formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

December 24, 2013 WestJet Christmas

The Liberty Gazette
December 24, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Airline travel this time of year can be stressful. Getting to the airport, going through that mockery we call "security" and finally boarding the airplane in full cattle-car fashion can be overwhelming even for young, healthy people not traveling with children. If you are one of the millions of viewers who have experienced WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video, surely you’ve been blessed to have been an observer.

Canada’s low-cost and second largest airline is known for their customer service and friendly attitude, but now they’ve taken that to a new altitude.

In the middle of the night at each of two Canadian airports, Pearson International in Toronto and Hamilton International Airport in Hamilton, Ontario, WestJet employees quietly plant a large box in the departure waiting area. The next morning, as passengers scan boarding passes a virtual Santa magically appears "in the box". Addressing each passenger by name he interacts directly with them, confirming this is not an automated machine, and listening to each Christmas present wish list. Chuckling passengers then proceed to board their flights to Calgary.

The Santa boxes in Toronto and Hamilton are connected by Santa-cam to a studio in Calgary where Santa can see and speak with each passenger. Behind the scenes 175 WestJet employees volunteer as Santa’s elves, logging wish lists, organizing and executing the surprise. Once the customers have checked in at the two departure cities, the folks in Calgary head out to have some fun. WestJet teams race to local stores picking out exactly what the passengers requested, scurrying back to the airport in time to wrap and label each present and rush them to the baggage claim area.

Linda: The two flights land in Calgary, passengers disembark and make their way to the baggage claim area. As the baggage ramp buzzer sounds and the carousel begins to turn Christmas decorations illuminate and (fake) snow begins to fall on the weary travelers. Captivated by the holiday scene surrounding them, many pull out their cell phones to take photos…and then they notice the baggage that is coming down the ramp to the carousel is not baggage at all, but gift wrapped boxes labeled with their names. At first they’re stunned. Then that same Santa they spoke to before they boarded their planes shows up in the crowd. Realizing the gifts are for them, tears, laughter, and looks of astonishment fill the room as they unwrap and find exactly what they told Santa they wanted.

From a marketing perspective, WestJet has scored a mammoth branding win by pulling together joyful emotions, shockingly unbelievable actions, and real people who really give – a story everyone wants to share. It all adds up to a remarkable image for the company; one of honesty, integrity, compassion, and at a fraction of the cost of a television ad.

We haven’t totally spoiled it for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to YouTube and enter WestJet Christmas Miracle, and add yourself to the more than 30 million others this brilliant little surprise has touched. It’s narrated in the style of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas," though the words were changed a bit.

To quote Santa, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good flight!"

December 17, 2013 Rosie's daughter

The Liberty Gazette
December 17, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We left you hanging last week in Part 1 of The Real Rosie the Riveter. Don your parachute, we’re about to take a leap.

Rose Will Monroe, the woman who became the human face of Rosie the Riveter while building B-24s’, worked hard, had a passion for life, and never knew failure, not because she never failed, but because she never gave up. Her daughter, and my good friend, Vickie, inherited that spunk.

Mike: Although she enjoyed learning about flying from her mom, by the time Vickie was out of school she was eager to begin carving her own life. Flying took a back seat, or should I say, Vickie took a back seat. Instead of being up front at the controls, following in her mother’s wake, Rose’s youngest child moved to the back where there was easy access to the door, and began jumping out of airplanes – but not before she’d written a few new chapters in her own story.

After some time in New Mexico that included a horse, a dog, a marriage and a daughter, Vickie found herself a single mom and returned home to Indiana for a restart. She opened a water treatment business and considered earning her pilot license in order to more efficiently reach customers, but then she met a special someone who introduced her to skydiving.

Vickie became enamored with the flying world. Through her new position at the Clark County Airport in southern Indiana that old life she knew as her mom’s became her own, but with a twist – professional skydiving.

With a scholarship from the Ninety-Nines Vickie finally earned a pilot license while continuing to perform at airshows as part of the Aerial Allstars Skydiving Team, one of few people performing a unique night pyrotechnic routine. Control boxes strapped to her arms were wired underneath her jumpsuit, connected to pyro tubes attached to her feet. During a jump she’d monitor the altimeter on her wrist, pressing switches to release fireworks at predetermined altitudes.

Linda: A bus ride while visiting Cancun offered another twist. Wyn Croston, a dashing U.S. Air Force captain, electrical engineer and missile launch officer, took the last open seat on the bus. Exchanging phone numbers led to Wyn’s introduction to skydiving. "And I fell for her," he chuckled as we sat on the porch of the cabin they’re building in Willis. "Our first kiss was during a free-fall jump," Vickie chimed in.

