiti as in any disaster, aircraft operated by relief organizations and individuals are often among the first responders because they can get needed relief supplies to the location in a lot shorter time than by other means. That the situation is chaotic and volatile is an understatement and though supplies may not be as plentiful as what will come later by ship, every little bit now is important. Airplanes and helicopters are often among the first signs of hope many people in these stricken areas see.

Linda: From my own experience flying in Central Africa with Mission Aviation Fellowship and African Inland Missions Air, this kind of flying has a unique feel to it. Often protocol is necessarily different from flying in safer, more peaceful areas, but in the end it is the most rewarding kind of flying a pilot can do. Any time we can contribute to helping others in need, in our own small way, the rewards are always greater than any investment we’ve made of ourselves.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

January 19, 2010 Ninety-Nines, women pilots

The Liberty Gazette
January 19, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
Celebrating 50 years of the Houston Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, the oldest women pilot organization, Mike and I recently attended a party honoring the chapter’s history and many of the long-time members. I enjoyed visiting with some of my favorite chick pilots, including West Houston Airport’s Shelly Lesikar-DeZevallos, National Aerobatic Champion, Debbie Rihn-Harvey, and long time Houston flight instructor and FAA designated pilot examiner, Maybelle Fletcher.

Always armed with funny stories, once Maybelle has the microphone, look out! Recognized for her contributions and 60-year membership, she spoke of what lured her into flying, and how after learning to fly she met the man she would marry. “Larry wanted to date me, but I told him no,” she reminisced. “But a few days later he told me, ‘I have $1,500 in my pocket. I can either buy you a big diamond ring or an airplane.’ So I asked, ‘Does that mean you have to come with the airplane?’”

Larry and Maybelle Fletcher have been an item for 61 years, and at last count Maybelle had given over 10,000 pilot check rides in Houston. No telling how many pilots she has taught to fly.

She told other stories, like the students who got airplanes into a spin, and how she’d had to get them out. But some time ago I’d heard another great Maybelle story, so I asked her to tell it again – the one about her daughter. Laughing her delicate but mischievous laugh, she began, “Oh yes, well you see, my daughter began flying at Day 20. I just strapped her in the back and gave flying lessons, so she already had 200 hours in her logbook by the time she was two. That’s when I was trying to get this young man ready to solo. We were landing, and usually I’d remind the student to pull up into the flare at the proper time, but I remained silent, hoping he’d do that on his own. Being accustomed to the engine noises and how flying lessons go, my two-year old daughter perked up from the back and crossing her arms yelled, ‘pull your nose up!’ She was expecting me to say that, and when I didn’t she just said it for me!”

Mike: With 30,000 hours logged, Maybelle has lots of great adventures to tell. Meanwhile, this week in Austin the Texas Aviation Association will have it’s annual membership meeting. The keynote speaker will be Carol Foy, the Spicewood gal who, with co-pilot CarolAnn Garratt, broke the world speed record for flying around the world west bound in a single engine airplane. The ladies flew CarolAnn’s made-in-Texas Mooney. Carol Foy fell in love with flying after her airline pilot husband bought a Mooney. She thought she should learn how to land it in an emergency. But then she went on to earn her private pilot license, instrument and multi-engine ratings, commercial and instructor certificates. She has flown the Air Race Classic many times, winning in 2006. Their around-the-world flight brought awareness and raised over $150,000 for Lou Gehrig’s Disease which has affected family members of both women.

Linda: Patrick Griffitts sent me a rare find he came across while in the U.K., an autographed copy of “I Must Fly” by Sheila Scott, the first British pilot to fly around the world. Now I’m wondering, what airplane would I want to fly around the world.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

