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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December 25, 2012 A gift

Liberty Gazette
December 25, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: I had a long but important trip ahead of me. My first fuel stop would be Memphis, and I looked forward to lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years. Then on to Cincinnati to see some “Grands” (I later learned that I landed right behind singer Alan Jackson…oh, so that’s why there were groupies at the airport).

Myles, now 10, was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency, better known as “the boy in the bubble disease.” He has no functioning immune system, a disease so rare it took a year after his first illness at five months before getting a diagnosis. Two previous bone marrow transplants failed, and while preparing for the third try, cancer popped up in the way again. Lymphoma. Second time. But that’s treatable, and only postponed the transplant. Meanwhile, supportive head-shaving parties held by friends and family around the country ended up in a nice YouTube video, “Shaved Heads for Myles,” with “Stand by Me” sung by Indiana University’s a cappella group Straight No Chaser. And we sent thank-you cards and a Superman cape to our hero, the anonymous young man who donated his healthy bone marrow to save my grandson’s life.

Our family takes turns helping during these times by either staying with Myles in the hospital or with his two young siblings at home while my son-in-law is at work. I enjoy both options, but there’s something special about staying with Myles. Between treatment interruptions we do school work, bible study, build Legos and watch movies – lots of movies, like Red Tails, Spiderman, and The Avengers, which we saw over Thanksgiving. I think he picked Red Tails just for me.

I admire my daughter for the medical warrior she is for Myles, and the great mommy she is to all three. Changing doctors for the third transplant was a wise choice; Myles has been discharged from the hospital several months earlier than expected. While the first 100 days post-transplant are critical, he’s doing remarkably well – well enough to be in isolation at home rather than in-patient.

He was well enough even before discharge to get 4-hour passes. The day after Thanksgiving we went to Lunken Municipal Airport on a pass. Little Princess Caroline stayed behind with Mommy, and I took Myles and four-year-old Liam out to the airplane and strapped them in, explaining everything I was going to do so they’d understand what they were experiencing. Since we’d just watched Red Tails we imagined we would shoot down an enemy if we saw one in the sky. We did several touch-and-go’s, staying in the traffic pattern around the airport because Myles can’t really go anywhere yet. We looked for his doctor’s house in the neighborhoods below and saw the Little Miami and Ohio rivers flowing along side the airport. And I saw him smile. Not just from his lips, but from his whole being beamed this happiness, as those big eyes gazed out the window, taking in the great view from aloft.

It thrills my soul to have been with him when he felt well enough to go up; an indescribable gift for which I will always be grateful, and it gave him a unique story to tell when we returned to his hospital room that afternoon. One of the nurses asked, “How was your pass today?” Myles held his composure like a man and said, “Good. I went flying with Nanny.”

December 18, 2012 Stand by for re-route

Liberty Gazette
December 18, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Years ago when a pilot ventured by the field where fourth-grader Charles Queen flew remote control airplanes and suggested a visit to the local airport, Charles discovered a $2 investment would get him a flight in a Piper TriPacer. By age 14 his journey into flight training began and good grades earned him a Civil Air Patrol Cadet scholarship.

Two incidents of engine failure didn’t discourage his love for flying. The first time, as a seven-hour student pilot he landed the plane safely after the engine stopped on takeoff when ice formed in the carburetor. Another incident occurred during aerobatics. Lacking a fuel system that kept positive pressure when the plane was upside-down, the engine quit due to fuel starvation but was quickly restarted once he rolled it back over to a normal flight attitude.

A degree in mechanical engineering got him a job designing jet engines for Pratt & Whitney and he earned two patents, one related to jet engines and the other, nuclear research.

And then he bought a Cessna 310, just like the one Sky King used to fly. He flew Angel Flights and took his pastors to church conferences and out of town funerals. That’s when he put “Isaiah 40:31” on the tail, which is what got our attention when we stopped for fuel in Knoxville, Tennessee. And that’s how we came upon Charles Queen.

Linda: Returning to Knoxville one evening from Philadelphia the beautiful October weather had turned messy and Charles would be flying “in the soup”. He’d filed his instrument flight plan, expecting air traffic control to clear him on his requested route. But the controller’s next words changed that: “Stand by for re-route.” He’d have to extensively re-plan and review his entire route as he headed into the thick clouds where he’d have no visibility and more than moderate turbulence. He touched down safely in Knoxville but the experience stuck with him.

Then the morning of May 8, 2003, Charlie’s alarm buzzed, as usual, but his left arm wouldn’t move to shut it off. Then he tried to get out of bed, but his left leg wouldn’t move. Mildred called 911, and during the 68 days in the hospital, doctors told her that her husband would never walk again.

The stroke ended his flying and the design work he was doing for research equipment for a nuclear fusion program. However, he has since walked to the top of Clingmans Dome in the Smokey Mountains – the highest point in Tennessee – and volunteers at the hospital twice a week working with stroke patients and the chaplain. It hurts to walk but he keeps going.

“I know God is in control of everything and allows things to happen for a reason,” Charlie says. “I don’t always know what the reason is, but I know I have to trust Him. I’ve had such a blessed life with my loving wife and three wonderful daughters and a great job that let me travel the world. I never questioned Him when things were going well, so why question Him when things changed?”

Charles Queen’s nine grandchildren will someday have their grandfather’s autobiography to help them appreciate what they have, and trust God in the hard times, even when it’s hard to understand, even when God says, “Stand by for re-route.”

December 11, 2012 Catching up with Billy Werth

The Liberty Gazette
December 11, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A new poster depicts a Pitts S2C (biplane) just a few feet above a runway, inverted. You’re looking at the airplane from behind, as though it is flying past you, very close. The upside-down tail is within reach, a gloved hand almost touching it; a snapshot of an air show routine performed by the Werth brothers, Billy, a pilot, and David, a motorcycle stuntman and racer.

I caught up with Billy last week before he left for ICAS – the International Council of Air Shows annual convention in Las Vegas. Growing up in an aviation family and flying since 1988, Billy is a military pilot (Aircraft Commander on the air re-fueler KC-135R), a Chautauqua Airlines captain on the Embraer 145, and a modern-day barnstormer, dazzling air show crowds in his newly acquired Christen Eagle and giving rides and lessons in the Pitts through his company, Grayout Aerosports, of Indianapolis.

He’s often spotted practicing aerobatic maneuvers over my sister’s house, so it’s not unusual for me to get a text message from someone in the family, “Billy’s up practicing!”

We first met him at the fuel pump at the airport near her house several years ago. Back then Billy was very close to getting his ground level waiver, meaning the FAA would allow him to do aerobatics without limitations on how low he could go, a valuable commodity to an air show pilot.

Today, he’s a hot item. And while that’s certainly a testament to his skill and training, he also married a marketing guru with a background in broadcasting and event planning, who does a great job selling Billy as a product. Haley, who I remember as a toddler in pigtails growing up a couple doors down from us, is a burst of energy and an asset in the air show business.

The routine with brother David is a bit edgy to some airshow executives, so for now they’re performing a wing grab, rather than the depicted tail grab. “Some airshow executives think we didn’t think this through, that we pulled it out of a hat and tried it once – but that’s not it. We’ve taken all the possible safety steps. We’re in constant communication during the routine, weather has to be just right, and we practice, practice, practice. Nothing we do in a show is new to us; it’s planned out, choreographed, and practiced.”

The act opens with a game of chicken between airplane and motorcycle. Then the boys settle down to race. Then there’s “the grab”. “It’s the ‘High Five,’” Billy explains. “Brothers fight, compete, and make up. If you have a sibling you get that, and we relate to the audience on that level.”

Rides and lessons help support the costs of performing. Non-pilots can get a taste of aerobatics; for pilots, aerobatic lessons are important for keeping valuable skills current. Whether you’re flying a small Cessna or a Boeing 757, as Billy emphasizes, you can lose those skills. “One day that auto pilot might go out. When you’re looking around asking, ‘where are we going and why are we in this hand basket,’ you had better take a long hard look at that. You need good stick and rudder skills. Sometimes you have to turn off all that fancy equipment and fly the airplane.”

Have a look at their website, You’ll be impressed!

December 4, 2012 Flying Clubs

The Liberty Gazette
December 4, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: When I started flying I rented airplanes from a small local flight school. Like most kids my age, I couldn’t afford to buy an airplane. Even if I could have, with limited exposure to the field of aviation at that time I wouldn’t have known what would be the best machine for me. Renting offered an opportunity to learn to fly more within my budget and experiment with a few different airplanes. Scheduling was sometimes a challenge, and there were always checkout requirements – proving to an instructor you could fly a certain model airplane before you’d be allowed to rent it – which added to the cost.

Like most flight schools, the one I patronized relied on the airplanes they rented to be available for student training, so once I earned my private pilot certificate it was more difficult to use their airplanes for pleasure trips. Charging by the hour, most flight schools will establish a daily minimum if an airplane is taken for the whole day; it’s a means of bridging the gap of what they need in rental revenue and the desires of their licensed customers.

