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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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.