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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December 28, 2010 NASA Altitude Chamber

The Liberty Gazette
December 28, 2010

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

: Humans are made to live in the physiological efficient zone – from sea level up to 10,000 feet. Flying high in an airliner, you’re sitting in cabin pressure of about 8,000 feet altitude. Without pressurization, at high altitudes hypoxia, decompression sickness, and trapped gases could occur, so a pilot needs to understand physiological hazards associated with that environment, how to mitigate those hazards and deal with them if they happen.

To be pilot-in-command of an aircraft capable of operating above 25,000 feet the pilot must receive and log additional high altitude training, both in classroom and flight (either simulator or aircraft). The ground portion of training covers high altitude aerodynamics, meteorology, the symptoms and effects high altitude sickness, duration of consciousness without oxygen, effects of prolonged use of supplemental oxygen, and other physiological aspects of high altitude flight. Additionally, most pilots also receive training in an altitude chamber, a sealed vessel capable of simulating altitudes much higher than 25,000 feet.

Experience is the best teacher and NASA’s altitude chamber exercise gives the pilot a thorough understanding of the effects of altitude on the body, and to be able to recognize one’s own reaction and symptoms of hypoxia by experiencing hypoxia in a controlled environment.

Linda: My chamber partners were two U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilots/officers. Two NASA trainers joined us inside the chamber. A doctor and three more NASA operatives were outside the chamber along with two observers from the FAA.

The “climb” to Fight Level 250 (25,000 feet) took about 30 minutes. Then the plan was for the Customs guys and me to remove our oxygen masks for a maximum of five minutes. We were to solve math problems and answer other questions during the time our masks were off. I answered the math questions okay in the first minute, signed my name in the three blanks and listed the last five U.S. presidents. During specific time intervals I wrote down my hypoxia symptoms: "Slightly dizzy" began pretty much right away. I wrote "dizzy" after about a minute and a half or so, "dizzier" around two to two-and-a-half minutes, and "rapid heart rate" at about the three minute mark. Before re-donning the mask one of the FAA observers said my fingernails were so blue it looked like I had on nail polish. I hadn’t even noticed.

The mask caused some claustrophobia issues for one chamber mate but he completed the exercise anyway, putting the mask back on after about three minutes. The other made it the full five minutes. Many variables affect a person’s stamina for reduced altitude pressure at any given time. Rest, nutrition, fitness, smoking and alcohol, and overall general health are contributing factors.

My ears didn’t handle the 5,000-foot-per-minute decent well. The valsalva maneuver – pinching my nose and blowing out while swallowing – was unsuccessful for me. I was unable to equalize my ears, so we descended at a slower rate. My Eustachian tubes may be small or scarred from many childhood ear infections. The NASA doctor checked my ears afterward reporting no blood or fluids, but my right ear didn’t equalize for about a week. As uncomfortable as early signs of hypoxia are, I’m glad I experienced NASA’s altitude chamber. Its an extremely valuable tool for learning signs of hypoxia and the importance of avoiding it.

December 21, 2010 EAA Sheet Metal Workshop

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

The Experimental Aircraft Association hosts full weekend workshops around the country, offering courses relative to building an airplane, such as gas welding, sheet metal, fabric covering, composites and electrical/avionics. These workshops teach the skills necessary for constructing various types of amateur built aircraft, either from kits or plans, providing a place to learn and develop skills before starting a project and making some expensive blunders.

We hadn’t taken any of their courses so when the EAA scheduled one in Houston earlier this month we signed up. With all the great choices offered it was hard to choose just one; we chose sheet metal basics.

Mike: I had been scheduled to work that weekend and didn’t know if I could get the time off for the course which, coincidentally, was being taught at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance next to door to where I work. After a bit of schedule juggling it all worked out. The timing was good for me, as I was in the midst of acquiring yet another type rating, this time the Challenger 601. The Challenger’s systems are completely different from the Hawker aircraft I’ve been teaching in lately and my brain was crammed full of newly acquired knowledge of the electrical systems, hydraulics, flight control systems and all the things that make up that particular complex jet aircraft. On top of that I was still teaching in the Hawker 800XP so switching my brain between the two aircraft with very different systems was wearing me out mentally and physically. My check ride in the Challenger took place the day before the start of the sheet metal workshop, so with that behind me the workshop was a great way to do a mental dump and spool down while learning a new skill.

We learned how to form wing ribs, how to do press rivets, pop rivets, back riveting, and dimpling while constructing a small wing section with a trim tab on it. The inspection hole on the bottom of the wing we backed with a doubler, with nut plates to hold the cover.

