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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January 31, 2012 AnnElise and Squeege

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

Linda: The very classy and always stylish Ada Fay Schmidt said last week, “Linda! I just want to know one thing!” Curious, I asked, “What do you want to know?” Ada Fay said, “Which one of those ladies wins the race? I can't wait to find out!” I realized she was speaking of the friendly rivalry between Louise Scudieri and AnnElise Bennett, about which we’ve been writing in this space the past couple of weeks. Louise and AnnElise enjoy their competition. I've been at races where it seems everyone in the room holds their breath waiting to hear the times and speeds when those two race each other. So Ada Fay, this is for you. I asked them to tell it in their own words.

Louise: That is fantastic; Miss Ada Fay made me laugh out loud! I'm just looking forward to test pilot status in a couple of weeks. We will hopefully have everything on the new engine working by the beginning of March and right now my schedule is open March 31 for the first race of the 2012 season.

From the first time I raced a Sport Air Racing League race in Sherman in 2009 when AnnElise beat me by less than one mile-an-hour, I was hooked. Air racer and race organizer Pat Purcell found out I was racing Air Race Classic, tracked me down, and convinced me to try a Sport Air race just one month before the Classic. I am forever grateful. When Pat saw our times and speeds, she was quick to tell me I was ready for ARC and that AnnElise and I were well matched in SARL. I had such a great time from pre-planning, race brief, start, and the concentration of execution, that I felt so good after crossing the finish line I laughed my way all the way to parking! I savor the feeling and completely enjoy the experience each time (even when I miss a turn and beat myself up). Now that I have a new, faster engine I hope Bobby Bennett keeps his eyes open for a set of 520 steel cylinders on the back of a surplus truck or corner of a hangar to plug into AnnElise’s airplane to get us back into the same class. Until then, “41Mike” and I will attend every race we can fit into our schedule and invite more racers to ‘bring it’.

AnnElise: I remember being a nervous wreck the first time I raced Louise, it was the first time I'd raced anyone with the same airplane as mine. I figured she had to want it as badly as I did, being a girl competitor in the boys’ club. My highly competitive nature took hold and I went screaming around the course, flying the straightest, tightest line I could. My speed of 158.10 mph beat Louise’s 157.18. I was hooked.

Mike: These ladies compete hard. AnnElise won the first match, but come back next week (Ada Fay!), because there is more to this story and you don’t want to miss it.

January 24, 2012 AnnElise Bennett

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

Linda: When Bobby Bennett said to his wife, AnnElise, “If you'll go to ground school and pass your written test, I'll buy you an airplane,” AnnElise says he really meant, “If you'll get your license you can be my co-pilot,” but she quickly explains that would be a sorely mistaken thought. Frequently the Dallas area couple flies two airplanes to compete in air races because, as AnnElise says, “I insist on aviation equality.”

Mike: The Bennetts live in one of their two hangars, a grass strip runs alongside, through their 80 acre funland. This is where AnnElise took many of her flying lessons from instructor Jill Williams Shockley. The Bennett runway is oriented northeast-southwest with power lines strung just feet from the north end, meaning departures and arrivals come with less cheek-squeeze factor when taking off or landing to the north (going out to or coming in from the south). However, prevailing winds from the south bringing a screaming quartering tailwind keep AnnElise on her aviation toes.

Her first emergency landing tested her skills for real when she had only 197 hours logged. She had picked up the airplane at a shop where repairs were made for hail damage. Lesson learned: always do a positive control surface check when control surfaces have been removed. One person manipulates controls while another holds onto the control surface so the weights are not causing the movement. Had they done that they’d have known she had no elevator control. But AnnElise passed the test with flying colors. Not a scratch on her or the bird.

Linda: In anticipation of their sixth wedding anniversary Bobby had asked AnnElise what she’d like to do to celebrate. She didn’t know right away, but after attending a 99s meeting, where air race queen Pat Purcell and Pat Keefer were pitching the U.S. Air Race she had her answer: “I want to race for our anniversary!” She says Bobby “looked at me like I had a hole in my head and said, ‘You want to what? We can't do that in a 172!’” Bobby now competes in his super-fast Bonanza, and AnnElise has moved up to a Cessna 182.

