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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August 21, 2012 Teens in Flight

The Liberty Gazette
August 21, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The news of the shooting screamed from the TV in the Norfolk, Nebraska airport building where we entered to pay for fuel, on our way up to Mitchell, South Dakota. All eyes were glued to the Fox News channel, watching the chaos, the sadness, the anger, the tragedy of it all; reports of the Colorado movie theater shooting. Like everyone else, I shook my head, my heart sank as I thought of all those affected by this horrible act. Like most, although truly saddened, we went on with our day. But we were recently reminded of the man and his vision, about which we wrote almost four years ago, Col. Jack D. Howell, USMC (Ret.) and his organization, Teens in Flight. The Florida-based charity provides flight training and aviation maintenance scholarships to teens whose parents have been killed, wounded or disabled in military action, as well as “at risk” teens. Col. Howell and his group heard about the shooting too, and they, too, live far from the tragedy and don’t personally know anyone involved. Yet once again, Col. Howell jumped in to do something.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, August 22, 16-year old Cora Rand, a scholarship recipient and student at Teens in Flight and her flight training mentor, 22-year old Cherileigh Dawson will begin a “Fly-a-thon” from their home base in Palm Coast, Florida to Aurora, Colorado. It’s like a walk-a-thon in the air. 1,310 miles. The women will fly Cherileigh’s Cessna Cardinal, and will be accompanied by Col. Howell.

Mike: A Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) in the Marines, Col. Howell also taught in inner-city high schools throughout the country, both careers offering tremendous opportunity for close observation of families grieving and dealing with sudden, unexpected life-altering tragedy. Sudden tragedy can trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), often symptomized in teens by withdrawal, mistrust, and negative behavior. “The CAO becomes immersed into the family crisis from the initial notification of death or severe injury to a love one, until all official paperwork is done,” he says, “then returns to normal duties, and the family is left to their grief and to fend for themselves.” He hated that.

Col. Howell founded Teens in Flight on the belief that by providing an opportunity for free flight lessons, with mentoring and a new direction focusing on a positive and fun experience, will help with healing and redirect negative behavior. With locations in Jacksonville and Palm Coast, Florida, Colorado Springs, and Killeen, Texas, Teens in Flight graduates have gone on to West Point, the Naval Academy, and Embry-Riddle.

The idea for the Fly-a-Thon came to him while watching the same news the rest of us watched, but knowing that insurance won’t cover all the needs, Col. Howell says, “We need to do what is right. That horrible act could have just as easily happened here.”

Cora, Cherileigh, and the Colonel are seeking per-mile pledges, which will be given to the Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance.

Col. Howell generously donates his time, effort, and resources because of his conviction that many life lessons can be learned through aviation. And so it’s not just a chance to fly to do something good, raise money and awareness. This “Fly-a-Thon” is the reality of Good that was received by one, and is being added-to and passed along to others. It’s not just about flying, it’s about what you do with a gift God gave you. Please join us in donating, or (386) 569-5685. Spread the word.

August 14, 2012 The race to Osh

The Liberty Gazette
August 14, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Forty airplanes sat on the ramp in Mitchell, South Dakota, their pilots awaiting a decision from AirVenture Cup race officials on the status of this “race to Oshkosh.” Oshkosh, Wisconsin is the site of the annual aircraft lovers’ gathering. Sixty years ago Paul Poberezny created what would become the world’s largest convention of any kind, a week-long fly-in that would include forums, vendors, daily air shows, and plenty of places to pitch a tent under the wing.

A line of thunderstorms threatened the route that was planned from Mitchell, then over Pocahontas, Iowa, which would serve as an optional fuel stop if needed, to West Bend, Wisconsin. West Bend is just south of Oshkosh and in a good location to be a finish line where we could all land, re-fuel, and then fly en mass into Oshkosh for the start of AirVenture. Fellow air racers Bruce and Steve Hammer grew up on a farm in Pocahontas, Iowa. Although they left farm life to pursue aviation careers, lessons learned from a life that demands the ability to make things work no doubt contributed greatly to the success of the Hammer Brothers Racing Team. And on this, her 90th birthday, their mother would bring rhubarb pie for those stopping at Pocahontas for fuel. Rhubarb pie from an Iowa farm mom. Now that’s enough to make you land whether you need fuel or not. And since this was a timed speed event, the clock would stop for those who chose to make the pie…er, pit stop, and restart when airplane and pilot are full.