We showed off our wing project at our EAA Chapter 12 meeting the next Tuesday night. When you have a close-knit group of folks doing something like this the atmosphere is jovial as fellow members describe their learning experience, compare rivets, and pass around the projects for examination.

EAA workshops will be offered in Houston once a year, and anyone can take the courses; you don’t have to be a pilot or airplane builder.

Linda: A couple of days after our workshop I spent an entire day at NASA for high altitude training. This training is part of what is required of a pilot in command of an aircraft capable of operating above Flight Level 250 (25,000 feet). The purpose is to give the pilot a thorough understanding of the physiological effects of altitude on the body, and to be able to recognize one’s own bodily reaction and symptoms of hypoxia. Experience is the best teacher and experiencing hypoxia in NASA’s altitude chamber offers a safe learning environment. I’ll share my hypoxic experience next week. Till then, blue skies.

December 14, 2010 Punkin Chunkin in Alabama

The Liberty Gazette
December 14, 2010
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

: “How low do you want to go,” asked the young pilot as I climbed in the Cessna 150 at sunset, basketball-sized pumpkin in hand, preparing to take the final shot in the Tennessee Valley Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest. My goal: to be the one to hit the target, a port-a-potty set way out on the grass between two runways. We were far enough from persons and property to not be a hazard, so I replied, “as low as you want.” Holding the brakes, the pilot pushed the throttle full forward. Reaching the engine’s highest RPMs, he released the brakes for a short-field take-off. We lifted quickly, but stayed just barely above the ground. Veering slightly left to line up for the shot, we were nearly mowing the grass. Would I win the contest? I’d have the best shot, no doubt. Everyone else chunked from a few hundred feet up. Then again, I didn’t have a fancy pumpkin-launching contraption like Tom Martin did. The Canadian farmer and EVO F1 Rocket racer had plenty of time in the seat of a tractor to contemplate inventions.

Tom Martin: When I heard there would be a pumpkin-dropping contest this year I wanted to participate. The way it was set up you could go for a ride in a Cessna 150 and launch the orange fruit out the passenger window. This would be fun but I really wanted to do it from my own aircraft, an F1 Rocket. The problem is that the canopy cannot be opened in flight. I thought about this problem for many hours while harvesting this year’s crop of soybeans and corn and came up with an idea for a wing-mounted pumpkin launcher. The EVO wing on this aircraft has a flat metal wing tip–a perfect place to mount my pumpkin spear. I fabricated an 18” spear with a pivot point at the wing tip. The spear was large enough to accommodate a pumpkin about the size of a volleyball. Aft of the pivot point I used an electric solenoid for the release mechanism. The solenoid had started its work life as the release mechanism for the rear hatchback on a ‘90s era Jeep. It was with some trepidation that I took off with a pumpkin sticking out from the far leading edge of my left wing tip.

Limiting my speed to 120 knots I could feel no associated drag. This surprised me; perhaps it acts like that large bump that you see on the forward edge of the hull of ocean tankers. I think all the other racers in my class should install pumpkins on their leading edges. I made two drops; the first one was an abysmal failure. I let the missile go way too early and observers wondered if it even hit the airport. Armed with the shame of my premature pumpqulation I managed a much better drop the next time, salvaging my dignity. I look forward to next year’s competition.

Linda: Tom still didn’t hit the can, giving me a chance to win. The pilot got me so close that had my arms been long enough I could have pushed that port-a-potty over. Through the open window I hurled the big orange bomb–Whoosh!

Mike: Having had the best shot possible, she couldn’t believe she missed. Maybe over the winter Linda and Tom should both practice.

December 7, 2010 Robert McCorvey

The Liberty Gazette
December 7, 2010

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

: The photo of a man hangs on the wall of a small office in a small building at Ellington Field. The first thing you notice is the broad smile. It dominates the picture of the man and the Cessna 150 he towers over. Long, dark locks, common in the 1970s, date the picture, but it’s the smile that radiates.

Linda: Robert and Helene McCorvey have owned and operated Flying Tigers Flight School for about five years. Purchasing Fletcher Aviation at Hobby they continued operating out of that airport for more than three years before damage from Hurricane Ike caused them to relocate. About that time Cliff Hyde was ready to retire and sell his second-generation Cliff Hyde Flying Service at Ellington. The time was right for Cliff, and for Robert and Helene, combining the two legacy flight schools (and over 100 years of service) in the greater Houston area under the leadership of a very enthusiastic entrepreneur.

Business has grown, adding training under contract for aviation programs at Lee College and Sterling High School, a Houston magnet school. Robert joined the Houston Aviation Alliance and was elected president in 2008. And whenever we have seen him he has always had that smile, and the willingness to drop what he’s doing to help someone else.

