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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October 30, 2012 Redbird Skyport

The Liberty Gazette
October 30, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Returning from a business meeting we stopped in San Marcos, where the city has invested enthusiastically in their airport with innovative ideas. Construction of a new air traffic control tower and hiring an aviation management company to manage the airport are just two major changes to San Marcos in the past couple of years. Another is the impressive Redbird Skyport, an FBO (“Fixed Base Operator”) offering flight training and much more.

We were greeted at the airplane with a golf cart, taken directly to the door that opened as wide as the smiles of Skyport team members. The welcome was genuine, and when we said we had not been to San Marcos since before their new facility was built last year, our greeter promptly offered a personal tour of the 12,000-square foot building. Much of that space is the main hangar, but there’s also a cafe, gift shop, conference room, pilot lounge, showers, flight planning room and several computers, in addition to many Redbird simulators.

Redbird began building lower cost full-motion simulators in 2006 when Jerry Gregiore determined he could make them affordable to primary flight training schools. As it turns out, he’s revolutionizing the industry.

A pilot and retired information technology executive, Jerry served as Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Pepsi and for Dell. It was he who implemented “G2” strategy that brought Dell great success. Dell had bought in to a software vendor’s vision that building the computer around inflexible software would let them build more, and quantity meant profits. But that didn’t fit the company that advertised custom-built computers. A lot of money had been spent when Michael Dell wooed Jerry from PepsiCo. to “make it work.” Instead, Jerry swung the ax because it didn’t make sense to “layer problems around a broken core.” Given corporate politics, that took a lot of guts.

He also recognizes the importance of customer service and the value of employees, the "back room folks who are keeping the operation running". He believes too many employers misunderstand the loss a company suffers when one of these back room people leaves, saying, "there is no balance sheet for human capital loss". That attitude translates into better service, which helps craft brand loyalty.

Indusry praise. Aero News Network called Redbird’s strategy “the leading edge of a revolution of innovation.” Aviation insurer, Avemco, suggested Redbird has the formula for transforming today’s broken methods of flight training. Probably the most well recognized and highly respected flight trainers in the history of aviation, John and Martha King, defined the Redbird Skyport as the line of demarcation of the before and after, and Mark Paolucci, Vice President of Sales for Cessna Aircraft, identified Redbird as the future of aviation. Tom Haines, Editor in Chief of AOPA Magazine, congratulated all of San Marcos because the city stopped talking and started doing the right thing. San Marcos mayor Daniel Guerrerro is proud of what of what’s happening in his town, “seeing history being made right here.”

Linda: Our trip had taken us to another town not far from San Marcos. In that town, their airport is dying a slow and painful death because horribly narcissistic politicians are running it into the ground by killing off the entrepreneurial businesses that once made it a success. Ironically, Redbird had originally planned to build their facility at that airport, but when they encountered the backwards “good-ol-boy” politics so prevalent in many small towns, they walked away, and took their innovation, their success, and their enthusiastic people with them.

October 23, 2012 Mentors

The Liberty Gazette
October 23, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Whew! Were you glued to a TV or computer screen on Sunday, October 14, watching Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking jump? We were on our way to a birthday party and pulled off the freeway to watch and listen on our iPhones. Exciting, intense, and heartwarming. Not just heartwarming seeing Felix’s family, but the history and the bond between Baumgartner and Captain Joe Kittinger, who read the checklist off to Felix and coached him all the way, the man whose records Felix would break. Imagine being on the verge of attempting something only one other person has ever done, and that one person is with you through it all. Captain Joe’s amazingly reassuring voice certainly had to be a comfort, even to “Fearless Felix.”

I’m reminded of my first flight instructor, Anthony. Even though I didn’t have any fear about learning to fly, Anthony was still a comforting presence when I would become frustrated along the learning curve. There was so much to absorb, and it was all new to me. I am cursed with a trait fairly common to females, being directionally challenged. Most women navigate associating with landmarks, while the majority of men seem to have been born with a compass inside. Mike is like that. I could spin him around and point him any direction and he’d know which way he was facing and which way we need to go. Don’t bother spinning me around; it only takes one turn and I’m fumbling to find my way. I always tell him that’s what makes women better at instrument flying, because we have all these great inputs to feed us information and we don’t have to rely as much on navigational instinct. I don’t know whether any studies have been done to back that up, but it makes sense to me. With instruments giving read-outs that tell you exactly where you are and which way you’re headed the chance of getting “turned around” certainly must be significantly reduced.

