Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: 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: http://www.xtalman.com/.
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.