January 12, 2009 Search for Amelia, part 3

The Liberty Gazette
January 12, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Previous expeditions to locate evidence of the fate of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and the Lockheed Electra have conducted spot archaeology, where they find an artifact and dig a one-meter square around it. Those expeditions have yielded many interesting items, such as the shoe heels, mirror, and pocket knife we mentioned last week. This May/June trip is for a complete site dig. 18 people have been chosen to spend four weeks on this dig. Researcher Megan Lickliter-Mundon and her teammates will fly from Los Angeles to American Samoa, then take a boat to the island, taking four to five days en route. The boat sleeps 18, has a managed crew, and enough food for a month, so they’ll anchor on the island, and that will be their living quarters. The temperature will probably be 100-115 F. daily; sunny with squalls, where it rains hard about ten minutes and then stops. We’re looking forward to the report by these adventurous researchers. Visit www.tighar.org for more information on this exciting expedition and other fascinating projects. And if you visit the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby, be sure to tell Megan congratulations on being selected by TIGHAR–and tell her you read it in the Liberty Gazette.

Linda: Speaking of missing airplanes, I have a little family history of that. 56 years after his plane went missing, the remains of my grandmother’s cousin, Lt. George Pierpont, and his crew were finally buried. The B24J “Liberator” he piloted disappeared over China during WWII; the crash site discovered by a couple of Chinese farmers in a ravine on Little Cat Mountain. They hit the mountain in remote southern China at 6,500’. The peak was 7,000’. I don’t know whether they were shot down or hit the mountain in bad weather, but they were over enemy-occupied territory, flying east toward Formosa (now Taiwan), easy targets for anti-aircraft gunners on the ground. Cousin George’s bomber group, a crucial part of the 375th Bomb Squadron, 308th Bomb Group in the 14th Air Force, took off from Liuchow, China, Aug. 31, 1944 to bomb enemy ships. His crew was cutting off supply lines for Japanese shipping lanes.

In the fall of 1996, a few weeks after the farmers’ discovery of the crash site, China handed over five military identification tags to the U.S., and an investigation began lasting over three years, unearthing and identifying other remains. In August of 2000, six of the ten crewmembers including Cousin George were buried side-by-side at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors performed by the 3rd U.S. Infantry, and a fly-over by a B-52 bomber from the 5th Bomber Wing of Minot, North Dakota. Another cousin, Vincent Potter, is still missing. He was flying the hump of Burma. We’re in contact with a man who conducts searches in targeted areas for air crew who perished flying the hump. Maybe some day the remains of cousin Vince will be located as well.

Mike: With many thousands still missing, no matter how long it takes, the return of a loved one’s remains offers some solace to many families.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

January 5, 2010 Search for Amelia, part 2

The Liberty Gazette
January 5, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Surrounded by sea, Gardner Island is a ring of land, almost three miles long and just over a mile wide with a lagoon in the center. The land has a little indentation where sea water flows into the lagoon. A coral reef surrounds the island’s north side. It’s jagged and scary, and underwater, but not deep. That’s what got the British boat we mentioned last week–it was grounded on that reef. It’s a walk-able ledge, extending long enough and wide enough to safely land an airplane. When the tide is right you can see it from the air. If Amelia Earhart landed on that reef, the plane could have been swept through the indentation into the lagoon.

There’s another interesting fact supporting the theory Amelia and Fred landed safely. When the Navy ship, Ithica, was searching for them they received radio transmissions they believed were from Amelia for five days afterward. If she had ditched into the Pacific her radio would not have worked.

Linda: Then what about evidence of personal effects? There is a site where they could have possibly been for days, even months, based upon artifacts discovered there. During expeditions in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2007, two heels were found. One belongs to a man’s shoe, one is believed to belong to a woman’s shoe. Two shards of a mirror were discovered on two separate expeditions, and they fit together. It’s a square mirror, like might be found in a lady’s compact. Also found: a substance believed to be rouge, a pocket knife of the design that was in the inventory of the Electra when Amelia attempted the around-the-world trip, a zipper and a button like would be on a flight jacket.

Mike: Interestingly, about three years after Amelia and Fred disappeared, the British put an outpost on the island to try to colonize it. The colonization attempt was officially abandoned in 1965, but the point is there were British citizens there who claimed to have discovered some significant items: a sextant box, (a navigator’s tool), bones, and body parts, all of which were sent to their headquarters in Fiji. Then they were lost. But the numbers to the sexton box were written down and saved, and TIGHAR has copies of letters and confidential papers describing what was being sent to Fiji. If they can tie the box’s numbers to Fred Noonan, through Navy records or otherwise, that information will become key in this search.

