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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June 28, 2011 "Sign me up!"

The Liberty Gazette
June 28, 2011
Ely Air Lines
by Guest Columnist Bob Jamison

Linda and Mike Ely asked I step in their parachute harness and jot down a few lines along their very popular theme of flying. Linda will be out of town to compete again in the Women’s Air Race Classic that finishes in Mobile, Alabama. I’m honored by this and only hope it can in some small way do justice to their time honored articles.

~ Bob Jamison

The final semester for me in college presented an unusual opportunity. No, it wasn’t a big paying job because I had a promotion promised from my high school days as a janitor to a full grown teller’s job. That was quite a step up.

Speaking of stepping up, a neighbor down the hall in the school dormitory showed me a real parachute he had. It seems he borrowed it from his pilot dad. The chute was located in the bucket seat of a war weary Stearman bi-plane his dad purchased at a some kind of surplus auction sale. Later that same parachute came in handy.

As luck would have it, head of the athletic department of the college was a former air force pilot instructor. He had collected a few airplanes which he hangered at the Huntsville Airport. One was the famous Piper J-3 Cub; another was a Taylor Craft while a more advanced airplane was a sleek Globe Swift. Furthermore, he would teach any student to fly and earn his private pilot license at a very low cost. I signed up!

The Swift was built like a miniature P-51 I thought and was almost as beautiful to see it fly. But that airplane was off limits to us ‘kids’ as it was far too fast and the bottom wing with retractable landing gear was not for the green horn beginner.

The first flight was just a ride I figured. It was the practical approach from the ground school where you learned the air speed indicator, altimeter, rate of climb (or decent), RPM (revolutions per minute), needle ball & bank (turn coordinator instrument) and a few other rudimentary instruments, all without an electrical system whatsoever. The automatic pilot consists of your hand on the throttle, feet on the rudder pedals and eyes glancing at the instruments and on the horizon. As far as the parachute was concerned, it was the only way to hitch-hike a ride to the dorm because the airport was next to the prison. I carried the chute so folks could see I must be a pilot with no car. That would be right.

There were no head phones so the instructor shouted in your ear and tells you how stupid you were for trying to push the throttle past the ‘red line’ or pulling back the power to approach the stalling speed. The weather was hot and sweat was pouring down my shirt and my hands were wringing wet but I was having a ball even if my pals on the ground could hear the instructor yelling in my ear.

Finally, it was solo time meaning I had the thing all by myself for the first time. Boy, was it quiet and no hollering. Only the musical sound of the sixty five horse power engine. Afterwards, it was repetitive maneuvers, stalls, coordinated s-turns and touch-and-go’s (landing and take offs). What was best was the anticipation of solo cross country trips with airport stops at prescribed check points.

My instructor Mr. Joe Kirk, gave me some sound advice before I flew over to Lufkin, Texas for my flight test. He said, “You are going to mess up but I think you can pass. Remember this one thing and do not forget it. You keep that ball in the socket!!!” That means watching the turn and bank indicator ball that slides to one side or the other if your turn is not perfectly coordinated with stick and rudder. I passed.

Back at the hangar the check pilot, Mr. A. O. McQueen, was signing my private license. A roar was heard and an airplane barely made it over the roof and did a bouncing landing. We all wondered who that could be. The man flying the plane stopped, made a few circles in the runway and stopped again. ‘

Get in my pickup boy; let’s go see what is the matter with that guy. The pilot was so drunk he couldn’t taxi the plane. How he landed it was a point of amazement. We put him in the pickup and I taxied the plane to the hanger and tied it down.

After the fourth cup of coffee, he said he was an airplane mechanic that did an engine job for the owner but he couldn’t pay for it. So, he signed over the title to the mechanic. I bought it for the price of the bill which was a bargain, and flew it home the next day after graduation. That is, I owned an airplane before I ever owned a car.

After several glorious flights a freak storm wrecked the plane while it was tied down. But I already had my eye on a Stearman bi-plane a farmer bought from one of those surplus auctions but never learned to fly. One of the crop duster pilots was a former navy fighter pilot in WWII. He told me to buy it and he would teach me to fly the Stearman. But he also gave me a severe warning of its narrow landing gear, its weight and tricky stall characteristics. He was right. It took me almost as long to solo in that airplane with his help as it did for me to solo in the Cub.