These days Wyn and Vickie use their own plane to fly people and pets in need for Angel Flights, Young Eagles, Challenge Air, and Pilots & Paws.

Vickie reflects proudly yet humbly on her mother’s accomplishments and influence. "Mom was inducted posthumously into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame for her role supporting the war effort, as Rosie the Riveter," she says with the smile in her soul beaming.

The Rose Monroe Society raised funds to support the National World War II Memorial. At the ground-breaking ceremony Vickie was joined by Colin Powell, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Dole, and others. When a woman named Mrs. Smith struck up a conversation and asked, "What’s your connection with the Memorial," Vickie told of her famous mother. Mrs. Smith insisted Vickie stay put while she fetched her son, and moments later, FedEx founder Fred Smith was ushered over to shake Vickie’s hand as they discussed the importance of the National Memorial and of leaving a legacy.

December 10, 2013 The Real Rosie the Riveter

The Liberty Gazette
December 10, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Farm kids learn early to do what it takes to make things work, and to work with what’s on hand. Vickie’s mom grew up on a farm, one of nine children, and one of the things she learned was how to build houses. That skill was enhanced when she became a widow and had to leave Kentucky with her two young children in search of work. Henry Ford had made his factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan available for building B-24s, and when Vickie’s mom heard there was work in Michigan she and her children boarded a bus that headed north.

Times were tough during WWII, and a job in the bomber factory was a good deal. They say they turned out one plane every 55 minutes, thanks to the handiwork of America’s women. They called them collectively, "Rosie the Riveter", after a popular song of the day. There was not just one Rosie, but six million who replaced the men who had gone to war.

When actor Walter Pidgeon came to the Willow Run factory in Ypsilanti to film a war bonds film the crew began looking for the woman who would be the human face of that spirit, the woman who embodied courage, strength, and determination.

Someone at the plant declared they had the perfect candidate right there, building airplanes. She was spunky and gutsy, fit the character of the song, her primary job was riveting, and her name really was Rose.

Linda: That all happened before Vickie was born, but she loves telling the story about her mom, Rose Will Monroe, the original Rosie the Riveter.

The familiar poster of the lady sporting a red bandana, flexing her bicep, was not the original. That was a Westinghouse company morale poster. The emblem on the model’s collar is a Westinghouse badge. Geraldine Hoff Doyle was a musician who decided after a couple of weeks working in the factory that the risk to her hands was too great. Not willing to sacrifice her future in music, she quit the job, but was there the day the photographer came to take pictures and choose a model. Years later, in the 1970’s, that Westinghouse company poster became the symbol of "Rosie the Riveter". Geraldine wasn’t even aware they had used her likeness until decades later.

Rose had long admired the women who came to pick up the airplanes she helped build; watching the WASPs fly away relying on her rivets, she longed to be one of them. The rules forbade her, a widow with children, to join the WASPs, but in spite of her circumstances her heart belonged in those airplanes.

In the early 1970’s Rose finally became a pilot, and shared her passion for flight infectiously for a few years, until one day when a passenger changed the course of her life. In his first flight in a small plane, the passenger reached forward on take-off and flipped the switch that operated the electric flaps asking, "What’s this do?"

What it did was slam the plane into the ground, causing serious injuries to Rose, Vickie, and the passenger. Rose lost an eye and a kidney, and her health was never fully recovered.

Says my amazing friend, Vickie, "Seems so final, but it's not. Mom left a legacy for all. She was uncompromising in her high standards, no job was beneath her, and she believed teamwork could accomplish anything."

We’ll leave you hanging ‘til next week when we’ll have more on this riveting history.

December 3, 2013 The Ace

The Liberty Gazette
December 3, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The boy filled his glass jar with gasoline, hopped back on his bike, lawn mower in tow, and peddled out in search of tall grassy yards. Gas was 25 cents a gallon and for an enterprising young man, money could be made if he was willing to look and work for it.

The filling station owner had taken notice of the youngster and offered him a job. Jim had long admired the men who stood at the station’s pump island with their pressed uniforms, tire gauges in their shirt pockets and smiles on their faces, and accepted the job, thinking of the respect he would earn when he quickly serviced cars belonging to ladies like his mother, who often stopped in for gas.

Fast-forward six months, Jim proudly wearing his crisp uniform at the pump island. He’s worked his way up from cleaning hub-caps, vacuuming floors, washing windows, and stands like a sentinel surveying his domain one Sunday morning when his grandfather drives past on his way home from church.

An Austrian prisoner of war captured during WWI, his grandfather had been held in Crosby, Texas. After the war he saw opportunities here not available in Austria and declined the free trip back to Europe, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen.