TIGHAR researcher Megan Lickliter-Mundon says that “While there’s nothing like ‘Oh my gosh, she’s here,’ a smoking gun of a piece of the plane or DNA will do it.” And TIGHAR has asked if these items are not evidence of Amelia and Fred, where did they come from? All the items have been traced to American origin. “There’s just a lot of compelling evidence,” Megan adds. “There was a manufacturer’s stamp on the heel of the woman’s shoe. That company still exists and has confirmed the stamp corresponds to what they made back then.” Researchers have also found a broken bottle with a substance in it. Chemical analysis revealed it was hand lotion with lanolin, and was traced to an American manufacturer.

We’ll wrap this up next week with a peek at what these researchers are likely to endure. Till then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

December 29, 2009 Search for Amelia, part 1

The Liberty Gazette
December 29, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
We got the inside scoop on an upcoming mission to search for Amelia Earhart’s airplane, so you’re reading it here first. We promised to keep it quiet until the TIGHAR organization (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) was ready to release its list of chosen participants. Now we can tell all. Our friend, Megan Lickliter-Mundon has been chosen to join an elite group of archeologists and other specialists on a trip to what was known as Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati, where it is believed the airplane and personal effects of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan will be found. TIGHAR isn’t some fly-by-night group. The science-based investigation company says, “Archival research and nine expeditions have uncovered a compelling body of supporting evidence. Archaeological excavations during the next expedition, scheduled for May/June 2010, will aim to recover artifacts from which Earhart’s DNA can be extracted. The expedition will also include a deep water search off the atoll’s fringing reef for the wreckage of the airplane.” This is the same group that located a missing P-38 Lightning off a beach in Wales two years ago. The aerial photo of a rusted twin-engine fighter emerging from white sand in the clear beach waters captivated people around the world.

Linda: Megan has a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and a Master of Science degree in Archaeology from the University of Edinburgh. She says a Ph.D. is in her future, but for now she’s enjoying her job as Administrator of the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby. She first learned of TIGHAR from seeing a field school during her aviation archaeology studies. That’s what they pride themselves on, not just the paper research, but going out and doing the recovery work, which stems from wreck-chasing, rebuilding, and flying old, wartime aircraft. They survey a wreck site, and find out what’s happened since the wreck. Sometimes the aircraft is all gone but a few pieces, sometimes much of it remains. Megan says, “It’s about historical preservation. They do a lot more than just the search for Amelia.” 55-60 core members have varied roles in the search, from photographers, to historians, scientists, and divers.

Mike: Here’s some of the background: A British freight boat wrecked on Gardner Island in November 1929, so there’s a school of thought that Amelia may have been able to see that boat. If you see a boat on an island it might be a place you’d be willing to land. TIGHAR has searched for historical records and photos of the boat, to see how it has deteriorated over the years; to see what it would have looked like when Amelia was there. Megan explains it this way: “The assumption is that she landed–not crashed or ditched in the water,” (The idea she crashed in the Pacific is not well explored because it would be such a massive undertaking. Then there’s the idea that she was captured by Japanese and taken to Sai Pan and murdered there. But there is less proof for either of those two theories than there is for TIGHAR’s). “By understanding how the boat deteriorated and washed away, we can find a pattern caused by the movement of the water and conduct a search based on that pattern.”

Come back next week to find out what they’ve discovered and what they are about to do. Till then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

December 22, 2009 LISD Superintendent's pilot-dad

The Liberty Gazette
December 22, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Cynthia Lusignolo’s airline pilot daughter Emily was introduced to flying by her grandfather, Johnny Keown, but her flying roots go back to WWI when her great-grandfather flew observation balloons.

After the war, Johnny’s dad transitioned to airplanes eventually training the next generation of Army Air Corp pilots for WWII, at Victory Field west of Vernon, Texas. Later he taught cadets to fly at Texas A&M’s Easterwood Airport in College Station. “My brother and I grew up with flying,” says Johnny, who soloed a Piper J-3 Cub in 1953. “But I really learned to fly in 1961 when I started crop dusting in a 450-horsepower Stearman.”

