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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November 29, 2011 The B-17 Flying Experience

The Liberty Gazette
November 29, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Over the East Texas landscape while deviating around, over and under clouds I studied the layout of the cockpit and the view out along the massive wings. The control inputs required a little heavy-handedness to roll the big airplane right and left but overall not too heavy. Just a little pressure to maintain or change altitude. Though this airplane never actually saw wartime service, I thought about the history of airplanes like it that had been so thick in the skies over Europe during WW II that they cast an Aluminum Overcast, the name of this Boeing B-17G I was given the privilege to fly.

Linda: The Experimental Aircraft Association owns and operates Aluminum Overcast on a very busy tour schedule around the country. This is one of about 30 B-17s remaining in the world and one of eleven still flying. Our EAA Chapter 12 hosted her this year as she toured through Houston, and worked as ground crew for the event. I took a flight earlier in the week; Mike joined the crew in this piece of flying history to her next venue, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Mike: I crawled around inside the beast, carefully twisting though passageways into the nose compartment, where the navigator/bombardier sat at a small desk on the left side of the compartment. There, they’d plot their course, maybe using a sextant to “shoot the stars” for navigation. Did the men ever get used to looking out the windows mere feet forward of spinning propellers? Here I was, where they once were, sitting out way over the front-most part of the aircraft in the massive Plexiglas bubble nose. They’d have to hunch over to look down through the Norden bombsight. Acrophobics will likely pass on this opportunity as it feels like being on a plank in front of the aircraft with your feet dangling in space five thousand feet above the ground. I could sit there for hours and watch the world go by at 150 knots.

Working my way back to the radio room and the rear waist gunner position I squeezed through the narrow catwalk through the bomb-bay, where payload was carried to Europe in war time. The catwalk, suspended in the crux of two “V” shaped beams extending from the top of the bomb-bay, is attached to one of the wing spars that crosses through the aircraft above the compartment. I was once as agile as the 18-21 year old kids who were flying these machines during the war. Working my way around the lower ball-turret, I took in the view from the waist-gunner windows, decommissioned 50-caliber machine guns still attached. Plexiglas encloses the window now, but in wartime it was open for a vast view of the horizon on either side of the aircraft. The tail-gunner position was closed to visitors, but that’s okay, it would almost require a shoehorn to get into anyway.

Some of the few remaining veterans who manned these magnificent machines came out to tour and fly in the aircraft one more time, and to remember and mourn, as we all must, those who didn’t return. This is something I thought about on the one and a half hour flight from Sugarland to Shreveport. The cost of freedom isn’t free.

November 22, 2011

The Liberty Gazette
November 22, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: In a recent conversation with an Executive of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, we discussed some of the challenges facing the aviation industry. One of the biggest is just getting to a place where the actual issues can be discussed. The obstacle to that is that too often industry advocates must spend a lot of time just educating elected officials on the importance of aviation to their constituents. The phrase, “airports are for people who don’t fly,” came about because industry participants realize that aviation affects all people, yet people who don’t fly often don’t realize how much of the products and services on which they rely are dependent upon aviation.

The FAA published a 52-page report in August this year regarding the economic impact of civil aviation on the U.S. economy. Their opening statement reads, “In today’s ever-changing and innovative world, aviation provides a vital link to economic opportunities at home and abroad. In the wake of global economic and financial uncertainties, runways have become the new main streets for cities and towns to get down to business and soar once more.” Runways are the new main streets for cities that want a stable economy. That includes towns like Liberty, Texas.

Here are a few statistics: in 2009, civil aviation supported over 10 million jobs, contributed $1.3 trillion total economic activity and accounted for 5.2 percent of total U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Civilian aircraft engines, equipment and parts have been the top net export for the past decade. Our economic success clearly depends on the success of aviation, and aviation in part depends on the health of community airports like Liberty’s.

The report recognized aviation as a catalyst for commerce, and more specifically that General Aviation (all aviation that is not airlines or military) provides a vital service to all in times of need as well as leisure activities and agricultural services. With 5,200 public-use community airports (airlines serve fewer than 600 airports nationwide),“From law enforcement, medical transportation, border control, and search and rescue missions to disaster relief and emergency evacuation, GA is there to provide a direct link and a helping hand to those in need and the most vulnerable.”