Grandfather glanced at the boy sternly, driving on without waving back. Later that evening young Jim would begin to learn an important life lesson.

Grandfather: "What were you doing, and why were you not in church this morning?"

Jim: "Well, that’s my shift."

No matter what the image he thought he’d built for himself, Jim was encouraged to do better – by God’s standards.

"Come to my shop and you can work every day after school and not miss church on Sunday," offered his grandfather.

Although the new job didn’t seem to have the same prestige, this place full of machines was fascinating. Jim started at the bottom, pushing a broom; soon the other men working there began showing him how to run the machines, entrusting him with work, but the customers weren’t convinced yet of the kid’s abilities.

When the men left on vacation or hunting trips and customer orders began to stack up, Jim decided he would fill them on his own. This meant he had to teach himself to type so he could create invoices as though he had turned the work over to the machinists. The customers never knew differently and Jim kept quiet and before long was a journeyman machinist.

Mike: Our friend learned to fly at a young age, the son of a flight instructor/airplane mechanic. His mom would drop him off at the airport after school and he’d climb the fence, pull a friend’s Piper Cub out of a hangar and go flying, then fill it back up and push it back in the hangar.

Jim Kubik was called to duty to serve our country as a medic, earning the right to be awarded credentials as a Physician’s Assistant, but he couldn’t wait to get back to the shop and the craftsmanship of making something out of a lump of steel. A humble man who probably wouldn’t want us to say how impressed we are with Baytown Ace Industrial, the business he’s built with faith and hard work, was that same young man who listened to his grandfather and set his priorities straight. He’s the one who holds court during Saturday morning breakfast gatherings of aviators in Baytown, and with his somewhat low-key exterior entertains us all with his many funny stories.

November 26, 2013 Pointing the way

The Liberty Gazette
November 26, 2913
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Hunkered down in his open cockpit the aviator is wrapped in a heavy jumpsuit, fleece-lined leather jacket and helmet, goggles, and a silk scarf tied securely around his neck for wiping engine oil from his goggles. He peers out into the nighttime blizzard looking for a farmer’s bonfire. Once he sees it he continues on looking for the next as he crosses the countryside flying the U.S. Mail.

Linda: Early methods of air navigation included following railroads, using road maps and looking for easily identifiable objects on the ground, even farmers’ bonfires, in this method known as pilotage. Barns and water tanks that had a town name with an arrow painted on them proved helpful in regaining one’s bearings. Another system of early air navigation relied on a compass and watch. Flight planning for a particular heading at a specific speed for a certain amount of time results in a predictable flight even without fancy equipment. In the first days of airmail cockpits were unlit so reading instruments was difficult, and locating ground markers in the dark not so easy either. Most flying was done in the daytime.

Experimenting with bonfires in 1920 and then beacons in 1923 proved to the U.S. Mail service that it was possible to fly successfully at night along preplanned routes, even in marginal weather. This made operating mail routes with airplanes more efficient than trains, prompting Congress to fund a navigation system using beacons to light the way across the nation. Mail planes were served by an arrangement of beacons mounted on towers every ten miles to cross the nation’s midsection. Four years after construction of the beacons began the Federal Airway system was turned over to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Lighthouses, the obvious choice for people with experience creating safe travel in the dark. Within 10 years 1,550 beacons covered 18,000 miles.

Mike: Often placed at remote locations each beacon site was built upon a concrete foundation in the form of an arrow pointing in the direction of the next beacon site. Mounted on the arrow was a tower that housed the rotating beacon. At the feather end of the concrete arrow was a shack protecting two generators; if one failed the other would continue on – pilots like redundancy. The beacons’ automatic bulb changing system swung a spare bulb into place when the other burned out. If a pilot had to land to wait out inclement weather or deal with a mechanical problem, the beacons were a welcome sight during those dark nights; their flashing green or red light signaling whether there was an adjacent landing strip. Many of the arrows still exist.

Ground-based navigation aids evolved over the years and the jump to GPS (satellite based navigation) equipment began offering precision positioning, but there are those who still use good old-fashioned pilotage as a preferred form of navigation. The Montana State Department of Aeronautics operates 17 of those original beacons to help pilots travel through the mountain passes that can be confusing and disorienting, even with GPS.

Who knows, maybe good old-fashioned pilotage would have been more helpful to the pilots of the 747 that landed at the wrong airport last week – using GPS. Oops.

November 19, 2013 The Sound of Flying

The Liberty Gazette
November 19, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s "Flight of the Bumblebee" is a well-known orchestral interlude in his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. Originally featuring a solo violin to create sounds of the bumblebee, the piece was composed 1899–1900, the same time frame that the Wright Brothers began laying plans for controlled flight and flew their first manned glider. The Bumblebee music is played in the scene where a magic swan changes a prince into an bee so he can fly away to visit his father without being seen because his father doesn’t know he is alive. This might give some idea as to why I don’t write operas…but on with our story.