Mike: Often I have walked into Flying Tigers and wandered into Robert’s office just to chat, always welcomed to a comfy sofa–the same sofa upon which he sat when chatting with Maybelle Fletcher from whom he bought his first flight school. Maybelle laughs, “Robert came in one day, sat on the sofa and asked me, ‘Do you think I’m crazy for wanting to own a flight school?’” Maybelle shot back, “That’s easy! Yes!” But Robert has loved airplanes and flying as long as I have; he started flying in 1974 and never stopped. Owning a flight school was always his dream, even when he was playing in a Beatles band, even when was working in his father’s sheet metal fabrication business which he eventually bought and later sold to his brother. We spoke of many things during our chats, one was about our faith in Jesus Christ, the center of why Robert is so enthusiastic about life.

Linda: Thinking his asthma was acting up, and then suspecting pleurisy, Robert learned in September he had mesothelioma. In the remainder of his time here he ministered to those who came and sought to minister to him. The night before Thanksgiving Robert McCorvey moved to Heaven. His last audible words, “Thank you, Jesus,” remind me of the graceful surrender modeled by Pastor Jimmie Clemmons. As the huge crowd gathered to honor Robert, his three grown children stood tall in the Lord, firm in their faith, proclaiming the love of their dad, and the love of our Father. God was glorified at his memorial service, and if it’s possible, Robert’s smile is even bigger now.

Mike: At the end of the service everyone walked outside Houston’s First Baptist Church to watch the Lone Star RV squadron fly overhead in formation, three passes, with smoke on. Their final pass, the “missing man,” honored the aviator whose life has enriched many. We didn’t lose Robert, we know exactly where he is; he hasn’t “gone west,” he’s moved to Heaven where he soars. And through his family his legacy and his dream, Flying Tigers, will continue.

November 30, 2010 TVAR III

The Liberty Gazette
November 30, 2010
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The Tennessee Valley Pumpkin Dash and Air Race at Courtland, Alabama coincided with our Cheetah’s annual inspection, grounding us for about a week. Since Mike was working that weekend I thought I might catch a ride with Reno Air Racer Ernie Sutter, who keeps his 300+ mph Lancair Legacy at the Conroe airport, but Ernie was leaving a few days early and had business along the way so Sport Air Racing League founder and Chairman, Mike Thompson, flew his RV-6 down from Taylor, Texas to pick me up. In return, I would handle the Internet broadcast of the race, live on It would be the next best thing to racing, and on a more personal level, reminded me of my dad, who stopped racing automobiles when my mother said, “It’s either children or racing, but not both,” and opened up a public relations business, representing the United States Auto Club for many years. Several childhood summers were spent traveling from one car race to another, my daddy’s shadow. Now I would get a shot at the microphone. A day and a half notice wasn’t enough for Dad’s longtime friend, retired ESPN race broadcaster Gary Lee, to join me but it piqued his interest and I expect he’ll join us in the future.
Chief Thompson and I planned to meet at the Anahuac airport and leave at 9 a.m., but due to starter problems we didn’t leave until 5 p.m. Taxiing up to the hangar in Courtland a few hours later, tired and hungry, race host, airline pilot and sport air racer Chris Murphy was a welcome sight with plenty of eats there waiting for us.
The next day’s events began with an all-out speed dash straight down the runway. With FAA speed and altitude waivers granted retired veterinarian Tony Crawford clocked fastest time in his Questair Venture at 308.16 mph. The top eight speedsters exceeded 250 mph.
Next came the 125.2 nautical mile race with 23 airplanes entered. At the pre-race briefing racers were instructed to pause in front of the camera while I said something about them and their airplane. Chief Thompson’s idea to broadcast was a big hit with racers’ spouses, children, grandchildren and other family members and friends watching. Pre- and post-race interviews brought insight from the racer’s perspective.
The final event of the day was the “Punkin Chunkin” contest. Chris Murphy placed the target–a port-a-potty–way out in the grass between the two runways, far away from everything on the airport. Everyone grabbed pumpkins from a huge pile–one guy loaded his Navajo Chieftain with extra large pumpkins for carpet bombing–and one by one pumpkins smashed on the ground. Airline mechanic Bobby Bennett’s understanding of trajectory as an experienced skydiver gave him the closest drop but no one hit the target.
After all the participants had taken their shots I asked if I could try. Someone shoved a pumpkin in my hands and ushered me to a waiting Cessna 150, a pilot ready to take me up for the shot. That story might appear in this space next week. Till then, blue skies.