The Liberty Gazette
June 15, 2010
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The afternoon sun reflects off the wings of a clipped-wing Piper Cub climbing high above Ranger, Texas, its 65-horsepower engine straining as the plane struggles for more altitude. Reaching top-of-climb the pilot kills the engine and slows the airplane to just above aerodynamic stall speed to stop the propeller, then rolls upside down diving back to the turf below. With great grace and precision, over and under, upside down, right side up, the pilot exchanges altitude for airspeed then airspeed for altitude, gliding almost effortlessly toward the earth. Announcer Mike “Spanky” Gallaway pauses so the crowd can hear the air whisper as it slips around the silent aircraft. As the pilot performs one last roll Spanky says of his friend, “He’s just showin’ off, folks.” The pilot eases the airplane onto the grass strip with just enough speed to coast and spin the tail to the right, stopping right in front of the crowd in the very spot he started. This incredible demonstration of energy management was performed at the third annual Ranger Fly-In and Air Show by David Martin, a U.S. National Aerobatic Champion.
Each year David brings two airplanes to Ranger, performing two distinct routines. The other aircraft this year was a 1936 Bücker Jungmeister, a small, open cockpit biplane. A third generation professional pilot, David began flying his father’s Bonanza at age 12. His granddad, a barnstormer in the 1930’s, insisted David’s primary flight training include aerobatics.
Linda: Jared Calvert hosted his third big event at Texas’s third oldest airport, still a grass strip. The fly-in grows every year, and this year the crowd was treated to outstanding performances by U.S. Aerobatic team members Spanky and David (who will perform at Oshkosh this year), as well as Jason Newburg, also an Oshkosh AirVenture performer, and newcomer Scott Lane. Spanky flew first because he’s good on the microphone, so when the other pilots fly their routines he provides colorful commentary.
Between David Martin’s two performances Scott was looping, rolling, tailsliding, and hammerheading his beautiful red Pitts. Of course, I’m thrilled by all the performances, and Jason’s knock-out green viper paint job on his Pitts is second only to what that young man can do with an airplane. Newburg’s landing was also impressive, although unlike Martin he kept the engine running, as he slipped the plane in such a steep descent it almost looked like he dropped straight down over the end of the runway. I could go on and on about the talent that showed up this year, but the camaraderie, enthusiasm, and genuine, grassroots family fun is what makes this fly-in so popular.
Jared charges nothing for the air show and people come from all over, by ground and air, to enjoy the show, eat, and check out the airplanes up close. Among this year’s record-setting 162 airplanes were a Russian Antonov AN-II, Stearmans, Pietenpols, a Waco, and lots more.
This year’s fly-in also marked the first official gathering of the new International Biplane Association, founded by Dayton’s Jed Keck. 19 biplanes attended. The 1940 Air Terminal Museum flew in their raffle plane, a Cessna 172, to be given away July 17th. They sold a bunch of tickets ($50 each). Museum pilot P.J. Gustafson even sold one to an air traffic controller while en route to the fly-in.
There’s a Tomato Fest and Cull Drop fly-in coming up. As much as I’d love to drop rotten tomato bombs, I’m not sure we’ll get to that one, as there’s an air race I’m planning for.