M&M Flying Service, Earl Atkins, and others bring back memories of his time in Liberty. By 1965 Johnny became a DC-3 co-pilot for Trans-Texas Airways at Hobby while his brother flew for Braniff. Johnny remained with the airline through all the mergers and ultimately retired from Continental Airlines in 1992 as the Manager of Flight Safety Evaluation. Remember when you could park next to the terminal and walk right in? “There was no security to go through; fuel was 25 cents a gallon. It was one of the best times to be a pilot.”

We hear Cynthia even took some flying lessons. She enjoyed it, but other studies took priority. When Emily showed interest, Johnny offered lots of encouragement. “She wasn’t very old when I sat her up in an EAA Biplane I rebuilt.” Upon Emily’s graduation from Embry Riddle, Grandpa gave her a special book. “An old friend gave me the book, Blind Flying in Theory and Practice, written in 1929 and autographed by Florence Boswell, one of Amelia Earhart’s flight instructors. She only had four digits in her phone number.”

Johnny has observed many changes in aviation technology. Running into a former colleague at Newark’s Liberty Airport Johnny asked, “What are you flying now?” Escorting him to the gate where he would depart for Rome shortly, his friend showed him the Boeing 777 and all its computer screens.

“I remember when you had trouble navigating to Brownsville,” Johnny jibed. “I told him, ‘I guess if someone were to get it started for me I could fly it.’ He told me I couldn’t fly it because it all had to be programmed.” (A 777 goes on autopilot on take-off until it lands. The airplane auto-lands and the pilots get to taxi it to the gate.)

“Now-days these small GA airplanes have more modern equipment than the old DC-3s.” Airline navigation to Mexico was accomplished by flying “to the Galveston Radio Beacon then southbound until we lost the signal about 180 miles out, then navigated via Dead Reckoning until we picked up the Merida, Mexico Radio Beacon; then another signal, a VOR, then navigated from there down to Cancun. The airline put a radio transmitter on a platform in the middle of the Gulf so they could talk to us below thirty-thousand feet.”

Crop dusting has changed too, with air conditioning and GPS. “When they’re finished the computer tells them exactly where they sprayed.”

But, says Johnny, there is no substitute for experience. “New pilots who have not developed basic piloting skills but are a whiz with the electronics are totally lost if they lose their GPS. Pilot skills and confidence have to be developed.” He advises pilots to keep pushing, to stretch their abilities. “You’re never too old to learn.”

Today Johnny flies a homebuilt version of a Piper PA-11 he built from scratch from a set of plans (his fourth one) and lives in Hilltop Lakes, a private airpark between Houston and Dallas. He wanted a place like this so when gets too old to fly he can still sit on his porch and watch small planes come in and land.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

December 15, 2009 LISD Superintendent's pilot-daughter

The Liberty Gazette
December 15, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
Liberty school superintendent Cynthia Lusignolo has a keen interest in aviation. After all, both her dad and her daughter are pilots.

23-year old Emily says she just “fell into it” one summer when step-dad Dave, an Air Force retiree, suggested she apply for a civilian summer job during her high school years. “I was planning to be a veterinarian,” says the animal lover-tennis player-professional pilot. “But somehow I just lucked into this summer job where I was handling pilots’ records. I was around them all the time and soon they started offering to let me try out the simulator. That’s when the aviation bug bit.”

Emily loved flying the sim, and told her mom she wanted to learn to fly. “Mom was great,” she says with appreciation. “It was my senior year, so she didn’t have much time to scramble to get me in to the aviation class, an option in the magnet program that Hirschi High School in Wichita Falls offered. She worked hard to get me in it. She did a lot to support me.”

The school offered aviation courses like Sterling High School does in Houston, where students took ground school during regular school hours and then flew after school. The instructors were careful not to pressure the young students into soloing before they felt ready, so the day of the solo was not really scheduled. Knowing that, Dave and Cynthia came out to the airport every day with the video camera, ready to record that exciting moment. “Mom got it on video tape.”

