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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March 29, 2011 Sport Air Racing

The Liberty Gazette
March 29, 2011

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Peering out the windshield through the brilliant sunlight we search for what might be a needle in a haystack. There on the horizon, appearing as a small crack in the otherwise flat ground, that crack splits open further, becoming a canyon and down in it a mesa comes into view. Our air race turn-point is the southwest corner of that mesa. It’s pretty bumpy flying low as the hot air rises from the broken terrain below us, and we are flying flat-out as fast as the little Cheetah will go. Sweeping low, we pivot around the turn point making sure not to cut the corner but staying very close, then on to the next turn point.

Linda: Such was our introduction to the Sport Air Racing League which begins its fifth season April 2nd in Taylor, Texas. There are currently twenty races on the schedule this season. They range from as far west as Wenatchee, Washington and St. Thomas, Canada to the northeast at Elkton, Maryland. Pagosa Springs, Colorado will offer the highest field elevation at 7,664 feet above sea level and a new race in Galveston will be our lowest, right at sea level. There will be a new race in my home town – home of the “Indy 500”.

Mike: While most of the volunteers for the inaugural Indy Air Race are local, Linda is the remotely located Race Director. One task of the Race Director is to create a race course that is challenging, fun and safe. We choose prominent landmarks easily identified from the air, then determine the coordinates to be entered as turn points into a GPS.

Linda: These air races are not much of a spectator sport. However, at Indy we’ll have a big show, with displays, and an Official Starter, our family friend, retired Indy racer, Bob Harkey. Bob recently sold his Stearman biplane but he’ll get the race going and it will be a treat for everyone who comes in contact with him.

Mike: The zany pilots of the league are fun to be around. This group is very social as well as competitive. Since there is no purse, the contestants are only in it for the fun and bragging rights. Our league pilots who compete in the Reno National Air Races say they have more fun flying Sport Air races. Big egos need not apply. We do get some homemade stickers for our planes and at the end of the year trophies are given out for points. This all started when Mike Thompson, SARL president, was at the F-1 Rocket race and fly-in five years ago. Now it’s grown into this league known as “air racing for the rest of us.” Thompson still awards the “Fastest Rocket in the Known Universe” title each year.

Linda: Camaraderie went a step further when asking for recommendations for an overhaul shop for our engine. One of our fellow racers stepped up offering his mechanic services to get us up in the air sooner. He sends pictures of our engine in pieces and asks questions like “Now what?” We will miss the first two or three races due to the overhaul, but we’ll make the rest; and I expect that after some modifications we’ll have the “Fastest Cheetah in the Known Universe.”

March 22, 2011 Young Eagles

The Liberty Gazette

March 22, 2011

Ely Air Lines

By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We’re gearing up for another Young Eagles event, this time at the Pearland Regional Airport, 9 a.m., March 26th. The Young Eagles program was a vision of Tom Poberezny to introduce youngsters to aviation. Tom is the former president of the Experimental Aircraft Association and son of Paul Poberezny, the association’s founder. It’s truly amazing how many people, after discovering a passion for aviation, say they never considered it before. Aviation advocates have been scratching our collective heads for years trying to figure out why this is.

Why has the pilot population decreased when the reliance on air services has never been greater? In an age where we demand quick results, shipping products, transporting people, and performing aerial services, such as crop dusting, aerial surveying, photography, law enforcement and emergency response, movement by air is the best mankind has to offer right now.

Nineteen years ago Tom Poberezny flew the first Young Eagles. It was during the annual AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The goal then seemed unattainable to some nay-sayers, but Tom believed the aviation community could do it: fly a million youngsters by December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.

That goal wasn’t just reached, it was surpassed. How it happened, and what lies ahead, appear in Tom’s recent commentary, “Brace for Impact” (Sport Aviation, March, 2011) – his title taken from the phrase made famous by Captain Sullenburger, who now co-chairs the EAA’s Young Eagles Program with his co-pilot, Jeffrey Skiles. They took over the reins from pilot/actor Harrison Ford in 2009, after their successful Hudson River landing.

Poberezny wrote that “there are thousands of people who have the soul of an aviator…but who have not yet discovered flying personally.” Survey responses by tens of thousands of pilots echoed “we want others to experience this.” The soul of an aviator. I like that.

Mike: The astounding statistics of Young Eagles speak of that soul; the program’s incredible success is evidence of doors waiting to be opened, that personal discovery of flight would stir the soul.

Now, 1.6 million Young Eagles flown by 43,000 pilots have their names entered in the World’s Largest Logbook.