So what’s the favorite piece of living room furniture of a woman who lives in a hangar? It’s not the installed-in-the-floor trampoline, nor the climbing rope, rock wall, or gymnastic rings which contribute to her tight figure. It’s “X-ray”, her C-182, of course, adorning the living room when she’s not soaring fast and free. Bobby and AnnElise eat, sleep, live, breathe airplanes and X-ray has had quite a life. Before becoming a Bennett, X-ray was a sadly abused jump plane, but since her adoption has blossomed into as a sleek a racer as a C-182 can be.

Not content to be just a pilot, AnnElise has also helped Bobby, a highly experienced and award winning aircraft mechanic, overhaul at least 10 engines at last count, and is hoping together they will build a faster airplane to race. She’s especially enjoyed racing against Louise Scudieri, also a C-182 pilot, and says, “Every time I'm taxiing out to race, the adrenaline flows, the breath quickens, but it flows faster and sharper when I'm racing Louise because we are so well matched.”

Mike: And then there’s the “man trophy.” That’ll have to wait until next week.

January 17, 2012 Cessna 182 Racers

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

Linda: I first met Louise “Squeege” Scudieri back in 2009 in Denver, as we prepared to race against each other across the country in the annual four-day long Air Race Classic.

Louise is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), and CEO/owner of Smooth Inductions, P.C. An independent anesthesia provider, Louise puts people to sleep, wakes them up nice, and puts in epidurals and other blocks appropriate for various procedures.

But just last week Louise admitted to “fighting back tears of joy” when her mechanic left a voice message that the crated overhauled engine had arrived at the hangar. She had ordered a shiny new engine, upping her horsepower from 235 to 275. In the Sport Air Racing League that puts her in a new class, and the long time friendly rivalry between Louise and AnnElise Bennett is on hold now, until AnnElise can convince her aircraft mechanic husband Bobby to put some more ponies under “X-Ray’s” cowling (that’s what she named her plane). Louise wants very much for that to happen, too. She says of AnnElise, “She makes me fly a tighter race. I want her in my class.”

Both women own and fly Cessna 182s. Both are competitive, and I just learned that Bobby Bennett, the world’s best aircraft mechanic, is heading over to Louise’s hangar to take a peek.

The race classes in the League are mainly determined by horsepower and cubic inch displacement. With the old engine Louise’s fastest time was in 2010 at a race in Sulphur Springs, where she clocked 157.31 mph. The record for these factory-built aircraft (in Class 3 with fixed gear) is held by Red Hamilton and Marilyn Boese. They flew their Cessna 180 in a race in Sherman, Texas and turned in a speed of 187.24 mph. AnnElise’s fastest time in the three years she’s been racing the C182 was in 2010 in Courtland, Alabama, where she turned in a speed of 164.45 mph. Funny thing about how the airplanes are classed, is that in the Factory 3 Class the Cessna 182 competes against a Cirrus SR22, which is a much newer airplane with a sleeker, cleaner design, and whips through the air pretty fast.

But moving up with increased horsepower, Louise will now find herself in competition with another fine chick pilot, Nancy Benscoter, who raced her first League race last October in Arizona, and turned in a speed of 164.80 mph. I figure Louise’s new engine has just got to be a whole garden full of carrots dangling in front of AnnElise. Still, the self-employed medical transcriptionist/domestic engineer of two hangars, two rent houses, 80 acres and 11 dogs who loves to turn people on to general aviation and giving rides – from a starry-eyed six year old girl with huge aviation dreams to an adventurous 80 year old lady for her birthday – wonders, is Louise actually going to race, push her new engine to its limits? I can’t wait to find out. The race season begins March 31 in Sherman, Texas. While we’re waiting for that, come back to this page next week for a peek into the life of AnnElise Bennett, race aviatrix extraordinaire. Until then, blue skies.

January 10, 2012 Flying the Bahamas

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

Mike: Imagine wandering around tall fluffy white clouds sporting dark grey underbellies when you spot what looks like shadows on the water that seems to extend forever in every direction in hues from azure to turquoise in the shallower parts. To the west where the Tongue of the Ocean reaches depths greater than 4,000 feet it’s deep blue awes you. Those shadows become more pronounced, breaking into several pieces of more jagged shapes. Then the dense vegetation, low scrub, mangrove, mahogany and logwood trees dotting low flat surfaces start to jump out at you. You’ve been looking for these islands ever since leaving Nassau 40 miles ago and they have magically appeared stretching angularly across the horizon.

