Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Over the last three weeks we’ve told a bit of the story of Inland Aviation and the designer of the Inland airplanes, Dewey Bonbrake. Dewey’s grandson, Lance Borden, is the proud owner of one of very few remaining Inlands, a Super Sport model. He happily shows it off in its present state of restoration, speaking of its history and of his beloved grandfather, and seems surprised by the interest in Inland since most people have never heard of it. But Lance, a pilot in his own right, has had some fascinating experiences himself.
Graduating from high school in Columbus, Ohio in 1965, Lance was always interested in aviation thanks to a rich family history. He’d seen the model for Grandpa’s Inland and heard stories growing up, which fueled his interest. Grandpa Bonbrake passed away when Lance was nine, but remains an inspiration to this day. So, like grandfather, like grandson, at 15, Lance built a hang glider from bamboo and plastic and stuff he bought at the hardware store. He laughs, “It even flew 100 feet or so.” Lance and his brother had already tried jumping off their parents’ two-story house using bed sheets as a parachute, which now brings the wise-with-age observation, “It’s a good thing we didn’t take the hang glider off the house!”
Maybe his love of flying also has something to do with his first airplane ride at 15, in an Aeronca Champ, which the owner offered to sell for $800. Lance mowed lawns trying to earn enough money to buy it, but $800 was a lot of money for a kid in 1961. Airplane ownership would have to wait.
Mike: Lance planned to enter Ohio State University as a pre-med student, but after a summer spent on a fishing boat in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and returning too late to start classes he received a draft notice from the Army, which caused him to join the Air Force. Medical school would have to wait until after the service.
Meanwhile, his passion for airplanes and electronics (his grandfather having given him a crystal radio when he was eight) would forge his path in the service. Attending technical school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, Lance learned how to repair aviation navigation aids. He began installing and repairing radio equipment on B52s and KC 135s while stationed at Carswell AFB near Fort Worth. A fellow who transferred into Lance’s unit after a tour in Vietnam got Lance’s attention when he told the guys it wasn’t so bad over there for avionics techs because they were working in the shop but received combat pay. So in the summer of 1968, Lance Borden volunteered for Southeast Asia duty.
Soon thereafter came orders assigning him to the 432nd Combat Support Group, an F-4 Phantom unit based at Udorn Air Force Base in Northern Thailand, but the surprise came when he was given a maroon-colored diplomatic passport, which was not normal practice.
Before heading to Thailand he was sent to Hamilton AFB in California for a crash course in hand-to-hand combat tactics and knives and guns. “I wondered why an avionics tech would be sent to a combat course,” he recalls.
Linda: Find out next week, to paraphrase Oliver Hardy, “What a fine mess he’s gotten himself into…”