In my car classical music often plays and I sometimes ponder the complimentary couple of song and soar. The Flying Musicians do, too; their motto, "Two passions - one goal – bringing aviation and music together." The group has enticed talented musicians into their membership, entertaining and educating youth.

I’ve flown cross-country flights over soft blankets of clouds with a variety of music piped into our headsets (the most unfortunate choice being "Danger Zone" reverberating in anything slower than an F-14). I’ve flown aerobatic flights, drawing graceful loops and rolls like a flowing musical staff, as though our ship were the conductor’s baton leading an orchestra as its notes danced in waves of the expanse. As common as these two passions are – flying and music – they seem to have traveled through time holding hands but never becoming one.

Having set my mind to searching for the place where music and flying no longer parallel, but join, I came across the transcript of Aron Faegre’s speech given at an Airport Management meeting on October 27, 2001, "Aircraft Noise, Wildlife Sounds, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."

Beethoven lived during the time of aviation pioneering. Balloons, both unmanned and manned first flew when Ludwig was a teen. When his Ninth Symphony premiered in 1824, flight by balloon was all the rage.

Aron imagined a symphony created from airplane noise, saying, "It is my hope that future aircraft can be designed so that they are able to produce more specific tones or frequencies of sounds when flying. In this way while aircraft fly overhead they can be "tuned" so that via use of standard air traffic control procedures, planes may be arranged in either major or minor chords as is appropriate to the community activities below. Perhaps if we are able to sufficiently develop the technology, there will be a day when aircraft coming to and from airports will be able to provide the sound of Beethoven's 9th Symphony to all below. Truly, we can hope that there may still be a time when the sound of aircraft is considered music and not noise."

Belgian pilot and composer Bruno Misonne seems to have shared Aron’s hope as he willed together the two beloved delights. Raised on classical music, he discovered new "instruments" during his pilot training. Mixing aircraft sound bites with instrumental music, Misonne’s aviation orchestra produces a unique sound. So this is where that pondering took me, to the place where the parallel ends. As Rimsky-Korsakov gave an insect voice to a violin, Misonne has given musical voice to aviation. Twelve compositions were released on his 2007 disc, Aviation Music. Perhaps one day, Aron Faegre, you’ll hear your arrangement, coaxed by careful conducting controllers.

November 12, 2013 The Priest who kept on Knocking

The Liberty Gazette
November 12, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: This week’s story starts with a small town in Ireland experiencing massive unemployment, its citizens departing to find jobs elsewhere. The town was drying up in 1980, except for the visitors that still came to see the shrine after 15 townspeople reported witnessing an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Their testimony approved by the Catholic Church, Irish Catholics had been making pilgrimages to tiny, remote Knock, and over 600 cures were reported within a year of the sighting. But that was over a century ago, and the town had not much else to keep its economy going. That is, until Monsignor Horan moved to Knock.

Seeing the human pain of economic distress, Horan looked around to find where money was being spent, and finding it at romantic dance halls populated by teens and young adults, he set up business to collect money in sort of a chartable dance hall.

The idea worked well, spurring more ideas the priest would put into action to feed the flock put in his charge.

The dirty carnival-like atmosphere that invaded of the area where the Virgin Mary was sighted, the muddy streets and dilapidated shacks where cheap and gaudy memorabilia was sold received special attention from the Monsignor. After succeeding in cleaning up the area he campaigned tenaciously to raise funds for a basilica. (I had to look up what a basilica means to the Catholic Church – it involves a commitment and carries a special honor.) It’s a great story – short version is: sighting site cleaned up, basilica built and designated, priest gained ground with politicians and real people (that’s two separate groups), putting his faith into action.

With more than 1.5 million traveling to the shrine the priest helped build up, what could he do next to help his people? How could he turn this sleepy, backwards town into a place people would come and spend money? Build an airport!

Mike: Someone’s funeral offered perfect timing for Horan to obtain approval from the head of Irish government (called the Taoiseach), Charles Haughey, to construct a runway. Political blinders cause those types to act only for anticipated votes; hence, the big important guy gave it his blessing at the post-funeral lunch.

Horan got to work before the next breeze would change Haughey’s answer – even before money or planning permission was granted. When they tried to ‘reign in his passion’ he went on a campaign of his own, holding fund raisers, drawings, and singing in halls around Ireland. One of his campaign songs:

I'm dreaming of a great airport
With all the politicians that I know
May the Taoiseach be happy and bright
And may all the politicians do right!