Emily earned her private pilot license before she graduated from high school, then earned her multi-engine rating in the summer before starting college at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, eventually working as a flight instructor before landing the job with American Eagle. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with an Embraer 145 Second-in-Command type rating, and flies about 75-80 hours a month, based out of Chicago.

Although females make up only six percent of all U.S. licensed pilots, Emily says she has not experienced any bias against her. Quite the contrary, in fact. “You never know who you’ll be sitting next to. I meet the most interesting people,” including someone who qualified as an alternate for the Olympics in figure skating, now a Captain for American Eagle.

“We have several flight attendants who have always wanted to fly, so they got airline jobs to pay for their flight training and be exposed to professional aviation at the same time. That takes a real strong drive.”

We talked a bit about General Aviation, because that’s very different from flying airlines. “I haven’t been back in a small plane since I started with Eagle, but I’d sure love to go out buzzing around again. That would be fun, to fly where I want, on my own schedule, I’d like to go to fly-ins. Someday.”

She remembers visiting her granddad when she was about five years old, and he lifted her up into his bi-plane for a photo. “I guess he knew he was encouraging another generation to fly,” she grinned. “He came to my graduation at Embry Riddle. That meant a lot to me, and I know he was proud of me.”

Emily spends her days off volunteering at a horse farm in Delaware that offers therapeutic riding for people with disabilities, and is an all-around sweet young woman, just like her mom.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

December 8, 2009 Thanksgiving flight

The Liberty Gazette
December 8, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Looking back over the left wing Linda commented on the eastern sky’s growing light as we droned along at sixty-five hundred feet southwest-bound. Below and mostly to the east of us along a river valley were smatterings of light pinpointing concentrations of civilization encompassed by scattered lights from more remote outposts. We had departed Hagerstown, Maryland in our Cheetah at a chilly 5:30 a.m. on our return to Houston at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. Now we watched as the world slowly illuminated around us.

Linda: I love to be airborne when the Sun rises. The sky changes slowly from darkness pierced by stars to hues of purple, dark blue, blue-green, then to red-orange as the Sun nears the horizon. Mike pointed out what looked like fog along the ridges and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains. It was actually ridge-hugging alpenglow, light reflected from the sky coming to life east of us. The sky to the west was starting to illuminate with reflected light.

Potomac Approach Control was giving us “flight following” as we winged our way to our first stop, Beckley, West Virginia. The controller, issuing a constant stream of instructions to airliners departing Washington Regan International and Dulles airports outbound in the early morning just as we were, helped as another set of eyes in the sky. The constant rhythm of the controller’s voice was occasionally broken by our own conversations as we dealt with up and down drafts generated by the easterly flow of wind across the low mountains. We experienced this the previous day when we departed Chesapeake, Virginia for Hagerstown. As the Sun broke over the horizon, patches of snow along the ridge tops reflected it and the detail of the terrain below us began to show off its ripped definition. The Sun warmed us in our Cheetah as we made our way to Beckley, on our way home from a busy weekend with my eldest daughter, bonus-son, a grandbaby, and a book-signing event.

Mike: Dawn flight is popular poetic material, has been included in the title of movies and generally immortalized in print. It is an experience unto its own in the world of aviation. Every ridge, valley, lake and river takes on a different look from above during those few moments before sunrise, and likewise as the Sun descends in the evening. In the morning we are greeting the day and this wake-up of the world illuminates before our eyes in such a way that no written word or picture can ever describe completely. It has to be experienced.

Linda: It also beats, hands-down, the rough start we had the day before Thanksgiving. We didn’t get airborne before sunrise because the FBO filled the tanks too full and had to be called out to drain them. Trying to take-off over gross weight is never a good, nor safe idea. But once the tanks were drained we benefited from the 50+mph tail winds. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen the Cheetah do 185 mph ground speed. Of course, that meant headwinds on the return trip, but it gave us more time to enjoy the beauty of the flight.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

December 1, 2009 Covey Trails fly-in and flour bombing contest

The Liberty Gazette
December 1, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
The honor guard of veterans lined up on the grass facing the flagpole, awaiting the fly-by of seven RV airplanes called the “Vans Air Force.” Sweeping in low from the south, over the field, the flying formation turns on a trail of red, white and blue smoke while the Star Spangled Banner plays over the PA system. The procession begins and the observance commences with the raising of the American Flag followed by The Pledge of Allegiance. Such were the opening ceremonies of the annual Covey Trails Fly-In west of Houston.

