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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July 26, 2011 Final Space Shuttle Mission

The Liberty Gazette
July 26, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Seagulls and pelicans crisscross and dive for fish in the Intercoastal Waterway until, suddenly, tranquility is ripped apart as a flash of light, eardrum-shattering blast, and earth shaking vibrations reverberate from 8.8 million pounds of thrust rocketing the Space Shuttle Atlantis into orbit at 17,500 mph. The thunder continues until the shuttle disappears from sight and all that is left is the dissipating plume of smoke, and wonderment and tears in the eyes that witnessed this final ascent.

Mike: Thursday, July 21, 2011 was an historical day. Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida ending a 13 day resupply mission to the International Space Station. Sadly this ended more than an era. There will be no more space flights for the orbiter. Once all the dangerous fluids are removed and it is somewhat cleaned up, Atlantis will remain at Kennedy on public display.

Space Shuttle Endeavour will be on display in the California Science Center in Los Angeles, not far from where she was created. The Space Shuttles were built by Rockwell International in Downey, California with final assembly in Palmdale, near Edwards Air Force Base.

Space Shuttle Discovery, the only surviving original shuttle to go into space will replace the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the orbiter prototype which never actually went into space, at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.

Space Shuttle Enterprise will be moved from Washington D.C. to New York City’s floating aircraft carrier museum, the USS Intrepid, the recovery ship for Aurora-7 and Gemini-3 space flight missions back in 1963 and 1965 respectively. New York claims the Enterprise once flew over the city in 1983 while conducting upper atmospheric tests.

At Johnson Space Center in Houston, no Orbiters will be placed on display and the shuttle simulators and associated equipment are to be divvied out to other museums across the country. In what seems a direct slap, two seats from one of the earlier Space Shuttle missions are the only items to remain for display in Houston – Space City.

Linda: This makes 135 Space Shuttle missions over the past 30 years, Atlantis having flown 32 of them. While the 12 year project to assemble the components of the International Space Station is currently the most visible achievement of the shuttle program, there have been a multitude of others, less visible. We’ve benefitted from the technology developed out of the program with over 100 different technical advances. From the development of light weight fuel pumps came a light weight (less than 4 ounces) heart pump in use today. From the leak detection system developed for the shuttle, a commercially viable vehicle was developed with natural gas as its fuel. Fly-By-Wire and Drive-By-Wire technology used in today’s vehicles decreasing weight and increasing fuel efficiency came directly from the shuttle program. And don’t forget the Hubble Telescope and the 180 other satellites launched into orbit from the shuttles.

Mike: Only 37 of the 135 missions were dedicated to the International Space Station’s construction; but it would never have been built without it. Commercial space travel is being encouraged and resupply missions are being taken over by the Russians. Until the U.S. becomes a leader again the future of space travel will remain in question, but shuttle Commander Christopher Ferguson offered these uplifting words: “America’s not going to stop exploring.”

July 19, 2011 Mel Hemann, Flying Priest

The Liberty Gazette 
July 19, 2011 

By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely 

Linda: There’s so much going on in the aviation industry that sometimes choosing a topic to share here can be difficult, but I read a story recently about a priest who has earned a big award.

Mel Hemann and two of his three brothers are priests. All four of the Hemann men are pilots: Mel, John, Everett, and Matt. Last week Melvin received the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot award for over 50 years of safe piloting. Mel is 82 and from a little Iowa town called Stacyville, where he and his brothers grew up on a farm – with a landing strip. Flying is second to his faith, but it’s a passionate second. This award also earns him recognition in the FAA’s Roll of Honor in Washington, D.C.

The story that appeared in Iowa’s Globe Gazette stated Melvin has logged nearly 17,000 hours of flight time, and an astounding 11,000 hours of flight instruction given. His family, friends, former students, and even the FAA pulled off quite a surprise to honor him for his 50-plus years of “professionalism, skill and aviation expertise.”

And here’s something I learned: there is an association just for flying priests! The association of flying farmers we wrote about a few weeks ago is no surprise, after all, crop dusters have been around since the early days of flight. One of the Hemann brothers, Matt, is a flying farmer. And there are associations of flying physicians and flying musicians. But flying priests? Yep, sure enough, it’s called the National Association of Priest Pilots (NAPP), and their 48th annual meeting was held last week in Mason City, Iowa. And that’s how and where they surprised Melvin with the award.

Mike: So for 48 years priest-pilots have been gathering to share their common loves of priesthood and flying. That means their organization began even before The Flying Nun, starring Sally Field. Of course, I had to check the Internet to see if there was a Flying Nun association, but nope, none. But I did find this quote from the Vatican, dated September 29, 1964: “It is with paternal satisfaction that the Holy Father views the efforts of the members of the National Association of Priest Pilots to encourage the use of air transportation to obtain ever more abundant spiritual fruits from their sacerdotal ministry and missionary apostolate.”

Their mission: “To promote the use of private aircraft as a practical, safe, and efficient tool of the apostolic work of a priest; To cooperate with other aviation and ecclesiastical groups wherever possible in order to promote aviation in the cause of the Church; To insist on the safe and proficient use of the airplane by its members; To encourage the use of private aircraft as worthy of the talents and dignity of priests; To further the use of aircraft in the missions.”

It totally makes sense. They’re mission pilots, they’re businessmen using business aircraft – for the business of Church.

Mel Hemann told the reporter from KIMT television in Mason City, Iowa that, "if Jesus was living today he'd use TV, he'd use radio, and the internet, and if he wanted to go somewhere he'd use a car or a plane, so it's trying to incorporate a thing that's not only a hobby but also it's something that can be very practical in doing what we're called to do."