Most all the locals came to cheer the landing of the first airplane on the 8,000’ runway at the new international airport – not the grass strip Haughey assumed it would be.

The former Knock Airport, now Ireland West Airport, hosts flights to more than 25 scheduled and charter destinations. The town hopes this year’s success will eclipse last year’s, their best year yet.

Monsignor Horan has since passed on, but his breviary, rosary beads, reading glasses, and fur hat are displayed inside the terminal building, while outside a statue of him stands firm, an encouragement to never give up.

And Ireland’s tourist agencies report that the airport is vital for that part of the country – thanks to the priest who kept on knocking.

November 5, 2013 Mayor Captains

The Liberty Gazette
November 5, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Low ceilings and visibility delayed the first flights at the super Challenge Air event but every pilot and volunteer on the ramp was having too much fun with the festivities to notice. Even with the later start, we worked in three very special flights for children with disabilities before having bug out to Jasper in time to squeeze in the annual Ghost Run Air Race and Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest.

Our competitors might have been disappointed when we landed and refueled just in time for the green flag. The neck-and-neck points race will be over when the season ends this Saturday in Taylor, Texas.

As hurried as our arrival and race start were, the post-race lunch and awards began with a nice surprise. The citizens of Jasper voted in a new mayor this past May. They chose Max Griffin over the two-term incumbent so he must have really impressed them. As visitors to Jasper who have some knowledge of the merit of airports we were pleasantly surprised when the first person to the microphone to thank everyone for coming to Jasper to race was American Airlines pilot and mayor, Captain Mayor Griffin.

Mike: Looking back at the campaign last Spring, Max Griffin, who grew up in Jasper and had returned in 2011, ran for office because he believed he could have a positive impact on his hometown, which has suffered a great deal of negative publicity. The Captain Mayor understands, and rightly so, that ambassadorship is the responsibility of the mayor and council, so his successful campaign focused on moving Jasper forward – for everyone, not just the ‘good-ol’ boys’ or the country club friends with money. For us, it was a refreshing surprise, quite respectable for this mayor to be at the airport to say, "Thank you for coming to Jasper – we’re glad you’re here," and "We want you to know, this is an aviation friendly city – we are pro-aviation and we know this airport is important to our community!"

Besides his conviction that it is vital to serve all the citizens of Jasper, Griffin aims to encourage business owners to build or relocate there. That he finds the airport so important to the city’s future will be a key factor in attracting businesses that will bring jobs and build the local economy.

The message from Jasper renewing hope for a small town and its airport was strengthened by news that came the following week from the Alliance for Aviation Across America, a coalition of individuals, businesses, agricultural groups, FBO’s, small airports, elected officials, charitable organizations, and leading business and aviation groups that are promoting the value of general aviation and local airports, particularly for rural communities. As you know, general aviation and local airports support business activity, medical care, disaster relief, fire-fighting, agriculture, law enforcement, pipeline patrol and a host of important resources and services vital to small communities.

The important announcement was that Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Arizona, President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, has joined the Board of Directors of the Alliance. The Conference represents more than 1,000 communities and as a pilot and the head of that organization, Mayor Smith knows first-hand the role that general aviation plays as an economic driver and in providing critical services to communities across the nation.

Two encouraging messages in one week!

October 29, 2013 Floating Airports

The Liberty Gazette
October 29, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: One day my ship will come in. And when it does, it will probably be at an airport. Or, maybe it will be an airport - a floating airport. Why not? 71% of the world is covered by water.

If you’re looking around for fresh ideas for where to put your money, if you’ve been thinking long and hard about what to do with that island you bought that’s just sitting out there in the middle of deep water, doing nothing, an airport may be just what you need. And even better, it can be yours for free! But here’s the catch: you have to be first. It’s only free the first time.

A novel plan being floated by some gifted engineering visionaries includes renewable energy technology and potential for discovery or invention of anti-corrosion protection and other building materials. A prime test bed for many new products and processes, it will have to be funded by private industry, which can then benefit from development and advancement of their work by selling their newly patented products commercially. And all the islander has to do is let the party come to the island, pretty much.

This research and development project would be part infrastructure, part engineering laboratory, part business incubator, floating in a remote, deep water place, using wind, wave, and deep water thermal technologies.

Linda: Bud Slabbaert and Terry Drinkard are two of the brilliant minds advocating this concept, and they’re curious about the business incubator possibilities. They see potential uses of a floating airport to develop businesses that service research vessels, support world-traveling sailors and deep sea fishing vacations, scuba diving and eco-tourism, long-term aquatic research, an undersea colony, and a base for sea rescue and anti-piracy squadrons. Regardless of its specialty offerings, any airport, floating or not, will always serve as an emergency landing strip just in case it’s needed. That’s the safety aspect that will be appreciated by anyone faced with needing it.