Good ol’ Anthony. When the concept of an airport traffic pattern was totally foreign to me, he took me out to the parking lot of the flight school, placed markers in strategic places to represent a couple of different airports, say, Galveston and LaPorte. Late summer nights when everyone else was long gone there we’d be, Anthony and me, arms outstretched like airplane wings, flying the parking lot at Ellington Field. The asphalt below became southeast Houston as he’d give me compass headings, making me turn this way and that, then instruct me to “head toward LaPorte and enter the traffic pattern for Runway 22.” There’s a prescribed pattern for aircraft to fly and a proper way to enter the traffic pattern at airports without a control tower. That way everyone knows what to expect from each other when flying to an airport with no air traffic controller giving direction.

I finally got the hang of it thanks to Anthony, a dedicated instructor. There are some people in our lives who make a huge impact and leave us better than they found us. They’re not the people whose demise is the abyss of their self-adoration, but the ones who thoughtfully, generously, compassionately, leave traces of themselves in us, and when we examine our strength, we often find those traces to be colossal, even heroic.

October 16, 2012 The Highest Step in the World

The Liberty Gazette
October 16, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Imagine this moment in time when a man named Joe (who is not your ordinary Joe), sporting the latest “moon suit”, so high up in the atmosphere he can see the curvature of the earth, steps out of the gondola of a balloon, leaving behind the placard claiming, “This is the Highest Step in the World,” and begins falling, tumbling, down, down, down.

Linda: He’s not even your ordinary skydiver; he’s Captain Joseph Kittinger of the USAF, and in that moment, August 16, 1960, he stepped out, then plunged a long way down into history. Why, you ask? Well, maybe he was like me when I was little. The house where we lived had this beautiful curving brick wall that came around the front porch of the house like a hug. That lovely wall that always welcomed me home, with its stately lampposts guiding my way through the opening, its bricks softened by shrubbery Dad maintained himself, seemed so high above the world when I was, say three, or five. I’d climb up on it, stand at one corner, higher than the shrubs, surely almost higher than the house itself, and convince myself each time that I could do it, that I could jump over those huge shrubs – and survive it. Even when I didn’t land on my feet the impact brought a sense of victory, of meeting the challenge head-on and winning over fear, of owning that jump. I wonder if Captain Kittinger felt like that after his third and highest jump, when he stepped forward 102,800’ (about 19 ½ miles) above the earth, risking his life for the development of space suits and high altitude escape equipment the astronauts would need to venture into space.

Mike: His free fall, a bit faster than Linda’s hurdle over the bushes, accelerated to an unprecedented 625.2 miles per hour at the 90,000’ mark (just under the sound barrier), decelerating as he fell into thicker air. Four and a half minutes after stepping from the platform of Excelsior III, and down to 18,000’ above earth, the main parachute deployed slowing Joe for his landing on New Mexico’s desert floor. It lasted 13 minutes and 45 seconds, and then Joe went on to fly combat aircraft in Vietnam, staying for awhile in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

84-year-old Kittinger has held the record for the highest, fastest and longest skydive in history for 52 years, but he has worked hard to change that. His would be the only voice 43-year-old Felix Baumgartner would hear, coaching him as he jumped from 120,000 feet – 23 miles above the earth. Just like his coach, Felix is testing equipment for the next generation of space suits as well as survival mechanisms that provide a back-up for astronauts in the event they have to escape their spacecraft at high altitude and re-enter earth’s atmosphere. Joe says he is happy to see someone finally break his record.

Linda: Ah, to own the title, be the victor, and savor the sweet success of meeting the challenge head-on. I bet he jumped off brick walls when he was a kid, too.

October 9, 2012 A Tribute to Bob Jamison

The Liberty Gazette
October 9, 2012

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Airplanes, fishing holes and hunting camps, all have been bits and pieces of the bigger adventure called Bob Jamison. He lived it, talked about it and wrote about it so that each of us could live the same adventures alongside of him. Most people who’ve met him, and many who did not, can tell “Bob Stories.” We of course, have ours.

June last year Bob wrote for us as a guest writer and in his typical whimsical style, told about his initiation into the winged fraternity. And only recently did we learn how early in life he was established as an expert marksman. “Another kid at the airport fence” is how he signed his book, Airplanes, Alligators and Hi-Fin Blues, to us. He may have been just another kid at that fence, his mind spinning with glorious daydreams of adventure flinging the airplanes he saw this way and that, but the way he treated people proved him to be so much more. He wasn’t just another kid in any sense of the word. Bob hit the center of the mark in graciousness, adventurousness, encouragement, and more.

