formerly "The View From Up Here"

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

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August 14, 2007 First Passengers

Liberty Gazette
August 14, 2007

The View from Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

There are firsts in every pilot's flying history–we all have to start somewhere–first takeoff, first landing, first solo, first instructor, first cross-country flight and first passenger after earning one’s pilot license. We remember most of our firsts, but some become a bit hazy as time goes on–one reason we keep a logbook, so we can look back on those moments and relive those noteworthy experiences.

A pilot’s first solo flight, the first time taking the controls of an airplane without an instructor in the right seat, creates a real sense of accomplishment. My instructor watched as I made my way around the airport’s rectangular pattern during my first solo. Without his added weight, the plane was lighter, climbed faster and performed better. You’ve got an audience, I thought, as I completed the required three take-offs and landings. Soon I was back on the ground again, elated at having achieved something special. Tradition called for my instructor to rip or cut off part of the back of my shirt and sign that piece with the date of my first solo. My shirt was one of those old polyester types–it made me sweat even when I wasn't up flying solo–so losing part of the back wasn't very difficult to bear in light of the fact that I was now a "real" pilot and I now had an opening at my back to keep me cool.

Now, when it comes to first passengers, it is a toss-up since in my logbook I neglected to list who my first passenger was. I believe it was my younger brother, Doug. However, it could have been my dad. Sitting in the cockpit Dad felt a bit exposed due to the size and placement of the aircraft’s windows, but he loved the visibility above the smog of Los Angeles. Excited to show off things I’d learned, I demonstrated what a stall is and how to recover from it. Technically, we weren’t doing aerobatics, but most non-pilots are not familiar with some of the maneuvers we learn in training. Dad didn't like it too much so I have since left that one out of any demonstration or introductory flight. We flew the customary circle over our house to show him what it looked like from the air and stayed in the local area that day. For many years following, Dad was a passenger on a number of my quests. Doug is the sibling who has flown with me most over my career. I also performed for him some of the maneuvers required during my training and took him on a wide sweep of the local area on our first flight together. Mom first flew with me several years later, long after I obtained my commercial pilot license. She’d always been afraid of flying and had not yet flown in a small airplane. That first time she brought along a family friend whose father was a pilot. After that, Mom flew with me on a couple of grand voyages and has accepted my chosen career.

My family supported me not only in words, but in a willingness to take off on some of those first escapades with me. Over the years I have had the opportunity to introduce people to the flyer’s world. Pilots in general enjoy doing this immensely and it makes all the time learning to fly that much more worth the effort.

Linda: I am honored to say that my first passenger, also a brother, was Brother (Dr.) Jimmie L. Clemmons, pastor of North Main Baptist Church. Learning to fly at a time when my life had been turned upside down after a severe tragedy gave me something to begin to focus on, something new to help my mind begin to work again. Family and friends were instrumental during that time, and continue to be today, including our church family at North Main. Brother Jim, well known in the community for his genuine love and concern for others, has been one of my strongest encouragers the past few years. It seemed fitting then, that he would be the first person to ride with me after obtaining my private pilot license.

With a newly granted license many friends and family came to celebrate at my “pilot party” and shortly after, while talking with Brother Jim, he said he would love to take a ride with me some time. Often he’d ask, “When’re we going up?” And he’d tell me several times, “I love to fly.” Eager to take my first passenger, we set a date to meet at Ellington Field, where I would rent a fuel injected Cessna 172 and take a scenic flight around the area. I remembered my instructor, Anthony, had said my best flight would be when I take my first passenger. How I hoped he would be right. They say a pilot’s only as good as the last landing… I was hoping for a smooth one!

Completing the pre-flight inspection, buckling in my passenger and handing him a headset, I continued down the checklist. Then feet on the brakes, I flipped the master switch on and shouted out the open window, “Clear prop!” Turn the key, push the mixture in, listen for the engine to catch…it started right up. I adjusted the RPM’s and turned on the radios and navigation equipment. Flipping on lights and setting radios to Ellington’s ground control and tower frequencies, I listened to the weather briefing, called an ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service), to get the current local weather before requesting permission to taxi.

Taxi to one-seven-right at intersection Bravo,” came ground control, and we began our taxi.
Before requesting a clearance for take-off, we stopped on taxiway Bravo while I performed various tests of the airplane, a procedure called the “run-up”. I checked flight instruments, valves and selectors. “Fuel selector on ‘both’, mixture rich…” Checking the yoke, ailerons and rudders, I confirmed, “flight controls free and clear.” Running the RPM’s up to 1800, I checked both right and left magnetos, then double checked our seatbelts, shoulder harnesses and door latches. Everything looked good, so I called the tower. “Ellington Tower, Cessna 72566, on Bravo holding short of one-seven-right, ready for departure.” Brother Jim was as excited and encouraging as my own dad would have been if he were still here, smiling and giving me the thumbs-up when we heard, “Cessna 72566, wind calm, cleared for take-off on one-seven-right.” I guided the plane down the runway center line as my feet danced lightly on the rudder pedals until we lifted up into the sky. It was a beautiful day.

Since Ellington is so close to Hobby’s air space we flew toward the south for a nice birds-eye view of the gulf. During the ride over Kemah and the beaches of Galveston, and then over the water toward Smith Point, I was pleased to see Brother Jim truly enjoying the flight. We both pointed out familiar sights and talked about how different things look from the air. Our time passed too quickly and we soon had to return to the airport.

Contacting Ellington tower four miles out, I radioed, “Ellington Tower, Cessna 72566, over LaPorte, inbound with information Alpha” (to indicate to the controller I had the current weather information), and came the controller’s response, “Cessna 72566, Ellington Tower, squawk 2471.” I enter the numbers by pushing buttons on the transponder so our plane shows up on the tower’s radar. “Cessna 72566, enter left base for one-seven-right, report two miles.” I repeat the instructions back. It doesn’t take long before I’m just two miles from the runway, so I report as instructed and the tower responds, “Cessna 72566, cleared to land one-seven-right, winds light and variable.” I can handle that, no crabbing, no crosswind corrections to show-off for my first passenger. Should be a smooth landing… and it was. In fact, Anthony was right. It was the smoothest landing I’d ever made. Brother Jim told everyone he couldn’t even tell we had touched the ground.

Given our history, it is especially meaningful that Brother Jim was my first passenger. Five months after Mike proposed to me, family and close friends converged on North Main Baptist Church for a beautiful wedding, officiated by Brother Jim Clemmons, the man God sent to minister to me a few years earlier. Addressing our guests he mentioned the plane ride and talked about new life and purpose. His friendship is a gift that will remain with me for eternity. I am so honored to call him Brother, Pastor, Shepherd and most of all Friend. We love you Brother Jim.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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