The EAA teamed up with the FAA to compare notes. Now that the oldest Young Eagle would be 35, how many have earned a pilot license? The results in Tom’s report are encouraging: “Young people ages 15-24 who have participated in Young Eagles are 5.4 times more likely to obtain a pilot certificate than those who have not had such introductory flight.” What’s more, the aviation industry has gained flight instructors, aircraft mechanics, and air traffic controllers who were Young Eagles.

These are the results envisioned, but one surprise will likely lead to a few changes in the program. The focus has been to take youngsters for their first flight, repeat flights being optional. Now that we know that the more often a Young Eagle flies, the greater the chance he or she will become a pilot, repeat flights will be encouraged. Young Eagles will still be open to participants as young as 8 years old, but the information emerging identifies the 13 to 17 age group as the most likely to take to the skies.

Somewhere deep down, Poberezny knew he was right – that someday the proof would be “an example of the can-do spirit” at the core of the aviator’s soul.

March 15, 2011 A little local news

The Liberty Gazette
March 15, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Lots of news has been piling up in the world of aviation, from here in Liberty and beyond. The Valentine’s Treasure Hunt made several national aviation publications and feedback has been great. Participants enjoyed the hunt, and once again our belief that airports are for people who don’t fly was confirmed. We tout the economic benefits of airports, seeing proof time after time. I ran into Sherry Mettlen in Thrifty Foods the other day and she was all smiles, as is usual for Sherry. She’s a living advertisement for Carol Bond Health Foods because she never runs out of energy or cheerfulness. In fact, as we were registering pilots to fly in the hunt, we began to run low on the liability waivers they have to sign. Sherry rushed one across the street to RJR Floor Covering, and in typical small-town-friendly style, they made ten more copies for us. Isn’t it great when people work together for good?

Sherry was quite excited to tell me how she’s already benefited just from that one fly-in event. She has a new customer who is ordering supplements. He came for the treasure hunt and because Sherry was there to promote her business and the Liberty area in general, she gained a customer, and no doubt she made a positive impact on behalf of the airport, the people, and the town. We need more Sherrys in this world. I know of a few airports in other cities that face difficult situations with neighbors. Why anyone who doesn’t like airplanes would buy a house next to an airport is beyond me, but it happens. That’s one reason TXDOT was adamant while I was on the Airport Advisory Board that Liberty needed height hazard zoning. Its airspace zoning that complies with FAA standards to protect both airplanes and people on the ground. And it helps when people are real estate shopping, they will find out (if airplanes low overhead aren’t enough) that they’re near an airport, and that airport needs to have its airspace protected. It took awhile to get accomplished, but when the cities of Ames and Liberty and Liberty County finally formed the Height Hazard Zoning Board those protections were put into place. A lot of improvements can be made on what we have, and the airport has a friend at City Hall in Gary Broz.

Meanwhile, we’re facing a major overhaul on the Cheetah. During a regular inspection we discovered cylinder #3 was cracked. We got more time out of the engine than the manufacturer thought we would, so we can’t complain. And now will be the perfect time to upgrade the stock engine. Its 150 horsepower from the factory is de-rated by the stock exhaust system, by about ten horsepower. Installing an upgraded exhaust system can raise the horsepower to its rated 150, and we’ll see an increase in our cruise speed. One of three other major modifications we’re considering will improve engine cooling by changing the cowling. Cheetah cylinders typically run hot, so that modification is quite popular, as is a cylinder compression upgrade to 160 horsepower. All this will probably lead to a new propeller, but I’ll have to use my feminine wits to break that news to Mike. You know how it is when we women go shopping.

March 8, 2011 Lance Borden, part 5

The Liberty Gazette
March 8, 2011

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

It’s time to wrap up our series on Dewey Bonbrake, designer and builder of the Inland airplanes, and Lance Borden, his grandson, where we left off with Lance in Laos.

After 20 months in Southeast Asia, Lance was honorably discharged. Having relatives in Houston and not wanting to return to Ohio he took his skills to Associated Radio Service Company at Hobby Airport. Eventually he and a couple partners opened their own radio shop called Airtronics. However, three months into the new business, with lots of customers and things going well, including becoming a licensed pilot, Bell Helicopter came courting with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Lance made arrangements for his replacement and moved to Isfahan, Iran to work for Bell as a Senior Avionics Tech. A move to engineering brought him a promotion to Chief Armament Engineer, where Lance worked on the weapon systems on helicopters. It was during this five-year stint in Iran when Lance obtained his FAA Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic certificate, making him a pilot and an airplane mechanic.