How would it be built? In the oil industry, structures rest on piles driven into the sea floor, the same technology proposed for a new San Diego airport. But it would not be purely floating or movable, and it’s expensive to build. I worked for over a decade for a company that builds platforms for the offshore oil industry. That company uses tension leg and semi-submersible designs. But one area not yet navigated is pneumatic stabilization, "which is essentially a group of cylinders closed on top, but open below, allowing the water to rise up into the cylinder, compressing the air inside until it supports the weight of the structure," wrote Drinkard in his article, "Floating airport: a pilot project" in (Oct. 25, 2012).

As has been thoroughly documented, well developed airports are an enticement to industry and commercial development. All things considered, a free airport sounds like a real deal for the right island partner, so check your island inventory. If you have some stashed away in the areas of Maldives, French Polynesia, Salomon Islands or the like, that may just be prime real estate for cutting edge research. The opportunities, proponents say, are as yet unknown but when the infrastructure is built, they will come, just as certain as baseball players in an Iowa cornfield.

October 22, 2013 Cookies on a Plane

The Liberty Gazette
October 22, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The boll weevils were tearing up crops in the south, and a couple of guys in Louisiana working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture were fed up with their destruction. What if, they wondered, they attacked the pests by dropping insecticide from the air? In a perfect example of American ingenuity, a proud history of working men and women finding answers to problems, the inventive crop-saving solution gave birth to the first aerial crop dusting company: Huff Daland Dusters Incorporated, which formed in Macon, Georgia that year very, 1924.

So while the twenties were roaring, with flappers a-flappin’, farmers caught wind of the new idea and within a year Huff Daland became the largest privately owned fleet in the world, with 18 airplanes.

One of those two guys from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Collett E. Woolman, helped the company grow, winning contracts for crop dusting and passenger service. The company had relocated its headquarters to his home town of Monroe, Louisiana, and with all his hard work and dedication soon Woolman was able to buy Huff Daland.

But as Woolman knew, fields have boll weevils and roses have thorns. Thanks to that pesky air mail scandal involving the government (a shock, I know), the airline C. E. Woolman built from the ground up didn’t win the mail route contract they had hoped for in 1930, causing them to suspend the passenger service they had started.

Four years later (after some government house cleaning) the little airline that could was awarded the contract for Route 33, Dallas to Charleston, by way of Atlanta.

But half-way through that four-year battle for survival, which nearly put the company out of business, half-way around the world, in Belgium, the Boone brothers opened a bakery – and this is where the story gets tasty.

Mike: The popularity of their cookie, er, their European biscuit, delivered to customers from a red truck, exploded faster than a bucket full of yeast in a warm pan.

Wildly successful in their homeland, the Boone brothers’ caramelized biscuit was easily paired with coffee, eventually becoming the number one choice of Europeans, each decade seeing greater notoriety for the treat than the last.

52 years after delivering the baked delights from their little red truck, the Boone brothers’ cookies flew into the U.S., landing aboard the company that had once made its home in Monroe, Louisiana, in the Mississippi Delta – that pioneer crop duster that became Delta Air Lines.

If you ride on Delta today you will be offered the Boone brothers’ specialty, "Biscoff" (biscuit+coffee) cookies, but you don’t have to take a flight to enjoy this delectable snack. Biscoff cookies and their newer product, a spread made of the same ingredients, are sold in many major retail stores throughout the country, and online.

The recipe hasn’t changed since the beginning of the cookie and the company, still in the same family, now employs more than 1,200 people in several European countries.

But if you do decide to fly, the cookies offered on Delta are about 50% larger and have the word DELTA impressed on one side. They say that more than 1.5 billion Biscoff cookies "have been sampled by happy, tired, excited, adventurous, grateful, and, of course, hungry airline passengers." I’ll put the coffee on.

October 15, 2013 Cheap Gas

The Liberty Gazette
October 15, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Not that we need an incentive to fly but once in a while some extra incentive helps us decide which direction we will fly. That incentive can be something as grand as the lush landscape of Idaho or as simple a pleasure as the yesteryears found at the 1950’s Southern Flyer Diner in Brenham, or perhaps, the price of fuel.

An experiment was planned for the month of October at the San Marcos Municipal Airport. Redbird Skyport, an FBO there, offered Avgas at the incredible low rate of 99.9 cents per gallon. The regular price had been $6.09 per gallon.

