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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April 24, 2012 Remembering the Doolittle Raiders

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

Linda: Arriving Friday afternoon for Saturday’s Bluebonnet Air Race we pulled The Elyminator up to the fuel pump before tying down for the night. Reno air racer and airplane builder Mark Frederick complimented the new paint job – a racy red and white with black and white checkerboard wingtips and tail. Mark especially likes the words which grace the underside across the wingspan: Stuck in traffic? Admittedly, I now get a kick out of flying low over I-10 and other congested freeways. For Mike, it reminisces his early days flying over crowded Los Angeles freeways. Mark began inspecting our other modifications to The Elyminator, noticing we haven’t yet replaced the original blue and white interior, which happens to match the borrowed wheel pants. Soon others gathered around the airplane; each new arrival gets the same sort of review and its ample reason to stand around and shoot the breeze.

We tied down next to Mike Smith’s red Swearingen SX300, capable of over 300 mph. He’s in a different class of competition but there’s a running joke about us passing him. Since last year’s official Indy race t-shirt featured our Cheetah reaching the checkered flag ahead of Smith’s SX300, he suggested parking downwind of his airplane might blow some of his speed onto us. We’d love that – just four more mph to break the speed record for our class.

Saturday morning dawned with low ceilings and turbulence, making for some pretty bone-jarring jolts as we knocked around the 130-mile course at low altitudes. Usually this race includes Mark and Cheryl Frederick’s grass strip as the start-finish line, but they would be out of town this time on an important historical mission.

Mike: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor 16 B-25s carrying 80 men crammed the open flight deck of the USS Hornet and blasted off on a top-secret mission, led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle. They became known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. It was the only time U.S. Army Air Force bombers had launched from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier on a combat mission.

Flying at wave-top to avoid detection, the bombers encountered only light fighter and anti-aircraft resistance. None were shot down. However, too large to return and land on the carrier, the bombers flew west to China’s coast where there were several suitable air fields. Weather and impending darkness made those good runways hard to find and most of the crews crash landed or bailed out. While the raid on Tokyo was not a widely technical victory, it was a morale booster during bleak times.

Remaining Doolittle Raiders are Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, co-pilot of B-25 No. 1, Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, navigator on B-25 No. 9, Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, engineer-gunner of B-25, No. 15, Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, engineer-gunner, No. 7 and Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, co-pilot of B-25 No. 16. All but Lt. Col Hite attended the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Reunion on the 70th anniversary of the raid, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio on April 18. B-25s gathered for a massive formation flight over Wright-Patterson. One of them was flown by our friend Mark Fredrick who just before our race buzzed us in “Devil Dog” (the U.S. Marine Corps B-25 variant) on his way to Ohio for the reunion.

April 17, 2012 Tim's pants

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

Mike: He saunters into the lobby and waits patiently for the girl behind the desk to finish serving another customer. Wandering over by the old leather sofa in the corner of the room next to one of the glass display cases with all sorts of electronic wares inside, he spots an aeronautical chart someone left half folded amongst the scattered aviation magazines on a small coffee table. He picks it up, unfolds it, and holding it out at arms-length his eyes sweep from one corner to the other like a king or big rancher surveying his territory. In his mid-forties, a little pudgy in spots and his hair thinning a bit, the one thing that stands out as he waits patiently is the big smile on his face. Finally, the girl working behind the counter has finished with the previous customer and the man, still smiling, steps forward and says, “Hi, I’m Tim and I’m here for my first lesson.”

“Oh yes Tim, your instructor is in the hangar and he’ll be right back."

“Great! I’ve wanted to do this my whole life.”

Tim was starting out on an adventure. A long yearning has finally brought him to a point where he is ready to begin. The average private pilot today is in his or her mid-forties and having raised a family finds themselves in a place financially stable enough that they can justify the investment into something they’ve wanted to do for a long time. Tim fits the description.

When I walked in that day in 2006 and we were introduced, immediately we discovered a real kinship even though our worlds had taken very different paths. I had pursued my dream of flight early from the age of 15 and unlike an airline pilot, flying the same route for years, my career flying freight and as a chief pilot for an international corporation has taken me many different places.

This was the start of something big for Tim, and something of a journey of rediscovery for me; to see anew the stuff I forcefully remembered long ago which at some point sunk into the far recesses of my mind. Having taught flying for much of my aviation career, although mostly in jets, I was stepping back into the realm of the beginner working with unmolded but willing and passionate clay that presented with the expectation of becoming an aviator. The challenge was one well worth the effort.

Linda: Mike gave Tim a good solid start, working with him long enough to be a strong influence on the way Tim approaches flying today, with good skills and common sense. Tim successfully achieved his dream and we see him somewhat regularly at the hangar. His two grown sons are also pilots and aircraft owners and the relationship the three men share has grown into something special from this mutual interest. Besides that, we’re rather fortunate Tim decided on a Cheetah when he purchased his first plane, because then if we need to borrow parts, he’s just around the corner. Good thing his Cheetah isn’t too bashful about letting our Cheetah borrow its pants from time to time.

