The Liberty Gazette
March 1, 2011
March 1, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: 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.
Mike: “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.