Alas, the morning of the race a line of thunderstorms formed right in the middle of the route, over a large area that included Pocahontas, Iowa. Forced to change the race route, officials huddled and with the input of the Lockheed Martin Flight Services representative came up with a viable alternate route. The new path would take us just south of Minneapolis, north of the weather, but well beyond pie range.

As pilots learned of the revised course, the new finish line, and the all the changes to plans, we climbed in our respective cockpits and buckled up for a fast race. The wind was blowing west to east; there were 30 to 40 knot tailwinds to be had at certain altitudes, and those who executed the best race strategy could expect to see faster than normal speeds. The goal we set for The Elyminator was to break the record for our class (a factory-built airplane with 150 horsepower engine), which was 159.85 mph. I was hoping for 160 mph. It was a reachable goal.

Our race strategy worked well for us, and the new engine purred happily. We let the tailwind push us up to where we saw the best ground speed – at 9,500 feet. Numbers on the Garmin GPS gave us encouragement that we just might break that record.

When the race was over and we all met for the awards dinner there was a lot of talk about the great tailwind, and it turned out that speed records in 13 different classes were broken that day, including ours, at 172.71 mph.

We stayed a week in Oshkosh and took in all the fullness of everything aviation, every waking moment, lamenting only not getting our fill of Mrs. Hammer’s rhubarb pie and birthday party in Iowa.

August 7, 2012 AirVenture Cup

The Liberty Gazette
August 7, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Growing up in corn country – central Indiana – I ate enough corn by the time I was five to last a life time, but my recent trip to palatial corn town Mitchell, South Dakota pretty much knocked Indiana’s reputation down a notch.

More than just a place for harvest celebration, The World’s Only Corn Palace serves as Mitchell’s convention and entertainment center. Built to demonstrate South Dakota’s healthy agricultural climate, its unique exterior includes a mural covering the entire front of the building in naturally colored corn, grains and native grasses. The design is changed every year. Inspired by lavish Moor palaces, minarets and kiosks mixed with prairie folk art make for a top tourist attraction, and have welcomed John Philip Sousa’s Band, Lawrence Welk, Jack Benny, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and every big name you can think of from 1892 to the present

Scheduling conflicts prevented Mike from joining me so my friend Yasmina was eager for the adventure: the AirVenture Cup race from Mitchell, about 400 miles east to a finish line near Oshkosh, Wisconsin arriving for the start of the 60th AirVenture, the world’s largest annual convention that attracts more than 10,000 airplanes and over a million people.

For the 15 years the AirVenture Cup race has occurred the route has been pretty much a straight line, point A to point B, with full town celebrations at both ends. As in years past, the city of Mitchell hosted an airport open house and pilots volunteered to fly 165 Young Eagle flights (free introductory flights for youngsters ages 8-17). Area media helped promote the understanding of the airport’s importance and the local radio station broadcast live from the airport the entire day, building up excitement for the race that would begin in the morning.

Young Eagle flights are often the birthplace of great stories and Mitchell was no exception. One young boy was especially eager to experience his first flight. His mom’s concern over the challenges presented by autism were quickly quieted – once he was in the cockpit and given an opportunity to touch the controls the boy who often flies Microsoft Flight Simulator “was in his element,” and the pilot said he had a good feel for how an airplane flies. Mom had never seen him so calm, happy, and focused. Her joyful tears spoke volumes.

All the activities were familiar ones we enjoy at fly-in events, but being asked to be in a parade was a new one for me. It turns out, the rodeo was the same weekend and rodeo organizers asked air race organizers to rustle up some air cowboys (and girls) for a parade flight. Twelve airplanes joined in formation over Main Street, over the Corn Palace, and an excited crowd below.

The next morning 40 airplanes planned to race from Mitchell, over Pocahontas, Iowa, an optional fuel stop, to West Bend, Wisconsin. Fellow air racers Bruce and Steve Hammer grew up on a farm in Pocahontas and on this her 90th birthday their mom would bring rhubarb pie for those stopping for fuel. After crossing the finish line we’d fly in a mass arrival to Oshkosh.

Alas, a line of thunderstorms changed the race route. As we flew north of the weather we lamented not getting our fill of Mrs. Hammer’s rhubarb pie and birthday party in Iowa. See you next week for the rest of the story.