I learned to fly before I bought my first car so I guess you could say it was my passion for flight that forced my first auto purchase. My local airport had no flying club, so ground transportation became necessary. The motivation was always flight.

Air South Flying Club at Fullerton Municipal Airport had a wide range of airplanes and while not all flying clubs are for the same purpose, here members had access to all the airplanes owned and operated by the club at a discount price and without daily minimums. This included larger faster airplanes with six seats, and even twin engine airplanes. Even today it is nearly impossible to find an airplane with more than four seats for rent outside of a flying club.

Clubs come in all different sizes and are created for different purposes. They might have just one airplane or many. Some are commercial ventures, others a social center. I interspersed my advanced flight training with the club’s instructors with aerial adventures to Santa Catalina Island and snow ski trips to Idaho. Club events such as photo-flight contests and dinner fly-outs encouraged members’ mutual support.

In the 1970’s Beech Aircraft Corporation sponsored flying clubs across the country called Beech Aero Centers. They even had a custom designed modular club house. The idea was members could check out in a particular model airplane at one Aero Center and that check-out was good at any Aero Center, saving them any further check-out expense if they wanted to fly an airplane in another part of the country. That practice faded over time, but now it’s making a comeback.

Presently there are around 600 flying clubs in the United States. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has set a goal to grow that to 2,000. With the return of universal check-outs making flying more affordable more people will be able to participate in this wonderful activity, and expand their horizons. We think a flying club could work well here in Liberty.

November 27, 2012 Jerrie Mock

The Liberty Gazette
November 27, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: On a spring day 48 years ago a red and white Cessna 180, a single-engine airplane, touched down in Columbus, Ohio completing a fairly long cross-country flight – 23,206 miles long to be exact. Exiting the aircraft before a cheering crowd of 3,000 the pilot, Geraldine "Jerrie" Fredritz Mock, a 38-year old housewife and mother of three stepped into history; now it seems an almost forgotten history. Quite a journey, the flight ended exactly where it began 29 days and 21 stopovers before.

Her story, in the back pages and nooks of history books, few people know: that she was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe solo. Many people think Amelia Earhart was the first to fly solo around the world but she only completed about 75 percent of the trip before she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared someplace over the Pacific Ocean.

Today organizations such as Earthrounders help pilots organize circumnavigation attempts, but this was in the days before Al Gore invented the Internet. Jerrie planned the entire adventure herself in the basement of her Ohio home. She flight planned using old world navigation charts given to her by a former Air Force pilot friend and her husband Russ supported her by securing sponsors and equipment donations.

Jerrie fell in love with flying the day she first rode in a Ford Tri-Motor at the age of 12. She dreamed of visiting far off places, yet it wasn't really her intent to be the first to make such a trip. Things just sort of came together and it sounded like a lot of fun.

While in the final phases of planning she learned that Joan Merriam Smith was planning to make a similar flight, only in a faster twin-engine Piper Apache. Smith wanted to be the first woman to round the globe solo and she was going to make a race of it. Jerrie moved her planned departure date up and she launched sooner than she felt she was ready.

Through the course of the “race” she faced dangers from ice over the North Atlantic to sand storms over the Sahara Desert. Her brakes’ mechanical problems weren’t the only concerns about the airplane; the long HF radio antenna necessary for communication over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans wasn’t entirely cooperative either. Navigating around the escalating conflict in Vietnam, she finally achieved her goal but the significance of her feat was drowned out by the war that sprung to the front pages of every newspaper in the U.S.

Named for her airplane, Three-Eight Charlie published in 1970 chronicles the adventures of Jerrie and her Cessna 180, but the book had a limited release so many people even in aviation circles don’t know about her.

Jerrie lives in Quincy, Florida, her beloved Charlie, also known as The Spirit of Columbus, hangs from the ceiling in the Smithsonian Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, in all its glory for all to see, encouraging others to dream about launching on their own adventures.

November 20, 2012 Houston Airport System's Aviation Club

The Liberty Gazette

November 20, 2012

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: NASA’s Johnson Space Center has made Houston a leader in the aviation and aerospace industries by supplying research and development, guiding the future of those industries. Among the many destructive decisions coming from Washington is cancellation of programs that would keep the United States strongly at the forefront of space exploration and aviation. But with the dispersal and forced retirement of key employees, the City of Houston is stepping forward with plans to grow the next generation of industry leaders and workers. 

Houston Airport Systems (HAS) has created the Aviation Club, initially at two Houston area high schools, to provide focus and support for students who’ve shown a desire to enter this field. The club will engage students in science, technology, engineering, and math, which is critical if America is to maintain its leadership in space exploration. Currently offered at Sterling High School and Carnegie Vanguard High School, plans are in the works to expand the program across the Houston ISD by next year. Sterling already has an aviation magnet program so it makes sense that this should be one of the “starter” schools.

Houston continues to lead the nation in the creation of jobs during a difficult economy mostly due to more entrepreneurial business-friendly laws and tax structure. This new education program focuses on one of the city’s strongest sectors, with the ultimate goal to build a workforce to accept the challenges for tomorrow’s aviation and aerospace jobs. While there are certainly some lower paying non-technical jobs in the industry, the city of Houston realizes that the skilled technical jobs the aerospace and aviation industry provides are the ones that really help the city’s economic structure.

Mario Diaz dreamed of aviation when he was growing up. Today Mario is the Director of the Houston Airport System. He feels early exposure to the industry was critical for his career path. As a teenager, he became fascinated with aviation, became a pilot and later an executive for airports in three major U.S. cities. He has long wanted to create an initiative that would launch the passion for flying in the next generation of aviators and space pioneers. Looks like Houston is the lucky winner.

Bob Mitchell is the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. Understanding that students have many career choices but also face many distractions, Mitchell believes the new Aviation Club will introduce them to some of the most exciting career opportunities available now and in the future.

In monthly two-hour sessions students will learn from mentors and through enrichment activities. The criteria for participation in the club include being a student from Sterling High School or Carnegie Vanguard High School campuses in grades 9-12 (later to be expanded to all Houston ISD schools), be in good standing with a minimum GPA of 2.5, maintain satisfactory attendance at meetings throughout the year and have a desire to exploring post-secondary educational and career opportunities in aerospace or aviation.

The program is designed to encourage growth in all these technical fields as well as encourage a solid work ethic, and discover a passion that makes them look forward to each work day.


November 13, 2012 Airline Airports

The Liberty Gazette
November 13, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Our space here is usually devoted to the good and wonderful stories that come from the world of general aviation. There’s good reason for that – we have a very important general aviation airport here in Liberty that is a vital part of the National Airspace System. Supporting our airport and its critical role as part of our nation’s network of landing facilities, as well as promoting its huge potential as an economic generator for our area is a way for us to contribute to our community. We don’t often reflect on airports served by commercial airliners, but found a couple of current studies on airline passengers sort of interesting.

One study is being undertaken to measure the stress level of passengers as they enter airports that serve airlines, and how that stress affects them while at the airport. All airports, not just big commercial ones, compete for business and it behooves them to be the best they can be. A bad reputation can easily lead to loss of tourism, convention and business dollars, so they actually study this stuff. In fact, I’ve seen charts and graphs produced by Skyscanner, showing the minor ebbs and major flows of stress levels from the point of entry to a major commercial airport, through check-in, to the purposed illusion called “security” that violates our rights (that’s my description, not Skyscanner’s), and finally locating the gate. Once the passenger has made it successfully through all these obstacles stress levels begin to finally drop a bit. Once beyond the unconstitutional, humiliating and pointless groping travelers become captive to grossly over-priced goods and services (again, that’s my frank and honest description), just as the stress levels begin to ebb. And do you know what airport planners call this time? Happy hour. You, the traveler become somewhat “happier” and the airport becomes – you guessed it, much happier, because it is in this time you will contribute to their non-aeronautical revenue. An Airports Council International survey showed non-aeronautical revenues (parking, magazine and coffee sales, etc.) accounted for 46.5 percent of airports' income worldwide in 2010, so you can see how important happy hour is.

Another question opened up in our discussion forum on whether or not to inform airline passengers of wait times through checkpoints. Now these discussions take place in an international arena, and the American reaction to such theory favors strongly the preference for truth, no matter whether that truth is good or bad news – just tell us the truth, whether the wait in this line is three minutes or thirty minutes. I found it interesting that airport management from other countries were less interested in telling the truth than they were in controlling public behavior. Alas, our own government has clearly moved in that direction as well. But we the People have not.

When it comes to that control mechanism veiled as “security”, the feds are working on “risk-based security” and the potential of identity management. They say it’s so they can streamline the process and make it more efficient and less stressful.

It used to be that the benefit of going by air was the convenience and speed realized over that of travel by train or car. Unless and until this farce called TSA is abolished, you might say you’re better off driving, but I’d say go get your pilot license and fly yourself.

October 30, 2012 Redbird Skyport

The Liberty Gazette
October 30, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Returning from a business meeting we stopped in San Marcos, where the city has invested enthusiastically in their airport with innovative ideas. Construction of a new air traffic control tower and hiring an aviation management company to manage the airport are just two major changes to San Marcos in the past couple of years. Another is the impressive Redbird Skyport, an FBO (“Fixed Base Operator”) offering flight training and much more.

