formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

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.

June 5, 2012 Rocket Man part 1

The Liberty Gazette
June 5, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We spent some time recently at the world headquarters of Team Rocket, the company that developed the F-1 Rocket, a very fast two-seat experimental airplane. The F in F-1 stands for Frederick, as in Mark and Cheryl Frederick, who live on their air strip they’ve named Macho Grande.

Mark was born with airplane-shaped genes, his earliest memories are of sitting on his dad’s lap in a Champ in their hometown in Ohio. Two uncles flew in the service, one flying "the Hump" and the other in a C47, and by age six he knew nearly every airplane that existed. So while it might have been only natural Mark would grow up to be such a highly sought-after airplane builder, he says it was really never planned that way. As a young adult Mark moved to Texas taking a job in sales, but he’d always wanted to build things, so when the sales job didn’t work out he went to a cabinet shop to see if they needed any help. The boss said if he had a tape measure he could start in the morning. Unfortunately, his 10’ tape measure wasn’t quite what the boss had in mind, so with a 25’ tape came, "It’s coming out of your paycheck." Fortunately, though, Mark did well. Within six months he was running a crew and had a company truck.

Mike: The back injury that ended a budding cabinet-making career freed him up to go in to aviation full time. His father, a dentist, suggested he start a flight school – that’s when the Kitty Hill Flight School, in Leander opened. The school did well, but with tough economic times the flight training business slowed. He’d long admired a great-uncle, whom he’d only met once at an airshow in Marion, Ohio, who had built a biplane; and found inspiration in the stories he’d heard of women building airplanes during World War II. Surely if these people could do it, so could he. Working with Formica is a lot like working with aluminum, and he’d worked with miles of Formica in the cabinet business. So he began with a kit, to build a small experimental airplane called a Van’s RV-4. One day Rob Vajdos, one of the foremost experts on Stearmans, stopped in at Kitty Hill for fuel. Impressed with Mark’s work, that one chance meeting led to Rob asking Mark to help a friend build his RV-4, which led to another, and another. Somewhere in that chain Mark’s dedication to perfection and great rapport with customers got him noticed by world record holder Bruce Bohannon, who asked him to build an airplane that would break all records in the "time-to-climb" category. The deal was sponsored by Exxon from 1999-2006, and the "Flyin’ Tiger" built by Mark Frederick, is still a world record holder.

Mark was also building the Harmon Rocket for people who had bought kits from John Harmon. After building somewhere between 11-15 airplanes, making notes about the process and how to improve it, he realized customers needed an assembly manual. That idea sparked the formation of Team Rocket, now with 175 quick-build kits sold. In fact, when the manufacturing firm asked how many he wanted to build, Mark says he thought he was sticking his neck on the line to say 50. But 48 sold the first year as word continued to spread about Mark Frederick, a/k/a "Rocket Man," bringing air racing into his future. We’ll pick up there next week.