One trip I made in that old Stearman was to Kingsville, Texas. The late Don Shilling was my passenger in the back open cockpit. The airport in Kingsville was huge. It couldn’t be the town airport, I thought, so it must be the navy training base (which it had been). I saw another airport farther west so I landed there. Here came a jeep with two guys carrying Winchester rifles. “What are you doing landing here? This is a private airport of the King Ranch!” I yelled back over the sound of the plane’s engine and said, “If you move that jeep over a little I’ll be out of here in one minute; and I was”. Flying back home was uneventful until I got to the west edge of Matagorda Bay.

Again, the plane was a military trainer with no electrical system, no radio, no nav-aids, only a compass. Fog and rain was coming in from the gulf and visibility was limited. I could see the ground now from only 500 ft to remain below the fog and rain. Then the land turned to water. The water turned to blue waves! I’m over the gulf now I knew. That perfect maneuver all pilots remember is the 180 degree turn (straight back from where you last saw land). Then I just followed the coast line for a happy landing back home.

What a blast! Looking back over five decades, flying has been a spectacular experience. It is sometimes challenging, often relaxing and always enjoyable. If I had to do it all over again I would tell Mr. Kirk, “Sign me up”.

June 21, 2011 Flying Farmers

The Liberty Gazette
June 21, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Friends of ours are selling their beautiful 1948 Luscombe 11A. Their recent post on an aviation Internet group spurred some chat about Luscombes in general. One member reminisced about the more utilitarian interior of the first Luscombe Sedans (Model 11) with their removable rear seat for hauling cargo, such as milk cans. He claimed that when the Flying Farmers market went bust, Luscombe sharpened up the interior to the same level as higher priced cars and called it the 11A. His comment spurred me to do a little digging on the Flying Farmers. To my pleasant surprise I learned they are not “bust.” True, the group has a much reduced membership from its peak in 1977, thanks to increased fuel and operating costs, more restrictive federal regulations, and product liability litigation (lawyers, that is). But there are still farm families who rely on their airplanes, and still enough of them to have annual conventions, scholarships, a magazine, and a website with great historical information, from which we get the following interesting stuff.

Their Cessnas, Beechcrafts, and Pipers are no different from their combines, tractors, and pickup trucks. After all, flying farmers’ airplanes are workhorses too, for hauling supplies, checking irrigation systems, and compressing the time between the farm and parts store. Even some real estate agents take customers up to show them land from the air.

Now called the International Flying Farmers (IFF) the Wichita, Kansas based group began in 1944 in Stillwater, Oklahoma when H.A. "Herb" Graham, director of Agricultural Extension at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, and Ferdie Deering, farm editor of the Farmer-Stockman magazine, traveled across the state meeting with farmer-flyers. They came across wheat farmer Henry G. "Heinie" Bomhoff, a “colorful character,” whom Graham and Deering thought would be an ideal subject for a magazine feature.

Mike: Out of that interview Graham and Deering learned there were many other farmers who owned and used airplanes in their farming and ranching operations. So they began meeting and by the next year, Dec. 12, 1945, the National Flying Farmers Association was incorporated in Oklahoma. They helped develop tax rules on equipment deductions, renter's insurance for pilots, and the specific design of aircraft for aerial applications (crop dusters), as opposed to modifying existing war-surplus or passenger aircraft.

The FAA had not yet complicated airplane ownership. Farmers fixed their own airplanes and their own tractors. If they couldn't find a part, they made one. During harvest time, they would land in the fields to talk with the harvesters, or in pastures during calving time to check on their livestock. One husband-wife team used its Piper to locate 200 prized Herefords scattered throughout a thousand-acre pasture. That colorful character, Heinie Bomhoff, became the group’s first leader. He had 4,000 hours logged, most of it flown less than 100 feet off the ground while hunting coyotes. A self-taught flier, Bomhoff shared his passion, teaching some 200 of his neighbors to fly.

They used their airplanes to deliver groceries, mail, livestock feed, and at least once, a subpoena via air drop. The airplane continues to serve as a farm workhorse, and we’re happy to report that the International Flying Farmers continues as well. You don’t have to be a farmer or a pilot to join. Check them out at

June 14, 2011 Big Muddy Inspiration

The Liberty Gazette
June 14, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: One week to go to the start of the 2011 Air Race Classic. A recent email sent by ARC officials included the reminder of our responsibility as ambassadors.

This year the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama has created an impressive program to broaden horizons of children served by the Clubs. Adopt-a-Pilot will match youngsters with pilots; the goal being to encourage them to think large, and never think anything is unreachable because of economic or family circumstances.  Most of these children haven’t been exposed to aviation. Inger Anderson, Director of Operations of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama, is the coordinator of this program. She and other Club leaders began last year planning monthly outings for their youth members. Pilots met the children at the airport and beyond the activities was encouragement to follow their dreams. The Adopt-a-Pilot program culminates at the end of this year’s Air Race Classic, which will terminate in Mobile. Fifty teams are competing this year, and each is assigned two children from the Boys & Girls Clubs. We’ve been given their names, ages and Club email addresses and have begun conversations with them. We were told this is the first time that a majority of them have even heard of e-mail. When the race ends, they will be at the finish line, and we will all get to celebrate together.