We were greeted at the airplane with a golf cart, taken directly to the door that opened as wide as the smiles of Skyport team members. The welcome was genuine, and when we said we had not been to San Marcos since before their new facility was built last year, our greeter promptly offered a personal tour of the 12,000-square foot building. Much of that space is the main hangar, but there’s also a cafe, gift shop, conference room, pilot lounge, showers, flight planning room and several computers, in addition to many Redbird simulators.

Redbird began building lower cost full-motion simulators in 2006 when Jerry Gregiore determined he could make them affordable to primary flight training schools. As it turns out, he’s revolutionizing the industry.

A pilot and retired information technology executive, Jerry served as Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Pepsi and for Dell. It was he who implemented “G2” strategy that brought Dell great success. Dell had bought in to a software vendor’s vision that building the computer around inflexible software would let them build more, and quantity meant profits. But that didn’t fit the company that advertised custom-built computers. A lot of money had been spent when Michael Dell wooed Jerry from PepsiCo. to “make it work.” Instead, Jerry swung the ax because it didn’t make sense to “layer problems around a broken core.” Given corporate politics, that took a lot of guts.

He also recognizes the importance of customer service and the value of employees, the "back room folks who are keeping the operation running". He believes too many employers misunderstand the loss a company suffers when one of these back room people leaves, saying, "there is no balance sheet for human capital loss". That attitude translates into better service, which helps craft brand loyalty.

Indusry praise. Aero News Network called Redbird’s strategy “the leading edge of a revolution of innovation.” Aviation insurer, Avemco, suggested Redbird has the formula for transforming today’s broken methods of flight training. Probably the most well recognized and highly respected flight trainers in the history of aviation, John and Martha King, defined the Redbird Skyport as the line of demarcation of the before and after, and Mark Paolucci, Vice President of Sales for Cessna Aircraft, identified Redbird as the future of aviation. Tom Haines, Editor in Chief of AOPA Magazine, congratulated all of San Marcos because the city stopped talking and started doing the right thing. San Marcos mayor Daniel Guerrerro is proud of what of what’s happening in his town, “seeing history being made right here.”

Linda: Our trip had taken us to another town not far from San Marcos. In that town, their airport is dying a slow and painful death because horribly narcissistic politicians are running it into the ground by killing off the entrepreneurial businesses that once made it a success. Ironically, Redbird had originally planned to build their facility at that airport, but when they encountered the backwards “good-ol-boy” politics so prevalent in many small towns, they walked away, and took their innovation, their success, and their enthusiastic people with them.

October 23, 2012 Mentors

The Liberty Gazette
October 23, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Whew! Were you glued to a TV or computer screen on Sunday, October 14, watching Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking jump? We were on our way to a birthday party and pulled off the freeway to watch and listen on our iPhones. Exciting, intense, and heartwarming. Not just heartwarming seeing Felix’s family, but the history and the bond between Baumgartner and Captain Joe Kittinger, who read the checklist off to Felix and coached him all the way, the man whose records Felix would break. Imagine being on the verge of attempting something only one other person has ever done, and that one person is with you through it all. Captain Joe’s amazingly reassuring voice certainly had to be a comfort, even to “Fearless Felix.”

I’m reminded of my first flight instructor, Anthony. Even though I didn’t have any fear about learning to fly, Anthony was still a comforting presence when I would become frustrated along the learning curve. There was so much to absorb, and it was all new to me. I am cursed with a trait fairly common to females, being directionally challenged. Most women navigate associating with landmarks, while the majority of men seem to have been born with a compass inside. Mike is like that. I could spin him around and point him any direction and he’d know which way he was facing and which way we need to go. Don’t bother spinning me around; it only takes one turn and I’m fumbling to find my way. I always tell him that’s what makes women better at instrument flying, because we have all these great inputs to feed us information and we don’t have to rely as much on navigational instinct. I don’t know whether any studies have been done to back that up, but it makes sense to me. With instruments giving read-outs that tell you exactly where you are and which way you’re headed the chance of getting “turned around” certainly must be significantly reduced.

Good ol’ Anthony. When the concept of an airport traffic pattern was totally foreign to me, he took me out to the parking lot of the flight school, placed markers in strategic places to represent a couple of different airports, say, Galveston and LaPorte. Late summer nights when everyone else was long gone there we’d be, Anthony and me, arms outstretched like airplane wings, flying the parking lot at Ellington Field. The asphalt below became southeast Houston as he’d give me compass headings, making me turn this way and that, then instruct me to “head toward LaPorte and enter the traffic pattern for Runway 22.” There’s a prescribed pattern for aircraft to fly and a proper way to enter the traffic pattern at airports without a control tower. That way everyone knows what to expect from each other when flying to an airport with no air traffic controller giving direction.

I finally got the hang of it thanks to Anthony, a dedicated instructor. There are some people in our lives who make a huge impact and leave us better than they found us. They’re not the people whose demise is the abyss of their self-adoration, but the ones who thoughtfully, generously, compassionately, leave traces of themselves in us, and when we examine our strength, we often find those traces to be colossal, even heroic.

October 16, 2012 The Highest Step in the World

The Liberty Gazette
October 16, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Imagine this moment in time when a man named Joe (who is not your ordinary Joe), sporting the latest “moon suit”, so high up in the atmosphere he can see the curvature of the earth, steps out of the gondola of a balloon, leaving behind the placard claiming, “This is the Highest Step in the World,” and begins falling, tumbling, down, down, down.

Linda: He’s not even your ordinary skydiver; he’s Captain Joseph Kittinger of the USAF, and in that moment, August 16, 1960, he stepped out, then plunged a long way down into history. Why, you ask? Well, maybe he was like me when I was little. The house where we lived had this beautiful curving brick wall that came around the front porch of the house like a hug. That lovely wall that always welcomed me home, with its stately lampposts guiding my way through the opening, its bricks softened by shrubbery Dad maintained himself, seemed so high above the world when I was, say three, or five. I’d climb up on it, stand at one corner, higher than the shrubs, surely almost higher than the house itself, and convince myself each time that I could do it, that I could jump over those huge shrubs – and survive it. Even when I didn’t land on my feet the impact brought a sense of victory, of meeting the challenge head-on and winning over fear, of owning that jump. I wonder if Captain Kittinger felt like that after his third and highest jump, when he stepped forward 102,800’ (about 19 ½ miles) above the earth, risking his life for the development of space suits and high altitude escape equipment the astronauts would need to venture into space.

Mike: His free fall, a bit faster than Linda’s hurdle over the bushes, accelerated to an unprecedented 625.2 miles per hour at the 90,000’ mark (just under the sound barrier), decelerating as he fell into thicker air. Four and a half minutes after stepping from the platform of Excelsior III, and down to 18,000’ above earth, the main parachute deployed slowing Joe for his landing on New Mexico’s desert floor. It lasted 13 minutes and 45 seconds, and then Joe went on to fly combat aircraft in Vietnam, staying for awhile in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

84-year-old Kittinger has held the record for the highest, fastest and longest skydive in history for 52 years, but he has worked hard to change that. His would be the only voice 43-year-old Felix Baumgartner would hear, coaching him as he jumped from 120,000 feet – 23 miles above the earth. Just like his coach, Felix is testing equipment for the next generation of space suits as well as survival mechanisms that provide a back-up for astronauts in the event they have to escape their spacecraft at high altitude and re-enter earth’s atmosphere. Joe says he is happy to see someone finally break his record.

Linda: Ah, to own the title, be the victor, and savor the sweet success of meeting the challenge head-on. I bet he jumped off brick walls when he was a kid, too.

October 9, 2012 A Tribute to Bob Jamison

The Liberty Gazette
October 9, 2012

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Airplanes, fishing holes and hunting camps, all have been bits and pieces of the bigger adventure called Bob Jamison. He lived it, talked about it and wrote about it so that each of us could live the same adventures alongside of him. Most people who’ve met him, and many who did not, can tell “Bob Stories.” We of course, have ours.

June last year Bob wrote for us as a guest writer and in his typical whimsical style, told about his initiation into the winged fraternity. And only recently did we learn how early in life he was established as an expert marksman. “Another kid at the airport fence” is how he signed his book, Airplanes, Alligators and Hi-Fin Blues, to us. He may have been just another kid at that fence, his mind spinning with glorious daydreams of adventure flinging the airplanes he saw this way and that, but the way he treated people proved him to be so much more. He wasn’t just another kid in any sense of the word. Bob hit the center of the mark in graciousness, adventurousness, encouragement, and more.

Somewhere there is a Piper Cub skimming low over the trees or over a passing freight train, chasing bad guys like Sky King or just seeking out the best fishing holes and places to hunt. Bob Jamison has flown his final journey. Tall tales full of colorful wit and wisdom are being retold in a different place now. Though the memories of their telling remain with us here, we will miss the story teller.