And so we packed up and headed to Ellington Field so we could fly to San Marcos for cheap gas. As we entered Ellington I began noticing one large grey tail after another sticking up above the hangars bordering the main ramps, between us and the runway. At first I thought there were four; then maybe five.

We stopped in at the FBO for some coffee and encountered a lot of people roaming around in camouflage clothing – crewmembers for the aircraft sitting on the ramp. I watched as one taxied toward the runway, its four big turboprop engines turning modern scimitar-shaped propeller blades and causing a muffled vibration on the soundproofed windows of the FBO. These are Lockheed C-130Js, the technically advanced version of the legendary Hercules. There is usually one, sometimes two here at different times during hurricane season. However, once I got a better look out on the ramp I counted twelve.

Twelve C-130s take up a lot of real estate.

The crews explained that they fled their base in Mississippi because it was in the projected path of Tropical Storm Karen. Moving to safer locations, more than half of the 20 based at Keesler AFB in Biloxi landed at Ellington.

Ten of the twelve we saw have "Hurricane Hunter" painted on the tail. They monitor tropical cyclones in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific.

The other two monstrous airplanes are slightly longer C-130J-30’s known as tactical airlift aircraft. Emblazoned on their tail is the squadron’s trademark call sign, "Flying Jennies." Lumbering beasts that they are, they can operate from rough, unimproved runways cut out of jungles, and routinely perform air resupply drops in hostile territory. These are amazing airplanes, and twelve on the ramp at one time would catch anyone’s attention.

Linda: Off we soared, west, in pursuit of cheap gas. The experiment at Redbird Skyport was the result of a hunch that people would fly more if flying were less expensive. The founder and CEO of Redbird is Jerry Gregoire a, former executive with Dell Computers, and his efforts were supported by a great many large and small companies that lead the aviation industry. Having pumped about 90,000 gallons in the first nine days, 30 times more than anticipated, the planned month-long experiment was cut short. It will be interesting to see conclusions derived from the data collected in pilot surveys and how that will be used in the future.

I got to thinking, those C-130s burn about a thousand gallons per hour. If jet fuel was offered at the same deep discount I suspect they’d have relocated the big buckets of rivets to San Marcos instead of Ellington. And surely they’d have bought the souvenir t-shirt: "I came, I fueled, I flew. And fueled, and flew. And fueled and flew…"

October 8, 2013 The Flying V

The Liberty Gazette
October 8, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The 3,000’ grass airstrip just southeast of Highway 59 near Louis, Texas is tough to spot. Trees extend along both sides and an even denser stand masks its northwestern-most end. But the field is flat and has good drainage so it’s rarely closed for long even after a big rain. Upon landing a golf cart directs us to a parking spot. "Welcome to the Flying V Ranch!"

The V stands for Vajdos. Robbie Vajdos and his company Vajdos Aviation have been hosting an annual fly-in called Under The Wire since 1989. All proceeds generated from the event go to local community programs.

The airstrip, built on land inherited from his great-grandfather, a Czech immigrant who fled from the Prussian Army, was once part of a cattle ranch and farmland. Electrical wires strung across the runway about 40 feet above, a third of the way down, gave pilots had a choice: land early and roll out under the wire, or fly over it and land with quite a bit less runway available. In the days of barnstormers and other real pilots, before the overpopulation of opportunistic lawyers, the wire offered sharp pilots a challenge. But people have changed, so to avoid a potential disaster Robbie and the electric co-op agreed to bury the wires underground.

There’s more to Vajdos than a super fun fly-in. The son of a WWII B-25 pilot, Robbie’s flying started early, soloing an airplane at age 16. Particular fascination with his father’s era of aviation drove the boy to ardent study of the planes. Fixated on a nearby Boeing Stearman, Robbie was denied the chance to fly it at the age of 20 when the owner felt he needed more experience. "So I bought a project airplane," Robbie says, "and first learned how to rebuild it."

A year later the FAA gave its blessing on his work, allowing him to fly it. "I taxied up and down the runway for two hours getting the feel of it. Then I just went for it," he says of teaching himself to fly his first Stearman.

Since that day in 1987 he has restored 18 Stearmans, a Ryan PT-22, Grumman AgCat, DeHavilland Tiger Moth, Piper Cubs, Aeronca Champs and Citabrias. His work has been recognized around the world, winning prestigious awards at the two largest aviation venues: 1994, 1995 and 2005 WW II Trainer Champion at Oshkosh, 1995 Grand and Reserve Vintage Champion at Sun ‘n’ Fun. Recipient of both the Gold and Silver Wrench awards for outstanding workmanship, he was also featured in the Bob Bullock Museum’s 100 years of Texas.