Covey Trails Airpark is a residential community in Fulshear where people park their planes in hangars next to their homes. Residents at the 3,300-foot long by 100-foot wide well-manicured grass airstrip host an annual open house and invite the community around them in for BBQ and a day of fun. This year it fell on Oct 17 and it was a gorgeous day for flying–not a cloud in the sky.

Linda: We departed Ellington Field in our Cheetah arriving at the airpark before it closed for a half hour for the opening ceremonies. An empty lot set aside for transient aircraft was where we parked, along with a dozen other planes, including a 1940’s era Boeing Stearman. Elsewhere in the airpark some 50 or so aircraft arrived for the day’s activities along with those that call Covey Trails home.

Like many fly-ins around the country, this one wasn’t just about airplanes. Antique cars, old military vehicles and even an armored personnel transport vehicle were on display. Kids laughed as they played on inflated bouncy things, and we all browsed the tables of silent auction items. I bid on three items, but only won the old-looking flying goggles. Now all I need is the silk scarf and the Stearman.

Mike: After the flag-raising and patriotic fly-bys, the Vans Air Force aircraft landed and the pilots lined for grub with everyone else. People walked about, looked at airplanes, and asked questions of the pilots, all of whom just love to speak airplane. Of course, for pilots food is always a central focus, but Linda was excited about another grand aerial event, the flour bombing contest.

After a safety briefing participants took to the air in flights of three or four aircraft at a time, and at about 100 feet in the air made three passes over an “X” laid out on the runway. With each pass, the “bombardier” tossed out a flour “bomb” tagged with the airplane’s registration number. The bomb that lands closest to the center of the X wins. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Especially if you have an airplane with the wing attached at the bottom of the fuselage and that cannot operate at really slow speeds. However, it’s a ton of fun and definitely a challenge.

Linda: Mike did a great job flying at a tilt, but I have lots of room for improvement in my bombardier skills. One of our three shots came close, but not close enough. Fellow Ninety-Nines, Elizabeth Frankowski and Suzanne Fain won the contest. Elizabeth flew the Cessna 182 while Suzanne reached behind her to drop their bomb out of the pilot-side window – the only one that opens. Their closest drop came within seven inches of the center of the X. But look out next year, girls!

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

November 24, 2009 Texas Raiders takes flight

The Liberty Gazette
November 24, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
The Commemorative Air Force’s B-17G, named “Texas Raiders,” is based at Houston’s Hobby airport. That aircraft has been undergoing a major restoration project for the past seven and a half years.

The culmination of that project came with Texas Raiders becoming airborne a little before noon on October 14th. I was sitting at an outside patio at my office building across from Hobby as “Raiders” made her first approach to runway 12R and landed uneventfully except maybe for the cheering from those who had labored on her for so long. She subsequently made her first public appearance in many years at the Wings Over Houston Air Show at Ellington Field the last weekend of October.

Linda: On Saturday November 14th, one month to the day after Texas Raiders once again took to the air, the CAF had a potluck lunch and awards celebration for the members who spent thousands of man-hours meticulously restoring the B-17. Afterward, one of the members was to take a re-qualification flight.

Our group gathered round to watch the crew start her up. Engine #3 was first, it’s blue exhaust belching as it coughed to life. Once it was up and running they started engine #4, followed by engine #1, and lastly #2. When all the engines were running, the crew, lead by CAF Col Walt Thompson, finished their ground checks, and with a signal from the aircraft’s commander, Maintenance Officer Col Chuck Conway marshaled the four-engine bomber from the ramp as it lumbered along towards the runway.

