The Liberty Gazette
October 18, 2011Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Having our Cheetah in the paint shop did not dampen our anniversary weekend. Five years of marriage was celebrated at two fly-ins on grass strips. There are many fly-in choices this time of year, but being ground-bound we had to keep the distance short, and it turned out to be one of the best weekends ever.
First was the gathering at Critters Lodge near Centerville. Wendell and Beverly Dillard have done a great job of maintaining their 3,100 foot-long turf runway in spite of the severe drought. Unlike many grass strips, theirs wasn’t marked by gaping cracks where one might break a wheel fairing, or worse. That happened recently at the home strip of our friends who rebuilt our engine. Linda was first to notice the front half of the wheel fairing on the left main gear was missing. Turns out, we bumped it on the rough ground on take-off during one of our many test flights testing the timing and engine temperatures. There are a couple of new, more aerodynamic wheel fairings available for our airplane, and given Linda’s need for speed, she almost celebrated upon seeing that one of the old ones was destroyed. Prior to that, our friends’ only concern had been the possibility of losing one of their Chihuahuas in those cracks. But back to Critters Lodge.
The Dillards are developing an aviation community. This isn't an airpark in the usual sense. Wendell envisions a place where plane-minded folks can come and enjoy a weekend camping out or staying in one of many cabins he plans to build scattered in the woods about the property.
Joined by helpful friends who work like crazy they serve three meals a day during the weekend-long fly-in. Upon our arrival Friday evening we enjoyed a great barbeque dinner while socializing with fellow aviators from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Breakfast in the big dining hangar was a smorgasbord of every option you could think of – even fresh fruit.
Linda: They’re building a really neat place. Saturday evening we hopped aboard one of the many “Mules,” toured the 300-plus acres and found the locations for a future fishing hole, cabin spots tucked away and generously spaced for privacy, and even an area to hit some golf balls. A friend was staying in the first luxury cabin which isn’t quite finished yet. Together the three of us meandered and explored the grounds, imagining how it will look when all that’s planned has been built.
Another friend, Jim, recently finished his 13-year project building a beautiful Steen Skybolt, an open cockpit bi-wing. We first saw it at the New Year’s fly-in up in Waco this year, and what a pleasant surprise it was when Jim and his friend Rex, a former fighter pilot flying a Pitts, arrived at Critters Lodge flying in formation and treated us to a couple of low passes. Approaching the grass runway, you can’t tell that all along both sides are areas where the trees have been cut out, making perfect runway campsites with room to park two or three small planes and tents. Campers set up chairs and judge the low passes and landings. Lots of fun to be had and plenty more to tell so check back next week. Till then, blue skies.