Mike: The other racing group we’re in, the Sport Air Racing League, recently completed the fifth race in this 20-race season, in Carbondale, Illinois. Race Director Sam Hoskins named his race “The Big Muddy Air Race.” Sam posted a comment on our group page that he received from his friend Mark Pearson, a staff psychologist at a state juvenile facility. The facility is located right off the end of Carbondale’s Runway 24, the departure runway they used for the race. Mark wrote, “I was running a group when your planes flew over my institution. I used it as an opportunity to talk about goal setting, path planning and opportunity in this country. Congrats!” Mark’s big congratulations wasn’t just for Sam’s second-place finish, it was also a recognition of people who as a group are generally willing to share their passion to encourage others.

Mark later told us that his discussion with the teens essentially led to Sam being such a "get it done" kind of guy. Mark noted when he was at an age often tempted into delinquency he had already planned on being a dozen or so different things. He said, “I only became a psychologist because I failed the vision tests to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.” So he was stunned that the typical delinquent either had one totally unrealistic "plan" for his future ("I'm gonna play in the NBA" or "I'm a rapper") or swore they had never given a thought to goal setting, let alone path planning. Using Sam and our racing group as examples, Mark encouraged the youth to do things; set a goal, create a plan and execute the plan, whether that is learn to fly, build a plane, organize a race, or something else.

Linda: Whether in southern Alabama, or flying over a delinquent youth camp in Illinois, or in our own neighborhood, we have opportunities to do good, sometimes without knowing who we may be influencing. As Sam said, “You just never know who's watching.”

June 7, 2011 Dr. Suz Braddock

The Liberty Gazette
June 7, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Here it is, our deadline to send in some mix of the alphabet that we hope will tell an interesting story from the world of aviation. It just so happens I’m filling out a questionnaire right now too which I just received from a pilot friend who’s writing a book on “why we fly.” And somehow, it’s all related to breast cancer and poison ivy. I’ll explain.

I first met Dr. Suzanne Braddock as a competitor in last year’s Air Race Classic. Dr. Braddock, or Suz as she prefers, entered her Bonanza in the air race. It was her first air race. My race partner of last year is also a physician, Dr. Liza Kummer, an internist from Dallas. It seems this is the time of year that poison ivy begins its most potent attacks on me. Last year was the second of three Air Race Classics that I started the race covered in poison ivy blisters. Liza and I had just met Suz at the arrival hangar party in Fort Myers, Florida, and the two doctors consulted about the itchy rash that was driving me crazy and creeping towards my eyes. The oral medications were not on the FAA’s list of acceptable meds for flying, so I would have to rely on topical creams, and stay out of the Florida sun.

Not only did Liza and Suz have flying and doctoring in common, but each had battled breast cancer, so the two had much to talk about. When Suz received her diagnosis 19 years ago she discovered there was little to no help on what to expect. She’s a dermatologist, not a cancer doctor, so like other patients she did not know what lay ahead. What would happen to her? What would she look like after surgery? What would treatment be like? Unable to find any quick reference books to answer her pressing questions, disappointment growing as she searched for help, she determined to write a book of her own. Out of her fight has come, “Straight Talk About Breast Cancer: From Diagnosis to Recovery: A Guide for the Entire Family.” Her book is a guide for the whole family affected by breast cancer. It’s easy reading and includes inspirational messages from breast cancer survivors, and probably one of the most important features, eight pages of breast reconstruction photos to answer those pressing questions about what it’s really going to be like; straight talk.

Using her own experiences to help others, Suz says this book has been the most satisfying effort of her life. She updates the content every year or so as new information comes out, and all money received that’s not spent printing more copies goes to help breast cancer survivors. With over 100,000 copies sold, Suz hears from many women whom it has helped cope with the diagnosis.

Ironically, as I write my responses to Suz’s questionnaire for her next book, my experiences learning to fly, thoughts and opinions on aviation, and adventures since earning a pilot license, I am once again finding little poison ivy blisters popping up, and it’s just two weeks to the start of the 2011 Air Race Classic. But this time, thanks to Suz and Liza, my two air racing chick doctor friends, I have the cream that will stop the itch dead in its tracks. I’m ready to go racing.