Mike: The industry is a unique engine for innovation and technological progress, providing infrastructure that keeps our nation competitive. It’s an industry that provides economic benefits for the United States and the world, and that’s why the Liberty Municipal Airport is so important. It’s one vital part of the whole, contributing to economic growth and stronger ties to local and global markets for every region in the nation. For example, air cargo, one area of General Aviation, has contributed to more effective networking and collaboration between companies far and wide.

From those 10 million jobs previously mentioned, earnings were nearly $394.4 billion. This is one industry that contributes positively to the U.S. trade balance. Aviation in this country creates high-paying jobs, helps keep just-in-time business models viable and connects friends, family and commercial opportunities. General Aviation and airports such as ours here in Liberty will continue to be an essential component of a strong and healthy American economy.

November 15, 2011 Amish Country

The Liberty Gazette
November 15, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: In most places it would seem out of place, a novelty, to see a black horse-drawn buggy at a traffic light with a line of cars behind it. But there it is an everyday occurrence. My daughter posted a mobile upload picture on Facebook of horses crossing FM 1960 with the caption “Only in Texas.” I had to counter that with a picture of the buggy and a statement of my own, “It’s pretty common in Amish country, too.” She came back with “but this is on a busy street,” and I replied, “this is too.”
Amish horse-drawn buggy, Holmes County, Ohio

We were in Berlin, in the rolling hills of eastern Ohio for the weekend for a speaking engagement. Our hosts for the weekend, Bob and Georgie live less than a mile from the Holmes County airport.

Mike: Georgie took us to see the town, still dressed in Autumn colors, and to learn more about the Amish and the Mennonite communities there; the Anabaptists. They are Protestant Christians whose beginnings are rooted in the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe. The Roman Catholic Church had become unspeakably corrupt and a
fellowship of believers was formed to give men and women the opportunity to follow the Lord Jesus Christ according to the whole Word of God, the Bible. The group was hunted and savagely persecuted around the world for centuries.

Pennsylvania is usually thought of as Amish country, but in this area of Ohio is the largest concentration of Amish in the United States. We visited the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center with its Behalt Cyclorama, a 10 foot tall by 265 foot long mural-in-the-round. Behalt means “to keep" or "to remember.” The presentation was so interesting that I was surprised when we got to the end, which was actually the beginning: Jesus, the Alpha and Omega.

Linda: An old one-room school house on the Heritage Center property once served grades one through eight and was warmed by a simple coal furnace. A barn was built (without nails) next to the school to house a Conestoga wagon and a “modern” Amish buggy made by local craftsmen. Our guide explained that their buggies are built with an automatic breakaway system, to provide protection in the event of a crash – technology I had previously been led to believe was brought to the Indy racing scene from helicopters. Turns out it had been around a lot longer than that! The Amish do not judge others’ way of life, but feel that if they keep their life and work simple there is less to interfere with their relationships with family and their worship of God.

Mike: They do not have electricity in their homes and the horse-drawn buggies are a constant reminder of their simple life. Ironically, during the ice storm six years ago in which many people lost electricity, nobody mentioned the 45,000 Amish who never even noticed there was none.

Linda: Our weekend was a quick introduction to the Amish and this area with its picturesque rolling fields tended by people in simple clothes using simple machines. We also learned from the son of our hosts about a missionary aircraft maintenance school just a thirty minute drive to the south, so I don’t think it will be our last trip to the Amish country of Ohio.

November 8, 2011 Aluminum Overcast

The Liberty Gazette
November 8, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: From U.S. bases in Europe they launched, sometimes staying airborne for more than eight hours striking targets deep within enemy territory. Large V-shaped formations of the heavy bombers cast their ominous shadows as tons of aluminum darkened the skies and the future of those who would do the world harm. These were the Boeing B-17s – the Flying Fortress.

The end of World War II and the dawn of the jet age sent many of these defenders of freedom to scrap yards. Of the 12,732 of Boeing's famous bombers produced, fewer than 100 airframes exist today, and fewer than 15 can still take to the air. One of those is Aluminum Overcast, now owned and operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association. Aluminum Overcast was lovingly restored to flying condition from 1983-1994. Thousands of hours of labor were poured into her restoration. Although this particular B-17 did not see combat (being delivered right at the end of World War II), Aluminum Overcast commemorates B-17G serial #42-102515 which was shot down on its 34th combat mission over Le Manior, France, on August 13, 1944. Veterans of the 398th Bomb Group of World War II, who flew hundreds of missions over Nazi-held territory during the war, helped finance the bomber's restoration, and she proudly carries their colors.

