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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October 19, 2010 Liberty Airport's Humble Beginnings: A visit with Benny Rusk, Part 3

The Liberty Gazette
October 19, 2010

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Welcome back, we’re on Part 3 from our fun visit with Benny Rusk, pinning down more oral history on the Liberty Airport and its most significant care takers. Says Benny’s daughter, Benetta, “the friendship of my dad, Earl Atkins, and Chester Holbrook was the source of many tales of adventure. I would get up in the morning and wait by the door,” she recalls of her childhood, “because I didn’t know where Daddy would be going next, but I knew there would always be an adventure.”

Benny enjoys reminiscing those days, and especially his good friend, Earl Atkins, whom he says, “was 24-karat.”

Mike: In addition to crop dusting and flight training, Earl bought and sold airplanes and operated a charter service. Benny says Earl really understood the business end of aviation, too. “Art Barkus’s dad held the patent on some oilfield machinery,” he explains. “When Art showed up for flying lessons, Earl explained to Art’s dad how airplanes can increase business by cutting down the sales staff’s travel time. A deal was struck whereby Earl would purchase a Twin Beech and provide charter service to the elder Mr. Barkus. He always credited Earl Atkins for tripling his business, because his sales staff was able to cover more ground in less time.”

And that’s the thing about business aviation. It pays for itself many times over, as Benny learned when he’d take clients to his ranch in West Texas. “It’d take 12 to 13 hours to drive the 595 miles from Liberty to the ranch but with that Comanche 400 we could make the trip out there in two hours and 40 minutes and with the wind at our back, make the return trip in two hours and 15 minutes.” Chuckling as he points out the window towards an airstrip behind his house, he says, “We’d leave late on Friday off that strip out there and be back on Monday morning before anyone knew we were gone.”

Benny’s only mishap was a belly-landing which occurred when a passenger was playing with the controls and Benny thought the gear was down. But there was the time, Linda Rusk reminds him, they were returning from a trip to her parents’ home when ice built up on their Cessna 310 (twin engine), making it heavy and altering the aerodynamics. Fortunately they were just over Eagle Lake Airport, but says Linda, “He had to land the airplane by looking out what little bit he could see out the side window. The front was covered in ice.” He credits Earl’s teaching as the reason he landed the plane safely, and says, “Every moment has been worth it. We take risks every day. You can see things from up there you never dreamed were there.”

Linda: From pheasant hunting in Nebraska to land deals in Louisiana, aviation has been an enriching part of Benny’s life. We always say we meet the neatest people in aviation, or, as Benny puts it, “just a different class of people.” A trip to Mexico for a fly-in turned out to be one of those times. We’ll have more next week. Till then, blue skies.

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