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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September 28, 2010 Garratt and Foy Around the World

The Liberty Gazette
September 28, 2010

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

: World record holder CarolAnn Garratt was back in Houston recently sharing her adventures in around-the-world flying and a subject near and dear to her heart, raising awareness and funds for research for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease. CarolAnn and her record-breaking partner, 2006 Air Race Classic champion, Carol Foy, departed Orlando International westbound on December 2, 2008 and flew around the earth in CarolAnn’s Mooney to shatter the 20-year record set in a Bonanza.

Preparations began 18 months prior with research and flight planning. For the most benign weather they would fly in December and stay close to the Equator. Garnering an impressive international support crew was an essential ingredient for these two accomplished pilots. CarolAnn, a retired mechanical engineer, had circumnavigated the globe in 2003, but that was a leisurely jaunt. There would be little time for sleep in this “Dash for a Cure.”

For publicity, the pilots appeared at AirVenture in Oshkosh and sat in a Mooney for 24 hours. They set hard-and-fast rules about the flight, including weather minimums and what circumstances would dictate deviation to an alternate airport for landing. The westbound route would take advantage of the Easterly Trade Winds, which occur in most of the world. They would sleep in two-hour shifts and plan the route to maximize the stops in U.S. territory. The flying pilot was always on oxygen at night, and a full instrument approach was flown for every night landing. Flight leg-times ranged from 16-23 hours.

Lack of sleep, altered eating habits, a weather detour and somehow getting 30 gallons less fuel than they paid for in Djibouhti (imagine hearing a fuel tank go dry over Central Africa) couldn’t overshadow the adrenaline or the satisfaction when the pair spoke with school children from the cockpit, and called ALS sufferers to say, “This flight’s for you.”

With an FAA waiver allowing 15% over gross weight the Mooney was equipped with extra fuel tanks for a total capacity of 195 gallons (1,170 lbs) of avgas. Tools and fuel tanks crammed in the cockpit left precious little room for much else; CarolAnn toted her toothbrush in her flightsuit pocket.

Mike: 70 years after Lou Gehrig’s diagnosis, CarolAnn and Carol blew away the old record:

Old record in a Bonanza: 19 days, 54.6 mph
Garratt/Foy: 8 days, 12 hours, 18 minutes, and 53 seconds, 115.35 mph

The pilots spent 158 hours flying 20,400 nautical miles (time on the ground counts on the clock), and paid all expenses themselves so that funds raised would go directly to ALS research and support. Perhaps the best news CarolAnn has to report, what makes the record and its publicity valuable, is seeing progress in research for treatment and a cure for ALS. A new medicine which began testing last year is showing hope. While it’s too late to help her mother, or any of the good friends she’s made along the journey, CarolAnn isn’t giving the disease a break. One day the new world record she longs to see will be a reality – a cure for ALS. There’s more for you to know at; and check out her books, “Upon Silver Wings” and “Upon Silver Wings II World-Record Adventure.”

September 21, 2010 NASA's B57

The Liberty Gazette
September 21, 2010
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

One of the reasons we like flying our Cheetah out of Ellington Field is the variety of aircraft we see on a regular basis. Recently there has been a lot of clamoring about the contrails left by a NASA high altitude test plane. Numbers 926 and 928, the 49-year-old WB-57F Canberras, are operated by NASA for experiments and high altitude astronaut training. They are the only two B-57s still flying today, and both are based at Johnson Space Center facilities at Ellington. We often see them in NASA’s hangar, on the ramp, or doing takeoff and landing practice at the field. I don’t know what experiments they were performing last week, however, I do know they are up there all the time. The vast amount of moisture left in the air by Tropical Storm Hermine could account for the more noticeable contrails.

NASA also operates the ER-2, another high altitude aircraft. The ER-2 has been deployed from Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, California to Ellington Field when requested by NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, to monitor, map and photograph the oil spill in the Gulf.

The ER-2 is a variant of the famous U-2 spy plane, one of which was piloted by Francis Gary Powers who was shot down over Russia in 1960. Powers was later returned to the U.S. in exchange for a Russian spy we arrested.

Another of the flying tubes we see on a regular basis is a Boeing 727 used for zero-gravity training. When this airplane is pitched nose up at a 45-degree angle above the horizon followed by a steady push over to a nose down position in a parabolic arc with just the right measure of force, temporary weightlessness ensues and its occupants “float” for up to 25 seconds at a time. Nausea often being the result, these planes are sometimes called the “Vomit Comet.” A previous aircraft used in this role, a Boeing KC-135, NASA number 930 now sits silently on a pedestal like a sentry at the entrance to Ellington after it performed more than 58,000 of these arcs.

Linda: The astronauts have T-38s, training jets, and I’d guess there are about 20 or so kept at Ellington. The fast jets fly 1,500 feet above the ground in a standard traffic pattern altitude when flying in to Ellington. At most airports light airplanes (the ones with propellers) would be flying a traffic pattern of 1,000 feet, but unique to Ellington, they enter the pattern at 600 feet. That has made for some fun departures when I’ve taken off with Texas Air National Guard’s F-16s or the NASA T-38s crossing overhead. There is never a dull moment at Ellington, a well-managed airport inhabited by real aviation enthusiasts who promote it well.

Again this year Bill Roach, the top dog at Wings Over Houston, donated four tickets to the Liberty-Dayton Chamber for the annual auction. The Thunderbirds are back this year, along with Sean D. Tucker, Debby Rihn-Harvey, and a host of other great airshow performers. If you’ve never been to the show, this is your year. You can get up close to some incredible machines, many of historical significance. If you have been before, you know what a great show it is – and you don’t want to miss it: October 23-24.