There amid the screams of jets and whine from turboprops, when they received clearance from the tower the B-17 took position on runway 12R once again and set its engines to rumbling and roaring. It slowly accelerated down the runway and then eased into the air, turning slightly east for Ellington for some touch-and-go’s.

Mike: We waited around for the B-17’s return watching it make several circuits in the pattern at Ellington about six miles away. Soon, it coursed through the air turning and lining up on runway 17 where it touched down in a perfect wheel landing right in front of us to the whoops and cheers let out by all witnesses.

That evening I received an email from Col Sandy Thompson, Public Information Officer of our CAF Gulf Coast Wing: “Unplanned events sometimes are worth a thousand ads,” she wrote. “This comes from Colonels Everett and Morgan Gibson who attended our awards celebration, then left for a special meeting at Ellington Field.” Dr. Morgan Gibson, noted scientist at NASA Space Center who serves on the Wings Over Houston Executive Committee, along with Colonel Everett, wrote, “After the meeting, we were guests of U.S. Congressmen Pete Olson (Clear Lake and Sugarland districts) and Representative Sam Johnson of the DFW area celebrating 100 years of Military Aviation at Ellington's 147th RW hangar. Just as Representative Olson was beginning his speech and mentioned the historic perspective of military aviation, Texas Raiders made her grand entry with the radials purring perfectly during her low level pass down Ellington's runway. The Congressman was forced to stop his speech and afterwards commented ‘That is what we are talking about!’” At that moment the open hangar doors perfectly framed the B-17. The touch-and-go's caused the Congressmen to pause so all could hear the sounds. How serendipitous.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

November 17, 2009 Guest Columnist, Levi Lyons' "Voyage to the Moon"

The Liberty Gazette
November 17, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda:
This week we offer a view from further up than we’ve ever been. Guest columnist, Levi Lyons, shares his exciting “voyage to the moon” and encourages others to experience the thrills of space and aviation.

Levi: My name is Levi Lyons and I am 13 years old. I live in Danville, Indiana, just 30 minutes from the Challenger Learning Center in Brownsburg, Indiana. Because of my love for science I wanted to visit the Challenger Learning Center for the “Mission to the Moon.”

The Challenger Learning Center is a living memorial for Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from Boston, Massachusetts, whose voyage into space was ended sooner than expected. Many simulators have been dedicated in honor of those who died on that voyage (in the U.S., Canada and the UK). The first learning center was opened in Houston in 1988. The center in Brownsburg was opened in 1994.

When I arrived at the center I had to choose one of the following jobs: Communications, Probe, Remote, Isolation, Medical, Data, Navigation, or Life Support. Each job deals with different portions of the spacecraft. I chose Isolation for my job.

Isolation is split into three divisions: ISO 1, dealing with transfer of harmful, radioactive chemicals; ISO 2, monitoring damage received by solar panels on the spacecraft; and ISO 3, regulating oxygen throughout the spacecraft. Being in ISO 2 I had to use a robotic arm to check the damage on the solar panels. It was very difficult to use the robotic arm, because it shut down every ten minutes or so. I did like it very much, however, because it was like a video game (I always told my mom that video games are beneficial). I had to record the hits taken by the solar panels as well.

In addition to choosing our jobs, our group was split into two teams: Mission Control and Spacecraft, which communicate with each other throughout the mission. After my experience in ISO 2 on board the spacecraft, it was time to switch over to mission control, where I had a new job; Communications.

In Communications I had to relay messages from all divisions of both teams (OVERWHELMING!). It was difficult, but it was very fun to try to interpret the other students’ very messy hand writing.

At the end of our mission we finally saw the probe land on the highlands of the moon. The simulation was so realistic that for a minute I thought I was in a real spacecraft. Before entering we had to walk down a long, illuminated hallway that any Star Trek fan would have loved, and into the airlock, from which we entered the main room of the ship. Mission Control was convincing as well, for it had many computers throughout the room, and many huge monitors on the front wall. I recommend this experience to anyone with a love for astronomy.

Mike: This type of opportunity is available to students in the Houston area as well, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, “A field trip with no boundaries.” A special thanks to our nephew, Levi Lyons, for an outstanding write-up!

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.