Somewhere there is a Piper Cub skimming low over the trees or over a passing freight train, chasing bad guys like Sky King or just seeking out the best fishing holes and places to hunt. Bob Jamison has flown his final journey. Tall tales full of colorful wit and wisdom are being retold in a different place now. Though the memories of their telling remain with us here, we will miss the story teller.



Twas the banker who lived beyond nine to five
Whose daring adventures brought life to our years
With heartbeat and pulse, excitement alive
Say it now so that everyone hears:
How fortunate are we. 

His good business sense to our benefit brought
Prosperity from the steward at the helm
Graciousness flowed to the have and have-not
Measure wealth by the reach of this Cynosure’s realm
And tell everyone: How rich are we.

The encourager’s heart, the warrior’s cry
Cannot be silenced not e’en by death
For all he’s given from sea to sky
Shall we all shout with grateful breath
And the whole world will know: How blessed are we. 

A crop duster’s flagman before GPS
Like a lodestar guided their intricate weave
Waving the flags at the ends of the rows
From early morn til late in the eve
Smuggled snakes on a plane from foreign shores
Beleaguered gators knew his wrestling finesse
The excellent marksman’s adventures outdoors
Made the Amazon shiver in utmost respect
And we, we never the same shall be. 

In tall tales of our beloved raconteur
A piece of each of us is found
That you’d laugh and you’d learn could be assured
Wit, wisdom, and mischief created a bond
Recipients of a gift are we.

On to heaven, blue skies, Dayton’s dear son
Our words salute you, our hearts hold you dear
The man named J. R. “Bob” Jamison
Lived life well, tell to all who will hear.

October 2, 2012 Under the Wire

The Liberty Gazette 
October 2, 2012 
Ely Air Lines 
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We’re finally getting a break from south Texas summertime heat, New England will soon be showing off her glorious colors, and the fly-in calendars are filling up as we enter my favorite season. This is the time of year when there are so many aviation events that it’s hard to decide which ones to attend.

A couple of weekends ago we had a choice of three fly-ins within an hour’s flight. We opted for the 23rd annual “Under the Wire” fly-in in Louise, Texas, just a smidgen past El Campo along Highway 59. Robbie Vajdos invites the whole town of Louise and anyone who wants to fly in to his nearly 3,000-foot-long turf strip for a grand party at the Flying V Ranch. Campers can come out on Friday and enjoy the festivities through Saturday. The Louise High School Band sells concessions and area clubs and organizations are invited to benefit from the huge crowd.

A fabric guy by trade, Robbie’s work on vintage aircraft, such as Stearmans, has won him awards, prestige, and a reputation as the guy to go to for restoration of fabric-covered airplanes. He teaches people to fly these planes too, and he’s also a heck of a nice guy, generous and community-oriented. When my friend Dianna located the 1942 Waco UPF-7 biplane her grandfather once owned she took it to Robbie for restoration, and then was taken under his wing to learn to fly it.

Mike: As we approached the Flying V we saw two Stearmans doing fly-bys and a group of Vans RVs in formation flight. It took a while to fit into the traffic pattern but eventually we did, and found a parking spot off to the side of the very well-maintained grass runway, arriving just in time for lunch. Tents pitched next to adventure-seeking tail-dragger airplanes, such as Piper Cubs, Cessna 170s and Aviat Huskys, were a sign of some of the fun we missed the night before. A friend who saw us land called my cell and directed us to a picnic table under a large shade tree on what could be considered the equivalent of the 50-yard line, but this prime spot was for watching airplanes. In the cool shade on a beautiful day we joined several friends beside the huge congregation of vintage biplanes, many that were giving rides, and watched as pilots did touch-and-go’s and formation fly-overs, at the fly-in named for the utility wires which used to cross the middle of the runway but were taken down a few years ago and buried underground.

In the afternoon our host conducted a briefing for the flour bombing and spot landing contests. Armed with three flour bombs (flour-filled “regulation” brown paper bags) we took off in the second of three groups, four or five planes to a group, each of us trying to hit the target laid out on the runway centerline below, one bomb per pass. After dropping our third bomb we flew one more circuit in the traffic pattern, and on this final round aimed to touch down exactly on a designated spot, or hopefully closer than anyone else. We tested our bombardier and pilot skills, and were all smiles, all day, heading back to Ellington in the waning light of the setting sun.