Restoration of this Flying Fortress has included original equipment: the Navigator’s position and Norden bombsight, both located in the airplane’s nose, waist guns on each side of the bomber, and a complete re-build of the radio compartment including original communications equipment. There’s been a full restoration of the tail turret assembly. The top turret, just behind the pilot and co-pilot seats, has been replicated and the floor has been returned to original specifications. The history associated with this airplane gives us so much to appreciate and helps us understand the technology of the times, and the era in which the aircraft was developed. As one of the airplanes that helped bring victory in World War II, the B-17 is a reminder of the sacrifices which make today's freedoms possible.

Linda: Our Houston-based EAA Chapter 12, is proud to host Aluminum Overcast on this year’s national tour. She will arrive at the Sugarland airport November 17 and will be available for tours and rides through November 20. Come on out to Sugarland and feel the legacy of the thousands who heroically flew World War II bombing missions. Take a walk through Aluminum Overcast, and experience the role of bombardier, navigator, and waist gunner. You can even book a flight for the ultimate flight experience. There are 10 seats available for each flight, and it’s first-come, first-served. Ground tours are from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 18-20 and cost $5 per person, or $15 per family. Children under 8, Veterans and Active Duty Military personnel will not be charged for the ground tours. Mission flights will be conducted from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. If you’d like to take a 35-minute mission flight in Aluminum Overcast, call 1-800-FLY-NB17 (1-800-359-6217) or online at Walk-ups are welcome provided space is available. You can also call the Tour Coordinator directly at (920) 379-4244.

It’s more than just an airplane. It’s a living tribute to the brave men who served, sacrificed, and, in many cases, gave their lives defending our freedom.

November 1, 2011 Tango Seventy-Eight

The Liberty Gazette
November 1, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The gent giving our airplane a make-over will take hundreds of photos during the strip down and re-paint process. He says he’ll produce a cool video for us when it’s all finished, which led to a discussion about the video we made a few years ago in support of the Liberty Municipal Airport.

In the fall of 2007 Mike uploaded the final version of “Tango Seventy-Eight” to YouTube (T78 is the FAA’s identifier for the airport). The “hit counter” now registers about 12,000. Our goal was to promote our local airport, which seemed to have little support. We hoped to generate positive attention on the publicly owned asset, the little country airport with enormous potential to give back to the community many times over. While our position on the value of airports is known, what may not be is the story behind the video, more specifically, the story behind the song.

Mike: In the process of collecting video we filmed trains passing by, parades through town, and scenes that give the flavor of our community. We recorded air-to-air scenes of Steve Johnson’s RV-6A over the top of the city, fly-bys over the runway, and local pilots and airplanes, capturing raw images to create the video. But what to do for background music? We could either get permission to use a published, copyrighted song or we could have something original written.

Linda: I thought the latter would be easier as I have a cousin who is a very talented musician. Mark was willing to create the music, but said he didn’t know much about airplanes, so I’d have to write the words.

About that time we were having lunch in a Boston Market in Tucson, a quiet atmosphere where the music was played low enough we could actually have a conversation, when I heard some words to a song playing over the restaurant’s speakers that caught my attention. I said to Mike, “Did you hear that? They said Learjet!” The low volume made us strain to make out the words. I searched the Internet but came up with nothing that resembled the song we heard. Calling Boston Market later proved fruitless as the young employee, bless his soul, didn’t know where the music came from. I had a hunch it was received via satellite. That would direct my next investigative step. Surely, there are Internet “fan sites” for people listening to satellite radio. They would have message boards. Bingo! I found one.

My question posted on the message board brought a few wrong answers at first – Moody Blues and others were mentioned. But this song wasn’t that old. Within hours I had my answer. Someone named the band, the song, and posted the lyrics. With that I located the songwriter for permission to use the very fitting song, “If I was a Learjet.” Sean Kelly, song writer and lead singer of the Vermont group The Samples was thrilled with the idea of his music being used in such a video and quickly gave his blessing.

Mike spent about 50 hours editing, and Sean’s song was perfect for the message, leading AvWeb, the world’s most widely read online aviation magazine, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to call it a “template” for all future airport promotional videos. That’s all good, but what really matters is that the community knows what an asset we have.