Twas the banker who lived beyond nine to five
Whose daring adventures brought life to our years
With heartbeat and pulse, excitement alive
Say it now so that everyone hears:
How fortunate are we. 

His good business sense to our benefit brought
Prosperity from the steward at the helm
Graciousness flowed to the have and have-not
Measure wealth by the reach of this Cynosure’s realm
And tell everyone: How rich are we.

The encourager’s heart, the warrior’s cry
Cannot be silenced not e’en by death
For all he’s given from sea to sky
Shall we all shout with grateful breath
And the whole world will know: How blessed are we. 

A crop duster’s flagman before GPS
Like a lodestar guided their intricate weave
Waving the flags at the ends of the rows
From early morn til late in the eve
Smuggled snakes on a plane from foreign shores
Beleaguered gators knew his wrestling finesse
The excellent marksman’s adventures outdoors
Made the Amazon shiver in utmost respect
And we, we never the same shall be. 

In tall tales of our beloved raconteur
A piece of each of us is found
That you’d laugh and you’d learn could be assured
Wit, wisdom, and mischief created a bond
Recipients of a gift are we.

On to heaven, blue skies, Dayton’s dear son
Our words salute you, our hearts hold you dear
The man named J. R. “Bob” Jamison
Lived life well, tell to all who will hear.

October 2, 2012 Under the Wire

The Liberty Gazette 
October 2, 2012 
Ely Air Lines 
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We’re finally getting a break from south Texas summertime heat, New England will soon be showing off her glorious colors, and the fly-in calendars are filling up as we enter my favorite season. This is the time of year when there are so many aviation events that it’s hard to decide which ones to attend.

A couple of weekends ago we had a choice of three fly-ins within an hour’s flight. We opted for the 23rd annual “Under the Wire” fly-in in Louise, Texas, just a smidgen past El Campo along Highway 59. Robbie Vajdos invites the whole town of Louise and anyone who wants to fly in to his nearly 3,000-foot-long turf strip for a grand party at the Flying V Ranch. Campers can come out on Friday and enjoy the festivities through Saturday. The Louise High School Band sells concessions and area clubs and organizations are invited to benefit from the huge crowd.

A fabric guy by trade, Robbie’s work on vintage aircraft, such as Stearmans, has won him awards, prestige, and a reputation as the guy to go to for restoration of fabric-covered airplanes. He teaches people to fly these planes too, and he’s also a heck of a nice guy, generous and community-oriented. When my friend Dianna located the 1942 Waco UPF-7 biplane her grandfather once owned she took it to Robbie for restoration, and then was taken under his wing to learn to fly it.

Mike: As we approached the Flying V we saw two Stearmans doing fly-bys and a group of Vans RVs in formation flight. It took a while to fit into the traffic pattern but eventually we did, and found a parking spot off to the side of the very well-maintained grass runway, arriving just in time for lunch. Tents pitched next to adventure-seeking tail-dragger airplanes, such as Piper Cubs, Cessna 170s and Aviat Huskys, were a sign of some of the fun we missed the night before. A friend who saw us land called my cell and directed us to a picnic table under a large shade tree on what could be considered the equivalent of the 50-yard line, but this prime spot was for watching airplanes. In the cool shade on a beautiful day we joined several friends beside the huge congregation of vintage biplanes, many that were giving rides, and watched as pilots did touch-and-go’s and formation fly-overs, at the fly-in named for the utility wires which used to cross the middle of the runway but were taken down a few years ago and buried underground.

In the afternoon our host conducted a briefing for the flour bombing and spot landing contests. Armed with three flour bombs (flour-filled “regulation” brown paper bags) we took off in the second of three groups, four or five planes to a group, each of us trying to hit the target laid out on the runway centerline below, one bomb per pass. After dropping our third bomb we flew one more circuit in the traffic pattern, and on this final round aimed to touch down exactly on a designated spot, or hopefully closer than anyone else. We tested our bombardier and pilot skills, and were all smiles, all day, heading back to Ellington in the waning light of the setting sun.

September 25, 2012 Hangar Talk

The Liberty Gazette
September 25, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: “Out of the blue of the western sky comes SKY KING!” Those words were spoken over 50 years ago by Mike Wallace, who rung up a long career in radio and television, much of it on 60 Minutes. But back then, his deep and authoritative voice announcing the start of Sky King was my call to duty every Saturday morning to pay attention to the black and white picture of a twin engine airplane swooping down across a dry lake, then flying right toward me, buzzing overhead with the best view the TV cameras could give. Nabisco sponsored the show and their cookie advertisements sang, “Reach for Nabisco – Reach, Padner!” Cowboys, the West, and airplanes; Sky King, his niece Penny, the Songbird, Grover City and the Flying Crown Ranch were important to a seven-year-old kid. The show fed the great sense of adventure, anticipation and wonder in a lot of little boys, and probably some girls, too. I wonder how many pilots today can trace their passion for flight to Sky King.

Beginning in the 1940s as a radio show, it was later was adapted for the new media, television. Watching our collection of episodes I’ve recognized many of the places it was filmed, such as the opening scene. Are you old enough to remember that? It was a dry lake – Lucerne Dry Lake bed, not far from Apple Valley, California. The Flying Crown Ranch was actually the Apple Valley Inn, once owned by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Many of the scenes at the airport of the fictional town of Grover, Arizona were filmed at Whiteman Airpark just north of the Hollywood-Burbank Bob Hope Airport. Vasquez Rocks State Park was where a lot of the ground scenes were made. Big Bear Lake and Holcomb Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains were backdrops for Sky’s Cessna 310, “Songbird,” as she made turns to landing on “the airstrip just behind the hill.”

Schuyler “Sky” King (played by Kirby Grant) was a hero in every sense of the word because he rescued us from obscurity and taught us right from wrong as we rode along in his adventures. Does any program on the tube today do that?

Linda: Mike indeed has fond memories of those old television shows. Now reality shows being the in-thing, Ice Pilots and Flying Wild Alaska have been fairly successful, and several Internet podcasts have replaced what would have been broadcast on radio many years ago. But most of today’s podcasts are created for pilots. Enter Mike Landry, host of Houston’s 950 AM radio, Hangar Talk, a new show with big plans. Landry, a helicopter student pilot, is bringing aviation back to radio in a whole new way with his Sunday morning show. With the help of co-host Terry Sonday, a flight instructor, the pair brings interesting guests from every facet of aviation imaginable, and takes calls from listeners during the two-hour live broadcast. They’re not just targeting pilots, but anyone interested in aviation.

Landry has hosted home improvement shows for many years, and when he finally found the time and finances to take flying lessons it was only natural the very animated and enthusiastic new pilot would have to take his hangar talk to the air waves. We’re glad he has, and expect you’ll be reading more about it here.

September 18, 2012

The Liberty Gazette
September 18, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

September 11, 2012 The Lindberghs

The Liberty Gazette
September 11, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: “Well, when I was a kid I made up my mind that I was going to be six feet tall and I made it, plus one inch.” Jimmy Stewart, portraying the Lone Eagle Charles Lindbergh in the movie The Spirit of St. Louis spoke that line. I wonder if it was a Hollywood writer’s imagination, or did Lucky Lindy actually say it? I may never know, but I do know that Lindbergh’s non-stop solo flight across the North Atlantic in 1927 changed a lot of lives. It was the flight that opened up a whole new world of adventure for many young boys and girls, and ignited fascination and a love affair with a fledgling industry that soon grew by leaps and bounds. The world got smaller; far off lands came closer…and aviation is now a 250 billion-dollar-a-year industry.

Seventy-five years later Erik Lindbergh retraced his grandfather’s prop-wash across the North Atlantic in a modern piston-powered single engine airplane: Long Island, New York to Paris’ Le Bourget Airport in 17 hours and 7 minutes. Although that’s considerably faster than Lucky Lindy’s historic flight of 33 hours and 30 minutes, there can only be one first time and that will always be the elder Lindbergh’s legacy.

In the ten years since his transatlantic flight, Erik has not sat still. Taking the opportunity to benefit three different charities, Erik has raised more than one million dollars. One recipient of his generosity is the Arthritis Foundation; he suffers with the disease and it presents a challenge on long flights. Now in his mid-forties, he has already had both of his knees replaced, yet he maintains a very active lifestyle which includes snow skiing and other pursuits.

Another organization special to Erik is the X-Prize Foundation, which administers the Ansari X-Prize, one that seeks to promote private reusable spacecraft and space tourism. The first winner of the $10,000,000 X-Prize was an obscure (unless you are active in the aviation industry) company called Scaled Composites. In 2004 they launched the same privately built spacecraft into space twice in a two week period, returning its test pilots safely back to terra firma after each launch. Erik, having served as a Vice President and Board member of the foundation was on hand at the Mojave Spaceport to witness the first flight. It was a similar award which Charles Lindbergh won for his solo transatlantic flight, the Orteig Prize of $25,000.

