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.”