July 10, 2007
July 10, 2007
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Dodging thunderstorms most of the twelve hundred mile trip that began in Abilene, I’m now on final decent on our visual approach to runway 32 at Pittsburgh’s International Airport. Today’s flight is in a different jet and for a different company than the flight I made in here two weeks ago, but they both serve the same purpose. The people I fly are using their aircraft for business, contributing to local economies at every stop.
Two weeks ago I chauffeured six sales people in a Learjet. Their job was to make presentations to clients in 25 cities in 12 days. Today I am flying a Gulfstream G100; this company builds refineries and power-plants and I am carrying engineers and other businessmen. Contrary to the image of wealthy jet-setters, as many think when we speak of corporate or “Lear” jets, business travel such as this is the norm, not the exception. These travel plans could not have been accomplished with an airline schedule.
I love the feel of a well flown flight and a smooth touchdown. As we roll into Atlantic Aviation, the fixed base operator (FBO) that serves general aviation at this airport, I reflect on my career and respect the importance of all elements affecting my job. Weather, air traffic, communications, airplane and pilot performance must be carefully balanced to work together for the safe completion of a flight. I also note that I am responsible for many lives entrusted to my skills and experience as well as the millions of dollars in equipment I operate.
Forty-some years ago I was the proverbial “kid at the airport fence”. I loved airplanes, any airplane. I still do. I would run out in the yard with a pair of binoculars every time I heard an airplane flying over. I’d search the skies and dream about the day I would be in those cockpits, at those controls. The blame for wear and tear on our family binoculars rested on me, making a new pair one of the best birthday presents of my childhood. I guess you could say I was a different kind of bird watcher as I studied to learn every type of airplane, challenging myself to identify them on sight.
Long before my first flight, I knew I wanted to fly. Mom, however, had other plans. Hoping to squelch all interest in this “dangerous” activity, she agreed to let me take an airplane ride. I think her plan backfired, as it was a friend of my brother’s who took me up in an aerobatic trainer, performed loops and rolls and anything but straight and level–and the kid from the airport fence was hooked.
With four children to rear my parents could not afford flying lessons, so I went to work at various jobs to pay for my training and earned my private pilot’s certificate before I bought my first car. Studying when I couldn’t afford to fly, learning from technical books, aviation novels, and hangar flying with other pilots, I became a sponge for anything related to flying.
Although progress seemed slow at times, every moment spent immersed in aviation has been priceless in my flying career. I love what I do and this passion for flying has rewarded me greatly with adventures of my childhood dreams. A pilot’s logbook is a story book. It speaks of experiences that only the grandest of adventure novels could even hope to conjure up. From stories of North Atlantic crossings, to flights to South America, to a trip from Abilene, Texas to Pittsburgh, to a hop around the patch at Liberty Municipal, from every flight emerges an adventure. A passion for aviation still rises in this globe spanning corporate pilot, once the kid at the airport fence.
Linda: That passion for aviation has built America’s adventure highways, her airport system, which plays a vital role in the health and well-being of every community. In the Great State of Texas, there are 46,884 licensed pilots, 18,338 registered aircraft, and 330 public airports. Over two and a quarter million hours are flown each year in the Lone Star state by general aviation aircraft, an industry that provides an estimated 61,900 jobs in Texas.1 Ancillary services also contribute to local economies, including aircraft maintenance and avionics shops, aircraft sales, concessions, and many other non-aviation activities. Employment, capital investment, gross sales, and visiting aircraft contribute generously to our economic output. General aviation pilots and passengers spend money for various goods and services. In addition to these measurable benefits general aviation enhances the quality of life, health, welfare, and safety of citizens by providing the means for transporting goods and engaging in vital services.
Were it not for America’s general aviation airports, Mike nor I would have learned to fly, and neither would many of our airline pilots. Community airports need community support as much as communities need airports. That kid at the airport fence indulging his fantasies with a toy airplane or extending his arms, banked at a 30-degree angle, running in a figure eight, the roar of a 1,000 horsepower engine blowing furiously past his lips, almost convinces even the passers-by when he exclaims, “Look at me, Daddy! I’m an airplane!”
1 TXDoT Aviation
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com