The Liberty Gazette
July 5, 2011Ely 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!”