In 1977 as part of the fiftieth anniversary of Lindbergh’s transatlantic crossing, the Lindbergh Foundation was formed to work toward finding a balance between the furthering of technology and environmental conservation through education and scholarships. The foundation, of which Erik is a Director, also oversees the Lindbergh award, honoring individuals whose work has made significant contributions toward concepts Charles Lindbergh believed in. The list of past notable recipients includes General James Doolittle, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Neil Armstrong.

Last week we wrote about the young Amelia Rose Earhart living a life that would make her famous ancestor proud. Here, too, is Erik Lindbergh, whose work honors the pioneering spirit of people just like his grandfather. Amelia and Erik could have rested on their family’s laurels, their famous names – they could have milked it, but they haven’t. Instead, they’re making a difference.

September 4, 2012 Amelia Rose Earhart

The Liberty Gazette
September 4, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Too often on Internet and television channels I’ve bumped in to those celebra-stories attempting to make news of “Where are they now?” Honestly, who cares, other than their personal friends and loved ones? National hero, Neil Armstrong’s life and accomplishments are far more significant to our present and future than are antics of geriatric rockers or drug addicted former child actors. Consider the lives that have been a true gift, from people such as Billy Graham, and Liberty’s own Jim Clemmons. From an aviation standpoint though, there are some folks who really stand out. For instance, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

You probably heard the exciting news announced by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), concerning discovery of more evidence – stronger evidence – of Amelia’s lost plane, her Lockheed Electra. You might recall we’ve been following the search closely because our good friend, aviation archeologist and anthropologist Megan Lickliter-Mundon has been one of a select few chosen to participate in the search. A little over two weeks ago, August 17 to be exact, TIGHAR roared the news that their forensic imaging specialist, Jeff Glickman believed the high definition video taken during the group’s most recent trip in July showed pieces of man-made debris. TIGHAR President Ric Gillespie called it “a debris field in a place where there should be a debris field.” Maybe soon the 75-year old mystery will be solved. But that’s not so much where we’re going with this “Where are they now” question. That would be tacky. What we want to do is take a look at the heritage they left us, and the people who are carrying on.

In 1977 Amelia’s great-niece and namesake took up flying, saying, "On my first landing I couldn't help but think, 'This was how she felt.' I know how she felt when she first took the controls.” And now two generations later another of Amelia’s namesakes, a distant relative named Amelia Rose Earhart, is planning to circumnavigate the world in a more advanced aircraft, a Cirrus.

She wasn’t sure at first whether she’d even like flying, but after trying it out said, “I left my heart up there.” Now 29 years old, since completing that famous trip around the world won’t be enough, Amelia Rose is using her name and heritage to encourage others through a foundation that will not only teach people to fly, but equip them with so much more as a result. In our youthful bliss we tend to believe we can do anything we want, she says, “then something in high school switches and you’re told things you ‘need to do’ – especially for women. I want to make sure that magical time when believing that anything is possible isn’t lost.”

The life of this Denver journalist is shaping up quite interestingly. You can follow her blog at, in which the witty, wise, and poetic pilot posted, "I would say I feel lucky, but that would be a lie. I feel in control, smart and focused on completing this goal, enjoying each and every takeoff, landing, heading change and altimeter setting."

What would she say to the Amelia Earhart? “Blue skies and tailwinds, Amelia… you actually changed the world.”

Catch up with us next week when we take a look at Charles Lindbergh and those who followed in his contrails.

August 28, 2012 Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The Liberty Gazette
August 28, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Peering out from the vast green forest over even greater expanse of desert, visibility more than 200 miles, I looked down upon an oasis city surrounded by groves of date-palm trees that stretched off in the distance. Behind me, a boulder, wood and steel-beamed chateau, from which a vast complex of trails fans out, but no road or vehicle can be found. I imagined the energy and planning expended to build it here in this high mountain wilderness. One of the closest roads is eight miles away on the other side of the mountain. If one dared to step off and descend nearly vertically, about four miles in the other direction toward the city below, a road could be reached after losing nearly 6,000 feet in elevation and traveling through several life-climate zones in the process.

Linda: How does one get to this isolated paradise, escaping the sweltering heat from the desert below to a place where a jacket will be required? By tram! A human engineering marvel conceived in 1935, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway waited nearly three decades to come to fruition. Built with private funds, construction of the tramway started in 1960 and opened for business September, 1963. No roads invaded the rugged wilderness for its construction. Of the five massive steel towers upholding the cable on which the tramway’s 80-person capacity cars travel, only one, the lowest, is accessible by road. So without the benefit of roads how did the tramway get here? Simple, it flew! Yep, it was flown in by small bubble-canopy Bell 47 helicopters – the kind used on the TV show M.A.S.H. It was the first time anyone ever used helicopters in such a manner to the exclusion of all other forms of transportation during such an undertaking.

Mike: The Bells flew 23,000 missions through the nearly vertical crags, exposed to constantly shifting winds and turbulence. They lifted over 5,500 tons of material up the mountain for the construction of four of the five suspension towers and the mountain station at the top – 8,516 feet above sea level, in the midst of the San Jacinto Wilderness. Some of the board-and-plank helipads used during the original construction period remain on the mountain, reminders of this ingenious use of helicopters. A couple of the helipads are visible from the tram cars as they ascend and descend along the four-mile track. One span between two of the towers is two and a half miles, the longest single cable span of its type in the world.

Linda: From the mountain station the 10,834-foot peak of Mount San Jacinto is reachable by hiking an eleven mile trail that climbs a mere 2,300 feet, providing an even more spectacular view of the surrounding area. This peak is the terminus of the most vertical escarpment in the continental United States. If climbed via the rugged mountaineering Snow Creek route from the valley floor it’s a vertical gain of over 10,000 feet in a little less than five miles. Because of Francis F. Crocker, the man with the vision who pursued the tramway’s creation, and the little helicopters that could, people can escape to enjoy the high mountain meadows and climb peaks without undertaking such a grueling climb to get there.

August 21, 2012 Teens in Flight

The Liberty Gazette
August 21, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The news of the shooting screamed from the TV in the Norfolk, Nebraska airport building where we entered to pay for fuel, on our way up to Mitchell, South Dakota. All eyes were glued to the Fox News channel, watching the chaos, the sadness, the anger, the tragedy of it all; reports of the Colorado movie theater shooting. Like everyone else, I shook my head, my heart sank as I thought of all those affected by this horrible act. Like most, although truly saddened, we went on with our day. But we were recently reminded of the man and his vision, about which we wrote almost four years ago, Col. Jack D. Howell, USMC (Ret.) and his organization, Teens in Flight. The Florida-based charity provides flight training and aviation maintenance scholarships to teens whose parents have been killed, wounded or disabled in military action, as well as “at risk” teens. Col. Howell and his group heard about the shooting too, and they, too, live far from the tragedy and don’t personally know anyone involved. Yet once again, Col. Howell jumped in to do something.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, August 22, 16-year old Cora Rand, a scholarship recipient and student at Teens in Flight and her flight training mentor, 22-year old Cherileigh Dawson will begin a “Fly-a-thon” from their home base in Palm Coast, Florida to Aurora, Colorado. It’s like a walk-a-thon in the air. 1,310 miles. The women will fly Cherileigh’s Cessna Cardinal, and will be accompanied by Col. Howell.

Mike: A Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) in the Marines, Col. Howell also taught in inner-city high schools throughout the country, both careers offering tremendous opportunity for close observation of families grieving and dealing with sudden, unexpected life-altering tragedy. Sudden tragedy can trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), often symptomized in teens by withdrawal, mistrust, and negative behavior. “The CAO becomes immersed into the family crisis from the initial notification of death or severe injury to a love one, until all official paperwork is done,” he says, “then returns to normal duties, and the family is left to their grief and to fend for themselves.” He hated that.

Col. Howell founded Teens in Flight on the belief that by providing an opportunity for free flight lessons, with mentoring and a new direction focusing on a positive and fun experience, will help with healing and redirect negative behavior. With locations in Jacksonville and Palm Coast, Florida, Colorado Springs, and Killeen, Texas, Teens in Flight graduates have gone on to West Point, the Naval Academy, and Embry-Riddle.

The idea for the Fly-a-Thon came to him while watching the same news the rest of us watched, but knowing that insurance won’t cover all the needs, Col. Howell says, “We need to do what is right. That horrible act could have just as easily happened here.”

Cora, Cherileigh, and the Colonel are seeking per-mile pledges, which will be given to the Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance.

Col. Howell generously donates his time, effort, and resources because of his conviction that many life lessons can be learned through aviation. And so it’s not just a chance to fly to do something good, raise money and awareness. This “Fly-a-Thon” is the reality of Good that was received by one, and is being added-to and passed along to others. It’s not just about flying, it’s about what you do with a gift God gave you. Please join us in donating, or (386) 569-5685. Spread the word.

August 14, 2012 The race to Osh

The Liberty Gazette
August 14, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Forty airplanes sat on the ramp in Mitchell, South Dakota, their pilots awaiting a decision from AirVenture Cup race officials on the status of this “race to Oshkosh.” Oshkosh, Wisconsin is the site of the annual aircraft lovers’ gathering. Sixty years ago Paul Poberezny created what would become the world’s largest convention of any kind, a week-long fly-in that would include forums, vendors, daily air shows, and plenty of places to pitch a tent under the wing.