This magical paradise with its exotic pink sand beaches, “sea glass,” buried treasure, pirates and rum runners, sits right smack in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. The major airlines only serve seven destinations in the Bahamas so exploring the “Out Islands” (700 islands and 2,000 cays) of this exotic land is best by light plane or boat. You can charter a flight from Florida or Nassau to some of the out island resorts but even some charter operators with their bigger, faster aircraft cannot land on the shorter or crushed corral runways.

Approaching the islands you soon spot a 3,000-foot-long airstrip on the south end of one of them. Turning downwind in the traffic pattern you see an aircraft in the lagoon east of the island, a DC-3 that ditched in the 1980s and now rests among the corral in waters so shallow it sits above the surface during periods of low tide – one of many casualties of drug smuggling. This is the notorious Norman’s Cay.

The Bahamas is part of the greater Caribbean that stretches from the tip of Florida all the way to the northeast coast of South America over to the Cayman Islands and Cancun and back to Florida again. The northern parts include the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos. At the southeast portion are the Windward Islands where peaks of mysterious jungle covered volcanoes are often shrouded in clouds. Many of the spices we use daily come from here.

The Bahamas are a popular destination, especially during winter months when “snowbirds” come for the 70-80 degree weather. Like Canada geese, people in the northern parts of the continent migrate to warmer climates in cooler months.

Pilots, too, fly south for the winter and the islands are a favorite destination, easily accessible from Florida. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism promotes the country’s amenities. Annual activities planned to attract pilots and show off the beauty of these islands include an air race and an aerial treasure hunt. The Great Bahamas Air Race took place in mid-December and was won by our friend Alan Crawford in his Lancair Legacy. The week-long Bahamas Treasure Hunt begins February 12 and will cover more than 930 miles as participants use their airplanes to search for clues while enjoying the sun, sea, beaches, scuba diving, fishing, and relaxing.

Having had the opportunity to fly in the islands for my job in the past, I look forward to returning and enjoying their charms at a less hectic pace in the future.

January 3, 2012 The Incredible Life of Gary Baker

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

Mike: Gary Baker was a jolly fella who wanted more human contact than he got through his “Seven-Seas BBS,” an early variation on what we now call the Internet, or World Wide Web, and something that Al Gore didn’t have anything to do with. I met Gary about 20 years ago because I was a member of his board and we lived only a few miles apart. Gary couldn’t get out much due to health problems, so on occasion I’d venture by so we could chat face to face.

An electronics whiz, Gary had led an interesting life and we collaborated on stories for a time. We got into the development of an online aviation magazine where we could post our “hangar flying” stories but it never took off. Gary eventually moved from California to Tulsa where over time further health complications and his constantly changing addresses for one reason or another eventually led to us losing contact.

As a child actor his credits include the movie “The High and The Mighty” starring John Wayne. As a young man Gary served our country in the Air Force, based at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands. His specialty was electronic countermeasures. Once discharged he worked in radio as an engineer and later his deep, smooth-as-silk voice got him seated on the other side of the microphone at stations that played oldies or country music.

Gary was also a pilot. He flew, among other things, a DC-3 airliner and later became a Boeing 727 captain. He may have told me once but I don’t recall the airline, just the funny stories he told of airline life. One of those was when he was captain on the DC-3. Someone brought a cat on board and somehow, in the middle of a thunderstorm, the sweet little fur ball got loose and tore through the cabin, invading the cockpit just as another bolt of lightning flashed and thunder banged. The cat went wild, jumped up on the co-pilot’s head and sunk its claws into the poor guy’s scalp. If one can wrestle with a cat, it happened that day. Eventually the cat let go and wedged itself so far down near the co-pilot’s rudder pedals that nobody could get it out. When they landed the co-pilot nursed his wounds, leaving the fight with the cat to the ground crew.

Gary was furloughed when his airline scaled back operations. While waiting to be recalled he worked as a truck driver. He stopped on the side of the road one day to fix some lights on the upper part of the back of his truck. As he stood atop his ladder a drunk driver ran into the back of the truck knocking Gary backwards. He hit the pavement 14 feet below, flat on his back. The blow tore his heart from its surrounding tissue and caused major internal injuries. A medical helicopter just happened to be flying by at the time and its passenger, a world-renown Houston heart surgeon, saw the accident as it happened, and ordered the helicopter to land. Gary was stabilized, loaded into the helicopter, and within an hour he was in the operating room with possibly the best heart surgeon ever. Due to the accident Gary never flew as a pilot again. I wish I knew now whatever became of him.