The Liberty Gazette
June 12, 2012Ely 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.