A line of thunderstorms threatened the route that was planned from Mitchell, then over Pocahontas, Iowa, which would serve as an optional fuel stop if needed, to West Bend, Wisconsin. West Bend is just south of Oshkosh and in a good location to be a finish line where we could all land, re-fuel, and then fly en mass into Oshkosh for the start of AirVenture. Fellow air racers Bruce and Steve Hammer grew up on a farm in Pocahontas, Iowa. Although they left farm life to pursue aviation careers, lessons learned from a life that demands the ability to make things work no doubt contributed greatly to the success of the Hammer Brothers Racing Team. And on this, her 90th birthday, their mother would bring rhubarb pie for those stopping at Pocahontas for fuel. Rhubarb pie from an Iowa farm mom. Now that’s enough to make you land whether you need fuel or not. And since this was a timed speed event, the clock would stop for those who chose to make the pie…er, pit stop, and restart when airplane and pilot are full.

Alas, the morning of the race a line of thunderstorms formed right in the middle of the route, over a large area that included Pocahontas, Iowa. Forced to change the race route, officials huddled and with the input of the Lockheed Martin Flight Services representative came up with a viable alternate route. The new path would take us just south of Minneapolis, north of the weather, but well beyond pie range.

As pilots learned of the revised course, the new finish line, and the all the changes to plans, we climbed in our respective cockpits and buckled up for a fast race. The wind was blowing west to east; there were 30 to 40 knot tailwinds to be had at certain altitudes, and those who executed the best race strategy could expect to see faster than normal speeds. The goal we set for The Elyminator was to break the record for our class (a factory-built airplane with 150 horsepower engine), which was 159.85 mph. I was hoping for 160 mph. It was a reachable goal.

Our race strategy worked well for us, and the new engine purred happily. We let the tailwind push us up to where we saw the best ground speed – at 9,500 feet. Numbers on the Garmin GPS gave us encouragement that we just might break that record.

When the race was over and we all met for the awards dinner there was a lot of talk about the great tailwind, and it turned out that speed records in 13 different classes were broken that day, including ours, at 172.71 mph.

We stayed a week in Oshkosh and took in all the fullness of everything aviation, every waking moment, lamenting only not getting our fill of Mrs. Hammer’s rhubarb pie and birthday party in Iowa.

August 7, 2012 AirVenture Cup

The Liberty Gazette
August 7, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Growing up in corn country – central Indiana – I ate enough corn by the time I was five to last a life time, but my recent trip to palatial corn town Mitchell, South Dakota pretty much knocked Indiana’s reputation down a notch.

More than just a place for harvest celebration, The World’s Only Corn Palace serves as Mitchell’s convention and entertainment center. Built to demonstrate South Dakota’s healthy agricultural climate, its unique exterior includes a mural covering the entire front of the building in naturally colored corn, grains and native grasses. The design is changed every year. Inspired by lavish Moor palaces, minarets and kiosks mixed with prairie folk art make for a top tourist attraction, and have welcomed John Philip Sousa’s Band, Lawrence Welk, Jack Benny, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and every big name you can think of from 1892 to the present

Scheduling conflicts prevented Mike from joining me so my friend Yasmina was eager for the adventure: the AirVenture Cup race from Mitchell, about 400 miles east to a finish line near Oshkosh, Wisconsin arriving for the start of the 60th AirVenture, the world’s largest annual convention that attracts more than 10,000 airplanes and over a million people.

For the 15 years the AirVenture Cup race has occurred the route has been pretty much a straight line, point A to point B, with full town celebrations at both ends. As in years past, the city of Mitchell hosted an airport open house and pilots volunteered to fly 165 Young Eagle flights (free introductory flights for youngsters ages 8-17). Area media helped promote the understanding of the airport’s importance and the local radio station broadcast live from the airport the entire day, building up excitement for the race that would begin in the morning.

Young Eagle flights are often the birthplace of great stories and Mitchell was no exception. One young boy was especially eager to experience his first flight. His mom’s concern over the challenges presented by autism were quickly quieted – once he was in the cockpit and given an opportunity to touch the controls the boy who often flies Microsoft Flight Simulator “was in his element,” and the pilot said he had a good feel for how an airplane flies. Mom had never seen him so calm, happy, and focused. Her joyful tears spoke volumes.

All the activities were familiar ones we enjoy at fly-in events, but being asked to be in a parade was a new one for me. It turns out, the rodeo was the same weekend and rodeo organizers asked air race organizers to rustle up some air cowboys (and girls) for a parade flight. Twelve airplanes joined in formation over Main Street, over the Corn Palace, and an excited crowd below.

The next morning 40 airplanes planned to race from Mitchell, over Pocahontas, Iowa, an optional fuel stop, to West Bend, Wisconsin. Fellow air racers Bruce and Steve Hammer grew up on a farm in Pocahontas and on this her 90th birthday their mom would bring rhubarb pie for those stopping for fuel. After crossing the finish line we’d fly in a mass arrival to Oshkosh.

Alas, a line of thunderstorms changed the race route. As we flew north of the weather we lamented not getting our fill of Mrs. Hammer’s rhubarb pie and birthday party in Iowa. See you next week for the rest of the story.

July 31, 2012 The Great Northwest part 6

The Liberty Gazette
July 31, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Cool morning air graced the patio while I watched the first rays of sun break through the marine layer that lay between us and the mainland causing the swelling Pacific Ocean to glisten and gleam like a deep blue-green jewel-speckled blanket that kept busy Los Angeles a world away. The hundred or so boats moored in sleepy Avalon Bay rocked gently in the morning breeze in calm waters. A few souls ventured into the streets below as the town began to stir from its slumber.

Linda: Perched atop a hill overlooking Avalon on Catalina Island, sits a special place reminiscent of the old Zuni Indian pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico. We spent the night in the “Vanishing American", one of 15 rooms in the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel named after titles of books by the famous author. Our room was the namesake of one of Grey's novels published in 1924. The island’s rugged interior was once a popular place for filming Hollywood movies and it’s only a 26 mile boat or plane-ride away. In 1925 a film crew came to the island to turn the story into a motion picture. The 11 buffalo shipped over for the film were left on the island to proliferate - and proliferate they did; now numbering in the hundreds.

Mike: From our veranda I imagined watching the Chicago Cubs in spring training at the old baseball diamond in the 1920s. The 1950s through 1970s saw Grumman Goose amphibious airplanes swooping down through the canyon from the west, splashing into the protected waters of Avalon Bay, their pilots as flamboyant as any of the characters in Zane Grey’s one-hundred-plus novels. High above the natural amphitheater of Avalon stand the Wrigley Mansion and the Zane Grey Pueblo, two pillars facing each other overlooking the tourist town with breathtaking views of the rocky island and marina below.

Linda: We enjoyed an evening stroll through romantic Avalon, which we learned has a very low crime rate because, well, it’s on an island and to where would a crook escape? The lovely sunrise drew us out for more exploring and shopping but all too soon it was time to return to the Airport-In-The-Sky. The ten mile road from Avalon to the island's hill-top airport climbs steeply, switch-back upon switch-back, out of the canyon that shelters the town, up to the plateau where buffalo, wild pigs and a rare fox wander about. Desert vegetation, buffalo grass, chaparral and manzanita cover the slopes and I even spotted a few cactus and the large spikey-leaves of native yucca plants.

Mike: Before leaving we wanted photos from atop the airport's control tower, which has been on the island since it was returned to civilian operation following WWII. No real air traffic control service exists at the field; pilots maintain their own separation by radioing position calls to one another. We got some great shots, and the day was shaping up to be a very busy one as the marine layer burned off on the mainland, allowing more weekend flyers to cross the channel to the island in search of a buffalo burger or a ride to Avalon for the day.

Linda: And so off we flew, Texas bound. Over the open water we made landfall just north of San Diego then crossed some rugged mountain ranges and pointed the nose eastward and home, 1,200 miles away.

July 24, 2012 The Great Northwest part 5

The Liberty Gazette
July 24, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The marine layer made its predictable appearance as we joined Red and Marilyn on a morning walk along the northern California beach. It’s part of their morning routine, making the half-mile walk down a dirt road from their home on the airstrip in Fort Bragg, along the shore for a scenic stroll and back again. The temperature rarely climbs past 75 and the mist from crashing waves refreshes sea kelp collectors and beach-going dogs taking their two-leggers for a jog. This foggy, cloudy layer comes in off the ocean and moves up through valleys and canyons of the rugged coastal range of Northern California. That day it was about a thousand feet up and maybe a few hundred feet thick, but dense. Very dense. It doesn’t burn off quickly, but it does break up inland.

Linda: After our relaxing stay with delightful friends we took off to the east with good visibility under the cloud layer. The further we flew up the valleys, the higher the clouds rose and began to fall apart, the bright afternoon sun shining behind us as we climbed out over the mountains north of Sonoma and on to Bakersfield. This was a good place to stop for the night. In the morning we’d go somewhere I’d wanted to go ever since I first heard Mike describe it – Santa Catalina Island, “the island of romance.”

