The Liberty Gazette
August 7, 2012Ely 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.