April 10, 2012 Texoma 100 Air Race

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

Linda: Busy schedules kept us from early preparation for the Texoma 100 Air Race. Examination of the race course and even hotel reservations would wait until we arrived in Sherman the night before the race. After over a year of installing upgrades to our Grumman Cheetah, now dubbed The Elyminator, chomping at the bit to turn it out and really see what it can do, the good-humored banter for the race season opener fueled my competitive streak. Wayne Lemkelde flies a Grumman Cheetah with similar modifications and is our closest competitor. Apparently those who arrived at Race Central earlier in the evening joined Wayne in the hotel lounge, and as we were winging our way there they were posting in the group web page something about Wayne naming his airplane the “e-linda-nator.” It was on. Wayne was in for it. This was just what I was hungry for – someone to beat.

Mike: Earlier in the week Linda texted to me: “Another Cheetah has entered the race. We need Tim’s wheel pants!” Wheel pants are fairings that cover the wheels making fixed landing gear more aerodynamically clean, which means speed, and to Linda it was a need. We’ve been looking for wheel pants since our worn and cracked ones could no longer be repaired and wanted “speed” pants but have had difficulty locating approved parts. Our friend Tim keeps his Cheetah in a hangar near ours, but how to ask that question - may I borrow your pants? It’s like asking to borrow underwear. But when I managed the awkward question Tim laughed, assuring me that “Cheetahs aren’t bashful,” and yes, we could borrow them.

Linda: I pulled the airplane out of the hangar, fueled, loaded and cleaned while waiting for Mike to get off work. Race organizer Pat Purcell awaited our late arrival at the North Texas Regional Airport to give us a ride to the hotel. The night ended early with thunderstorms, hail and wind passing across the race course just north of the airport where race planes were lined up outside, but not a drop on the ramp.

After the pre-race briefing I caught fellow racer Greg Bordelon giving Wayne some tips on racing, and you can imagine Greg got a good scolding from me. Finally, at race time props began spinning, aircraft began taxiing out, and as Wayne taxied ahead of us I joyfully looked forward to passing him on the course.

Mike and I work well as a team and this race was my turn to fly and his to navigate. We had our race strategy, altitude for each leg, the degree of bank for each turn, and our preferred race communication style, all of which paid off when we caught Wayne before the first turn, passing him on the inside, leaving him in our wake as we turned in our fastest time ever at nearly 155 mph.

Mike: The friendly banter with Wayne continued after the race, and he congratulated us on the win while waiting in line for fuel. That’s what Sport Air Racing League is all about. We are competitive spirits but enjoy the people in our family of racers as much as we enjoy the competition.

April 3, 2012 A new life for the old Inland

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

Mike: Back in February and March last year we shared the story in a five-part series of the Inland Sport airplane, it’s creator, Dewey Bonbrake and his grandson, Lance Borden, who is the proud owner of one of only seven remaining Inland Sports – a 1929 model, disassembled. The excitement grew a few weeks ago when Lance announced he had taken on a partner in the long desired restoration project. So one recent Sunday afternoon a group of us met at a hangar at Ellington Field and loaded the rare antique airplane, piece by piece onto a U-haul truck. Lance and some other guys took the airplane up to an expert restorer in Kansas who has already brought a couple of other Inlands back to glory. We’re anxious to see it fly again some day. This particular airplane, the one Lance has, flew in the all-women’s air race, the Powder Puff Derby. Lance has offered in the past that if Linda wanted to race it in a future Powder Puff Derby he would let her, but I think the rules for minimum horsepower have changed and that airplane would not likely be eligible to compete these days. Still, it has a rich history, having been raced by both Mae Haslip and Marty Bowman, in 1931 and later. Even if she doesn’t race it, it would be great to fly it to the start or finish of the big annual air race next year to show it off. We’re excited for Lance seeing this piece of history and family legacy being brought back to life. It seemed a bit extra special, too, that his son and grandson were there to help load the airplane. A couple of pro photographers were around to document this important step in the Inland’s resuscitation and we all agreed that the photos taken of Lance with his son and grandson next to the airplane must be edited to include their Grandfather Dewey. It’s only proper

Linda: Speaking of racing, the Sport Air Racing League season has begun. I opened the League’s website just as the final grand notes in Arensky’s Overture ~ Dream on the Volga, Opus 16 streamed from my speakers. It was a perfect match for the photo of the day – Bob Mills in his bright red Vans Super Six in about a 30-degree nose up climb-out with his air show smoke on. The 2012 season opener was in Sherman, Texas this past weekend. We’ll have more on that in a later edition. Meanwhile, the second largest fly-in in the world, Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, Florida just celebrated another great year with many new product announcements by several aviation companies. Garmin has a new app for pilots, and ForeFlight unveiled its newest offering, a superior mobile weather data gadget for use in the cockpit.

Also at Sun ‘n Fun began the campaign to build 50 "Fire Hubs" at aviation campsites across the country. The Recreational Aviation Foundation wants to broaden the horizons of pilots and their passengers who fly from one destination to another never exploring what's outside the pilot’s lounge. Campfires and camaraderie make popular aviation gatherings so the nonprofit organization launched this campaign and AOPA sponsored the first Fire Hub, at the Sun 'n Fun campground area. We’ve often said Liberty is a perfect location to fly in and camp out, so maybe one day our airport will join in the fun.