Mike: Climbing above the mountain range between Bakersfield and Los Angeles we crossed it at 7,500 feet, descending back into the haze on the other side, north of the San Fernando Valley. Across the busy and complex airspace surrounding Los Angeles we flew over Los Angeles International itself, over the Palos Verde Peninsula, and then out to sea.

Linda: Mike has landed at the “Airport in the Sky” many times before, often while working as a flight instructor in Long Beach. Perched atop a 1,600-foot mountain with the terrain dropping away on all sides, this runway offers an interesting visual experience. We flew over the island’s isthmus, a narrow strip of land with a natural harbor on each side that separates the northern part of the island from the larger southern part where the runway crowns the rock. Turning south, we entered the traffic pattern and set up for landing. I had been warned that the runway will look a lot shorter than it actually is on short final; because of its slope the western third of the runway isn’t visible. On approach the sight picture is surreal. It looks like you are about to land on a very short aircraft carrier. Because of the rocky edge it is common for pilots to approach the runway too high at first.

Mike: My first flight to Catalina was 35 years ago when I had maybe 75 hours in my logbook. I’d been briefed but the whole picture still took me by surprise then and I had made three landing attempts before I finally figured it all out. That first flight was in a Grumman-American Cheetah like ours. But the only time I had ever stayed on the island was as a camper. This time we were going to spend some time in a place I had long wanted to stay, the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel. Next week we will tell you more about it. Until then, blue skies.

July 17, 2012 The Great Northwest part 4

The Liberty Gazette
July 17, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Wings aloft over gently incoming tide, we soared southward, Pacific blue to our right, chiseled rock to our left. The lovely Bellingham weekend with my sister and her beau ended too soon, but as they returned to their routines and work we looked forward to vacationing over and along the west coast. Around Elliot Bay and downtown Seattle, beneath us a mountain valley dotted by lakes and streams emptying into the Columbia River, the mass of Mount St. Helens arose to the east, her cratered peak snuggled into puffy obscuration. Above the gorgeous shores of Washington and Oregon, around Portland we followed the Willamette River into Salem, stopping for a visit with Mike’s sister and mom, who are always excited to see their traveling brother/son. His pilot career has conditioned his mom to ask in every call, "Where are you now?"

Mike: Nourished by family time, an invitation to stay with friends along the coast of northern California beckoned. The small flying community at Fort Bragg endowed us with a most hospitable stay at the home of air racing pals, Red and Marilyn. Red retired from his highly successful automotive business. Marilyn volunteers for darn near everything, including historic preservation in neighboring Mendocino, which you might recognize as "Cabot Cove, Maine" from the popular television series Murder, She Wrote. According to the owners of the Victorian bed and breakfast inn portrayed as the home of lead character Jessica Fletcher (played by Angela Lansbury) nine of the 264 episodes of Murder aired from 1984 to 1996 were filmed in Mendocino. Sites throughout the town appeared in all episodes and many residents were cast as "extras". They say Ms. Lansbury commonly interacted with locals; and they’d seen Tom Bosley "sign his autograph on a Glad Bag box proudly presented by a shopper stepping out of the local grocery." Twelve years’ filming contributed to the local economy, including the 20 member Mendocino High School band, whose appearance in one segment earned enough to fund a field trip.

How could a west coast town pass as a charming northeastern village? Many of Mendocino’s early settlers were from the eastern seaboard and brought their architecture with them. Filming required less travel from Hollywood and it lent well to depicting the fictional town, changing only exterior signs on businesses. The sign at the entrance to the Hill House of Mendocino became "The Hill House of Cabot Cove" and remains today a symbol of the camaraderie of home folks and film crew. Over a dozen silent movies dating back to 1904, and many "talkies" have taken advantage of the quaint architecture and pristine coastline, among them East of Eden, The Russians are Coming, and The Summer of ’42.

Linda: Mike being from Hollywood, the west coast and film industry bring familiarity. For me, enjoyment was made possible by Monday morning’s post-race visit to Air Mods Northwest where Grumman guru Ken Blackman gave "The Elyminator" the once-over, showed us areas for speed improvement, and took our order for a new propeller, specially made. Unless we were going to do something about it there wasn’t much point in sulking over the seven one-hundredths of a mile an hour by which our new speed record was pushed to second place in the previous weekend’s race. Once the order was placed I relaxed, looking forward to vacation and another opportunity to reclaim record-holder status – maybe next weekend’s AirVenture Cup, the annual race to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

July 10, 2012 The Great Northwest part 3

The Liberty Gazette
July 10, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Seven one-hundredths of a mile an hour is a painfully small speed by which to be bested. Our pit crew and cheering squad (Linda’s sister Diane and her beau Willie) were tops, but the local Washingtonian whose airplane weighed 400 pounds less and with lots of speed modifications (some of which we have yet to acquire) flew a good race. While pals couldn’t console her, Linda channeled her frustration into "fix-it" mode. We knew the "Grumman Guru" responsible for giving that airplane its potential. Ken Blackmon lives just outside Seattle, only an hour’s flight from the race in Ephrata. Determination had a plan: speed doctor, Monday morning.

Linda: Re-running the race in my head, thinking of all the little things that add up: a turn not tight enough, speed lost letting the Elyminator climb, did we choose the best altitude for the winds… Mike put it behind him once he saw her – a Hollywood celebrity living in Ephrata. There was no stopping his gazing at her, filling the camera’s memory and his with face-to-face images. She was different from the others, the Consolidated PBY Catalinas, amphibious WWII patrol bombers which found peace time work dropping fire retardant on forest fires. She was a star in the movie "Always" and has retired in Ephrata, where it was filmed. Her co-star, an A-26, moved to Houston after the film, finding joy in training jet jockeys. Mike and I were in two different worlds.

Mike: I’d been looking forward to our west coast vacation which would take us border-to-border starting on the wet side of the Cascade Mountains and the north end of Puget Sound. Bellingham, Washington is home to Diane and Willie, who made the four-hour drive each way to support us at the race. Beginning turbulently the trip smoothed out with spectacular views over the Sound just north of Seattle near Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. My father’s cousin was once the Commandant there. Closing in on Bellingham, through the mist appeared the San Juan Islands which decorate Pacific Northwest bays. Beginning our decent we gently banked to the right around higher terrain where a large ridge juts out and drops nearly vertically into the waters of the Sound. In late afternoon rays breaking through the clouds the city and runway of Bellingham welcomed us.

Linda: Landing ahead of more rain we rolled the Elyminator into a hangar to begin a peaceful weekend with Diane and Willie. Grateful for the break from south Texas swelter, donning sweatshirts we strolled the quaint college town, past rocky waterfalls pushing through openings in forests of tall wintergreens, along rivers and creeks flowing into the bay, stopping to warm at local coffee shops. Along a shoreline park our excellent tour guides acquainted us with a life-size statue of a lovely woman emerging from a big rock in ballerina pose. "Grace" reaches for the sea with one arm, the other nearly touches her raised foot behind her. She balances perfectly on the other foot, bolted to her platform: a mound of waste tin from long-ago cannery operations, a creative and tasteful reminder of the potential of recycling. Amazing that it doesn’t look like tin at all, but just like a mossy rock.

Mike: Fly with us down the west coast next week. Until then, blue skies.

July 3, 2012 The Great Northwest part 2

The Liberty Gazette
July 3, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Picking up where we left off last week, the post breakfast-with-my-brother flight from Boulder City, Nevada brought us to Twin Falls, Idaho for fuel. Linda appreciates the natural beauty of Twin Falls in early summer weather. She wouldn’t like it so much in the winter. But on this trip the serenity of bountiful farms slid along under our wings, though it was getting hot enough for an airplane’s climb performance to be a concern. Airplanes don’t perform equally in all conditions. When the field elevation and temperatures rise significantly, performance drops and climbing higher is noticeably affected. That’s why flying in deserts and mountainous areas requires adjustments in consideration of these factors.

Linda: Over a corner of the west side of the Rockies, northwest we flew toward Boise. Mike pointed out places from his past when he came to this part of the country regularly, such as Bogus Basin just northeast of Boise in the national forest there where he learned to snow ski. Picking out points on the ground can be more challenging in mountainous terrain than on flat lands but we had one great big landmark to follow most of the way, the Snake River. We meandered downstream from Twin Falls, following the Snake curves which form most of the Oregon-Idaho border. Through a deep canyon, earning the name Snake Grand Canyon, the river bursts out from the mountains onto the flat lands of eastern Washington near Walla Walla and joins an even bigger river, the Columbia, which winds through the Cascades near Portland, Oregon and empties into the Pacific Ocean. It was here that we experienced an unsettling interruption to our otherwise peaceful flight: a drone passing closely underneath us without warning and unknown to the Seattle Center air traffic controller providing us with information about other aircraft along our route. These things are life threatening and we do not support their use in public airspace.