July 12, 2011 ATC's 75th Anniversary

The Liberty Gazette
July 12, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The press release from Washington hit my inbox a few days ago heralding the 75th anniversary of federal air traffic control. Our nation's Air Traffic Control system has grown from just three air traffic control centers, housing a total of 15 workers in 1936 to 313 federally operated air traffic control facilities housing more than 15,000 workers. There are also control towers staffed by contract employees. Conroe is one example.

Those 15 original employees worked in Newark, Chicago, and Cleveland. Looking back at how air traffic control first operated underscores the tremendous advancements made in safety, speed, and economy. Controllers back then took radio position reports from pilots to plot the progress of each flight. They were not yet providing separation services (separation between airplanes). In fact, they didn’t even speak directly to the pilots flying the airplanes. At the time, the fastest plane in the commercial fleet was the Douglas DC-3, which could fly coast-to-coast in about 17 hours carrying 21 passengers. Today’s air traffic controllers not only provide separation services but do so for an average of 50,000 flights per day.

The DC-3 can comfortably claim its place in history. One of my all-time favorites, it is a real work horse and deserves respect as a great airplane. But speed up we have, and today’s jet airliners can carry hundreds of passengers and fly from Los Angeles to New York in about five hours, improving efficiency (as long as you don’t count the time it takes to get to the airport, park, stand in line and be accosted by the TSA).

Mike: But back to the early days. As with all good ideas, the necessity of some sort of organization to air traffic led to the development of local air traffic control before the federal government jumped on board. By 1926 legislation authorized the Department of Commerce to “establish air traffic rules…for the prevention of collisions between vessels and aircraft.” The first rules were brief and basic: pilots were not to begin their takeoff until “there is no risk of collision with landing aircraft and until preceding aircraft are clear of the field.”
Apparently a little more direction was needed. Procedures to control local air traffic began in 1929 at an airport in St. Louis, Missouri. A person would stand at the end of the runway using colored flags to communicate advisories to pilots. Flags were replaced by light guns, which are still required to be available for use in control towers today in the event of radio failure.

As aircraft were fitted for radio communication, airport traffic control towers began replacing the flagmen with radio operators. In 1930, the first radio-equipped control tower in the United States began operating at the Cleveland, Ohio Municipal Airport. Within the next five years about 20 radio control towers were in use and almost all airline aircraft had radio-telephone communication, although direct communication between pilots and controllers was still to come. En route airline crews communicated via radio with their company dispatchers who would in turn call the air traffic controllers, who tracked the position of planes using maps and blackboards and little boat-shaped weights.

From flagmen on the ground to GPS satellites in the sky, we’ve come a long way making air travel safer, faster, and more affordable.

July 5, 2011 Inyokern

The Liberty Gazette
July 5, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike and Linda Ely would like to thank Bob Jamison for venturing across the page to fill in this space while Linda was out racing and Mike was cheering her at the finish line.

Mike: Before the first rays of light started to change the black sky to a lighter tone, I had already spent about 45 minutes doing a preflight inspection on the Piper Lance and loaded it with about 750 lbs. of bank mail. I taxied out from the ramp and advanced the throttle to call all 300 horses in the rumbling engine to life as the airplane began its takeoff roll.

The years have gone by but not the memories. After spending a couple years as a flight instructor I was hired by a freight operator based in Burbank, California. Working my way up through the pilot ranks with this company I first flew Piper Arrows and Lances, then twin-engine Piper Chieftains, then turboprops like DeHavilland Twin Otters and Beech 99s. My final years there were spent crisscrossing the country in the middle of the night in Learjets.

Departing Burbank to the north, I’d cross the ridge as the horizon became bright in the morning light. Soon after I’d descend to an airport just south of the restricted area surrounding Edwards Air Force Base, home of the US Air Force’s Flight Test Center and NASA’s Dryden Research Center, touching down at Lancaster Fox Field about 6:30 every morning. I’d meet two other airplanes and a number of drivers where we would exchange some bags and then continue on our way.

Leaving Lancaster and accompanied by a co-worker in another Lance, the route I flew took me through the Military Operations Area (MOA) adjacent to the restricted airspace. Even though it isn’t restricted itself, the MOA was busy with military airplanes, even at that time of the morning. I’ve seen SR-71 Blackbirds, U-2 Spy Planes, F-4 Phantoms, F-14, F-15 and F-16 fighters, F-111, B-52 and B-1 Bombers and a few things that I can’t even tell you what they were.

After crossing through the MOA I would cross Mojave Airport and proceed into Inyokern Airport just a few miles south of China Lake Naval Weapons Center. On approach to the airport I liked crossing low over the rising terrain near a particular mountain. This mountain has holes in it on several sides and the angle of the sunrays at this time of the morning allowed me to look down inside the huge rock, hollowed out by gold miners some fifty years before.

As I landed at Inyokern, the pilot of the other Lance continued up the Owens Valley which sits between two tall mountains ranges with peaks in excess of 14,000 feet. He eventually landed at Mammoth Lakes Airport at 7,500 feet above sea level where he spent the day. Leaving Inyokern I crossed mountains and headed for Tonopah in the Nevada desert and then would fly to Mammoth too. We were the first flights up the Owens Valley in the morning and the last flights down at night.

There were times when the weather was absolutely gorgeous and there were those times when it was absolutely vicious. It has been one of the most interesting places to fly and a place where I learned so much about flying, weather, and myself. As Bob Jamison wrote in this space last week, if I had to do it all over again, I’d say, “Sign Me Up!”