Mike: Due to the Iranian Revolution Lance returned to Houston where he joined Boeing’s electronics team at the Johnson Space Center for the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. Working nights, attending school during the day, he earned an Associate’s Degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology with a 3.9 GPA.

When a NAVAIDS engineer position opened with Rockwell, Lance applied with confidence; even though he wasn’t a degreed engineer he knew more about NAVAIDS than anyone. Rockwell hired him as one of two Shuttle NAVAIDS engineers in Orbiter Engineering. He took home volumes of books to study. Boeing bought Rockwell Aerospace in 1996 and in 2002 made Lance the Space Shuttle NAVAIDS Subsystem Manager until he retired in 2008 after 29 years at the Space Center. Now a consultant for Boeing, when the last Space Shuttle Mission is flown this year, Lance will be one a small cadre of folks having worked every single mission.

Linda: Lance’s grandfather, taught him how to make crystal radios. The Houston Vintage Radio Association asked Lance, a vintage radio collector, to write an article detailing how to build a good crystal radio for a contest they were having. The article was a hit, and was published nationally in Electronics Handbook Magazine. When the magazine’s editor asked for more, Lance wrote eight more articles including one about make-shift radios built by World War II G.I.s in their foxholes. He told readers where to get parts but they wanted kits. So for over 15 years now, Borden Radio Company has kept him busy selling kits world-wide. Much to his wife’s chagrin, the whole upstairs of their house is taken over with his radio business. His website is:

These days, when Lance isn’t putting together crystal radio sets, he can be found in his hangar where he’s restoring one of his grandfather’s airplanes, a 1929 Inland Sport, or out flying around in his 1948 Luscombe. It’s been great fun writing about the Inland airplanes, Lance and his family. No doubt, this story needs a feature write up in an aviation magazine, but for now, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some intriguing American history.

March 1, 2011 Lance Borden, part 4

The Liberty Gazette
March 1, 2011

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

We’ve only scratched the surface of some fascinating history, from the development of the Inland Aviation Company, the design of the Inland Sport and other models, to the grandson of the Inland’s designer-builder, Lance Borden. We left off last week with Lance in Laos, involved in secret government operations at the height of the war in Vietnam, and you’re reading this as told to us from the source.

The cliff at the end of the runway in Moung Soui didn’t leave much room for mistakes. A T-28 was on takeoff when Lance heard someone say it crashed. Lance jumped on a bomb jammer and rode down the flight line to find the T-28 turned around, upside-down, canopy open. He could see fuel spilling out and heard the boost pumps running. Charging up with his GI issue P-38 folding pocket can opener, Lance accessed the battery compartment and disconnected the battery, preventing an explosion, as others removed the pilot from the cockpit. Suddenly a Sikorsky “Jolly Green Giant,” helicopter showed up and rescuers went to work on the pilot. They placed him in inflatable casts and transported him to the hospital at Udorn. He survived.

No one knew who called in the helicopter so quickly but many years later while working at Johnson Space Center Lance ended up working alongside a retired Air Force Colonel who flew F-105s out of Thailand. The Colonel mentioned having seen a T-28 crash on take-off in Laos. Turns out, he was the one who had called the air ambulance: Col. James “Bruce” Broussard, 333rd Fighter Group, Taklhi Royal Air Base, Thailand. The rescuers involved were told they would receive bronze stars, but they never did. Probably, Lance surmises, because these were secret operations.

“Luang Prabang” (code name: Lima 54), located at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, Lance says, “was the closest thing to Shang-ri-la I can think of; a gorgeous little town in the mountains, near China.” He transferred there from Moung Soui when a position opened for an aircraft radio guy. They put him in charge of the bomb depot too, storing the bombs that arrived in Air America C130s. “All the guys shared a house in town, crossing the Nam Kong River to get to the airport,” Lance says. “Some of the guys have been back and say the house is still there.”

While at Luang Prabang, Lance was able to fly often thanks to the Ravens and some of the Thai and Lao pilots. They liked having an extra set of eyes in the cockpit. Another adventure occurred while riding in the back of an Air America C-46. Flying low–standard operating procedure for where they were–and heavy with all sorts of tools when an engine quit, the airplane, unable to maintain altitude due to its weight, began to sink towards rising terrain. Everyone started tossing things out of the plane’s open rear door trying to keep it aloft. Just as they were about to toss the last crate, the pilots got the engine restarted.

They faced dangers near the battlefield and even at their house. The facilities where they worked were always susceptible to attack.

After 20 months “in country,” Lance was honorably discharged in California, choosing Houston as his next stop. Our country has benefited from Lance’s choices. We’ll share more on that next week. Till then, blues skies.