September 14, 2010 The Moth

The Liberty Gazette
September 14, 2010

Linda: A world traveling pilot friend came upon a copy of Sheila Scott’s autobiography, “I Must Fly” while somewhere in Europe and sent it to me. I found I had many things in common with the late British aviatrix, like her competitive spirit, love of all things aviation, and appreciating friendly people. Shelia Scott broke over 100 aviation records from 1965-1971, including three around-the-world flights in a Piper Comanche. Building up to that skill and stamina, Sheila began flying in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth, a fabric covered bi-wing airplane used as military trainers in the 1930’s. She also flew a similar model, the Tiger Moth.

Being the cool chick pilot she was, she nicknamed her first airplane “Myth” because it means a female moth. Over the years Sheila dubbed her planes “Myth,” “Myth Too,” “Sun Myth Pip,” or “Mythre.” The word, “Myth” was always written somewhere on any plane she flew, even if only in lipstick, and even if it wasn’t a Moth. She had some close calls, and sometimes was surprised her airplane was still flying. Her good fortune she attributed to the name, “Myth.” Okay, so that part isn’t much like me, but I love her competitive spirit. Funny thing about the Moth though is that last year another good friend, Katie, gave me the autobiography of Bette Bach Fineman. Bette is a long-time friend of Katie and her family and Katie had her sign the book to me at last year’s annual Antique Aircraft Association fly-in in Blakesburg, Iowa. Bette’s name “Bach” comes from her long time marriage to writer Richard Bach. She’s no stranger to aviation. Bette wrote about flying a Gipsy Moth. She loved that airplane, and the way she wrote made me wish I had one, or at least the chance to fly one. That desire grew after reading Sheila Scott’s book.
(Tiger Moth photo courtesy Brian Lockett,
When Katie’s step-mom, Sharon, told me last year that if I’d come to Blakesburg in 2010 I might have a good chance of seeing, and maybe even getting a ride in a Gipsy Moth or Tiger Moth, we reserved that date on our calendar right away.

The months rolled by and soon it was September again, time for the Antique Aircraft fly-in. I had “Myth” on my mind.

About a week before the fly-in the timing on another commitment changed, making Mike unable to go to Blakesburg. Disappointed, I headed to the office on the Friday morning that we would have been flying to Blakesburg, stopping for gas at John Hebert’s gas station there in front of Thrif-Tee Foods. On the middle pump I saw a huge orange-ish butterfly with some interesting markings. It didn’t seem to be bothered by my pumping gas, and didn’t move even when I took its picture. I called Mike, suggesting if he needed gas that he go to the middle pump and check out the butterfly with a 10-inch wingspan.

Shortly thereafter, Mike called, saying, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but that’s not a butterfly.” It sure looked like a butterfly to me, I thought.

“It’s not?”
“No,” he replied. “That’s a Tiger Moth.”

I made all sorts of noise at that point. God really has a sense of humor. How often does one see a Tiger Moth around here? I had never seen one before that.

A friend suggested, “Blakesburg came to you!”

I pleaded, “But that’s not the kind of Tiger Moth I meant!”

That act wins “Irony of the Year.”

September 7, 2010 Gene Kranz

The Liberty Gazette
September 7, 2010

Mike: Old acquaintances greeted one another, catching up on the latest flying and airplane building adventures as airplanes filled the ramp and cars packed the parking lot at West Houston Airport where a large audience gathered to hear first-hand from one of the heroes of an incredible event that captured the world’s attention for several days in April, 1970.

Gene Kranz was the NASA Flight Director of Apollo 13, and our Guest of Honor and speaker at EAA Chapter 12’s 55th birthday celebration. The hamburger lunch, cooked and served by fellow chapter members, was generously provided by folks from the Austin Planetarium, who had on display a large portable planetarium – probably a good topic for another week in this space. Dessert, a couple of sheet cakes, was polished off in no time.

Gene opened with a pitch to see if anyone wanted a couple cans of Poly Brush and some aircraft wheel pants he’d been trying to find a home for and he felt that someone in the crowd just might need them. The Poly Brush, used in the coating process of fabric covered wings, wound up in the hands of Lance Borden and will be used as he recovers his 1929 Inland Sport biplane, a plane flown in races years ago by several pilots, including Marty Bowman when she won third place in the 1931women’s National Air Derby, the same cross-country race Linda races, now called Air Race Classic. Lance and Linda have an idea cooking that involves a future air race and that Inland Sport.

Gene’s book, “Failure is Not an Option,” was the subject of his talk: of getting the crew of the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft home alive. He had great praises for all those young 20- and 30-somethings he worked with at NASA to make all this happen, singling out several in the process to give the crowd a little background. At 38, Gene was the oldest person in the Flight Control room.

Linda: Gene is such a personable guy and his presentation, complete with historic slides, photos in a Power Point that were taken during the time of crisis, was smooth but not canned. I’m not sure how he did it, but he kept us all on the edges of our respective seats with suspense and emotion, even though we already know the story. Somehow, it’s just different hearing it firsthand. Gene spoke of leadership and teamwork, and never said, “I,” but focused on the team and other team members. He took us step by agonizing step through the intense days of the Apollo 13 mission, the problems, the solutions, the hopes and fears, and the total commitment of the entire team: that failure was not an option. I only noticed his cadence slowed once by extraneous distraction; being the father and grandfather of an all female crew, when the two-year old daughter of our friends, Bob Watkins and his wife, Aileen, a 747 pilot, strutted proudly back to her seat after a potty break, pigtails bobbing with every step, Gene was taken by the cuteness and stopped his speech for a grandfatherly chuckle and smile. In a break from history there was the Gene Kranz of today, with all that is behind him, a reminder that his story has purpose for future generations. A photo snapped afterward of Katalin on “Grandpa Gene’s” lap caught the essence of their instant bond.