Mike: Here and there along our route were areas temporarily restricted for flight where aerial slurry tankers battled forest fires, and where the pall of smoke hanging in the air made an otherwise clear weather day rather hazy.

Linda: Finally reaching Ephrata, Washington for the Great Northwest Air Race our group of piston-powered aircraft was outnumbered by gliders and their pilots who had come for the Great Northwest’s soaring competition. Aerobatic competitors were there too, practicing for a contest to be held after our race.

In the racing league we compete by class, and for this race our class had the most entries: 10. By all accounts we were favored to win but were upstaged by a local airplane weighing 400 pounds less than ours and with lots of speed modifications, some of which we have yet to do. The pilot flew a good race, staying on our "six o’clock" around the entire 170 mile course. Crossing the finish line 20 seconds ahead of him, we smashed our speed record that Mike set at Carbondale, Illinois just a week before by more than a mile an hour. But the other pilot was able to squeeze just enough more out of his airplane to break our new record by a mere .07 mph. That’s right, the difference between first place and first loser was just seven one-hundredths of a mile-an-hour.

Mike: Linda took the defeat pretty well, though determination set in. We’ll talk about that next week.

June 26, 2012 The Great Northwest

The Liberty Gazette
June 26, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: This year the Sport Air Racing League is sanctioning three races in the Pacific Northwest, giving us ample opportunities for scenic trips. The Great Northwest Air Race in Ephrata, Washington would bring us close enough to visit one of Linda’s sisters in Bellingham, and my mom and sister in Salem, Oregon. Rounding the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, circumnavigating thunderstorms and forest fires, we didn’t get as far the first day as we’d hoped due to a vacuum pump failure, which affects a couple of instruments. But good fortune was with us over Midland. There happens to be an aircraft mechanic there and he happened to have a vacuum pump. The two-hour delay was just short enough that we were able to get back in the sky before a big dark storm moved in. A hotel in Safford, Arizona would get our business that night, because we couldn’t quite make it to my brother’s house in Boulder City, Nevada. But we did stop in for a quick visit the next morning before continuing north through the Basin and Range region along the Nevada-Utah line, a tailwind scooting us by "Area 51" on the left and the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats on the right. Linda was amazed with the beauty of our next fuel stop, Twin Falls, Idaho, a farming community that from the air looks like a landscape artist’s dream.

Linda: Boulder City to Twin Falls was my leg to fly. Soon after departure our flight provided excellent views of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Salt Flats, and Wheeler Peak as we flew by Great Basin National Park. But before this leg was over we encountered considerable turbulence in the mountains. So much so I had to throttle back because strong bumpiness can be bad for the airframe. Updrafts sent us climbing unintentionally, then downdrafts answered with equal force. We got the little Cheetah up to almost 13,000 feet and the new engine performed exceptionally well. Climbing over mountain ridges we darted left and right to avoid building thunderstorms, and when we could finally see flat land ahead I felt some relief from the work it had been keeping the airplane shiny-side-up. The small hill between us and the Twin Falls airport eclipsed the view of the runway, but we knew it was there, just beyond the hill. I couldn’t help but chuckle when a pilot a few miles ahead of us radioed the Twin Falls tower and explained he would circle back around because he’d flown over it without seeing it. Must have been that hill.

Mike likes mountains and desert; I like farmland, and this trip offers dazzling scenery of both. Twin Falls is home to that part of the Snake River where Evil Knievel did one of his stunts many years ago in a rocket-powered motorcycle. The river’s carvings into the earth have created a spectacular image. Twin Falls is indeed a pretty place – the kind that could make a writer conjure up an dramatic tale, or a painter sit for hours on the hills to try and capture it’s striking beauty.

Mike: Catch up with us here next week, and we’ll share more about the ups and downs of our journey west. Until then, blue skies.

June 19, 2012 Rocket Man part 3

The Liberty Gazette
June 19, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The Commemorative Air Force took note of Mark Frederick, the highly skilled airplane guy we’ve been telling you about when once upon a time the piston rings in the B-25 "Devil Dog" were put in upside down, and nobody knew what was wrong with the airplane. Mark knew, and now as Chief Maintenance Officer and pilot of that B-25 he travels the country doing air shows, which allows him to meet lots of interesting people.

Mark: I was at Dyess Air Force Base for an air show. It was really hot. I was wiping off oil when over my shoulder I see a guy walking over with a cane coming straight at me. He reaches out and touches "Devil Dog" – like a tombstone. I came to learn that this man had been interred by the enemy in World War II at about the age of 10 or 12. His dad would send him out with white wash telling him to paint the rocks a certain way. He remembers looking up every time these blue B-25s flew over but didn’t learn until years later when one of the pilots who had flown them returned and explained that the rocks gave course, direction and distance to the targets. Aborigines found out where enemies were and helped the American pilots. Then he said to me, "These blue airplanes saved my life."

Linda: Nobody warned him about the stories he’d hear. While standing in front of the airplane at Oshkosh last year, a man came up and said, "I used to fly these things." When Mark asked, "How’d that go," the man shook his head, "It didn’t end well. We hit the water about a mile and a half from the beach." This was the co-pilot and he and the pilot survived but not the rest of the crew. He declined Mark’s offer of a ride; the memory was harsh.

Then there was the man who was shot down so many times over the water that the military had him come teach how to ditch B-25s. And the time in Ohio at the 100 year anniversary of the Wright Brothers, when an elderly man accompanied by his son approached "Devil Dog" with great purpose. A nearby fellow crewmember pulled out a camera and started recording: this guy had been on the island of Corsica in World War II. "He’d flown all the B-25s," says Mark, "and the one with the cannon in front was his favorite."

Mark has this kind of "sixth sense" about the WWII era, the airplanes and their pilots, which brings a unique depth to meeting the few veterans left. It’s more than gratitude. "They’d lost a lot of bombardiers," says Mark as he reflects on his visit with the old pilot in Ohio. "A World War II re-enactor reached out to him, helping him re-live some life-changing moments, and his son was there hearing it for the first time."

Don’t even try to get that lump out of your throat.

Mike: Of course Mark is taking the B-25 to Oshkosh next month for the world’s largest fly-in. But this year, on the way, he’s hoping to convince the crew, and other warbirds, to join in the AirVenture Cup race. "Yes," says Mark, "I’m trying to race a B-25. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that."

June 12, 2012 Rocket Man part 2

The Liberty Gazette
June 12, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Hope you caught last week’s edition of Ely Air Lines. We’re on part two of a series on the Fredericks – Cheryl and Mark, a/k/a "Rocket Man."

Building his reputation as an expert airplane builder, Mark and his "Team Rocket" saw sales of the quick-build F1 Rocket soar to 175 to date. Mark doesn’t just build, fly, and teach in airplanes, he races them too. For years the world’s second largest fly-in, Sun n’ Fun, held each spring in Lakeland, Florida hosted an arrival race called the Sun 100. Mark, having finished his first airplane, an RV4, headed to the Sunshine State and entered the 1992 race.

Racing can be addictive. The Fredericks continued to participate in the annual event, racing Mark’s latest airplane at the time, until organizers ceased hosting the race. Somewhere in the middle of the life of the Sun 100 Mark hosted a race closer to home, the Texas 100, at the 1996 Georgetown Air Show. He designed the 100 mile three-turn-point race in the same format as the Sun 100, but designing it didn’t make him immune to navigational mistakes – he went off in the wrong direction in his own race! Mark laughs remembering, "The first four airplanes off the ground followed me because they figured I knew where I was going. The fifth guy said something on the radio and then I noticed things I expected to see on the ground were not where they were supposed to be." He got back on course, and the race became a hit.

Linda: By 2006 Team Rocket had been formed, kits had been sold and built and there were enough Rockets flying to host a gathering, so the race became known as the Rocket 100. That led to the birth of the Sport Air Racing League, now in its sixth season and enjoying incredible growth and acclaim nationwide.

Meanwhile, in 2003, Mark started testing his skill at the famed Reno Air Races. "It’s very different," he says of closed-course oval air racing. "I call it uncooperative formation flying; it’s the strangest thing to fly formation with guys who don’t want to fly formation. You still have to be predictable, but it’s incredibly exciting." The strategy is intriguing. Flying down "The Valley of Speed" they’re really moving fast and that’s where airplanes that are faster in a straight line will do well. Others, like Mark’s airplane, are faster in the turns, which are hard to find at high bank angles so they use objects on the ground to aim for the right spot: "There was a desk on the ground and some discussion about which side of the desk to fly on. It turned out we were supposed to fly right over it, then point toward a corner in the fence. The hawk on Pylon 7 seemed to enjoy watching us whiz by."

Fellow air racer Tom Martin says this sport is like golf: you’re racing against others, but the main thing you’re doing is improving your score each time. Mark loves the camaraderie and says, "I don’t have to be the fastest, but if an F1, one of my airplanes is, that’s just as good."

The Commemorative Air Force took note of this highly skilled airplane guy and asked him to join as Chief Maintenance Officer and pilot of the B-25, "Devil Dog." We’ll pick up there next week.