Linda: Want a classic vintage biplane of your own? Vajdos Aviation offers a turn-key Stearman; a fully restored Stearman delivered to you about four years after placing your order.

His talents don’t end with his expert craft breathing new life into old planes; Robbie is also an accomplished pilot currently holding FAA letters of authorization to fly the Douglas SBD Dauntless, Grumman Hellcat, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and his favorite, the Vought F4U Corsair.

While the recognition is deserved, possibly the best reward is knowing his teenage daughter shares his passion for flying. To celebrate her 14th birthday she will begin flying lessons so that the pair can take a "Sweet 16" summer tour around the United States in the Piper Cub he is rebuilding just for her. She's already selected her colors: pink with a black lightning bolt.

October 1, 2013 Challenge Air

The Liberty Gazette
October 1, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The strapping young Texan could flash a degree from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and tell stories of his 109 combat missions over Vietnam by the age of 26, but not 110. The next mission would have to wait – 22+ years – and then the enemy wouldn’t be North Vietnamese, it would be the limitations of disabilities, physical and developmental.

Challenge Air for Kids and Friends was born out of the goal that "every disabled person should see the world from a different view…out of their wheelchairs and in the sky," and it was Rick Amber’s 109th combat mission that opened the door for his mission.

Rick, a Navy fighter pilot and training officer, crashed his jet during a landing attempt on the aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock, going instantly from Navy pilot jock to paraplegic. To pull one’s self up by bootstraps on legs that don’t walk takes a determination beyond what most of us know.

Aiming high and wheeling through his changed life, Rick earned more degrees from UT and SMU and began teaching math and science in Dallas.

Mike: The pivotal moment came when he was asked to design a curriculum for an aviation class. From that request came the drive to return to the air, this time flying an airplane equipped with hand controls. Refusing to accept the boundaries of the wheelchair, Rick proved to the FAA that he could fly an airplane, and earned not just a pilot license, but a commercial license and a certified flight instructor certificate as well.

Drawing on his experience teaching wheeled kids to play tennis (his own championship tennis title yet another strong credential) Rick invited some children to the Addison airport and took them flying. What he witnessed was a change in attitude toward their own disability, and that change, the effect of flight, led the way for Challenge Air.

Modifying a Cessna Cardinal with hand controls to operate the brake and rudder pedals, Rick set Challenge Air on course to becoming a nonprofit organization. And then, the flying began. Special needs children at community events nationwide would be taken up in the air for the experience of a lifetime.

In 1997, just four years after that first group of kids took turns flying in the modified Cessna over the Dallas skyline, Rick passed away with cancer. Today his legacy lives on through a nationwide network of 3,500 volunteers: board, staff, volunteers and thousands of pilots who continue the mission of building self-esteem and confidence in children with special needs.

When parents report that their child now sees beyond their perceived limitations – as one special flyer said, "I can fly a plane!" – Challenge Air’s mission is confirmed, reflecting the life-changing impact the flight experience has on children, families, donors, sponsors and communities as a whole.

Again this year, Challenge Air for Kids and Friends will spark enthusiasm and fill hearts with encouragement as volunteer pilots and Challenge Air kids meet for Fly Day at the Conroe Airport on October 19. If you’d like to volunteer in any capacity, call 214-351-3353,
or go online to We’d love to see you there.

Thanks, Rick Amber, for the vision. You rose from your wheelchair to lift others up.

September 24, 2013 Chicken wings

The Liberty Gazette
September 24, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: A major aviation data company has just begun another round of data collection directly from airline crews. The data is collected using i-devices (iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch) and is given to scientists to analyze and advance pilot fatigue prediction models. It will be a topic of discussion on aviation message boards, but I wonder what ever happened to just saying, "I’m tired."

Linda: Of the many topics with relevance to aviation with which we strive to keep up, I recently came across one that, well, makes sense that it comes up for discussion in some circles, but it’s one I hadn’t given thought to before, happily not being in the depths of the airline business. See what you think of this question: "Are there restrictions concerning supplying on-board airline passengers meat with bones?"

In the professional aviation forum where this question hatched, a hearty demand for chicken wings was the impetus. Of course, no thanks to those who love litigation, this society is afraid of its own shadow now, and there is such a thing as "aviation food safety."

So if you were responsible for this decision at your airline, would you go for the wings, or stick with peanuts, and pretzels for those with nut allergies? What if cost wasn’t an issue? After all, regional airline pilots are only volunteers, and are saving the airlines millions.

I know the first thing you’re thinking – health concerns, the potential for choking on chicken bones, or e-coli from blood in the bone. Well, we’d have to peel back the layers and look deeper. Weight of the bones could be a factor. Bones with meat, as opposed to boneless meat, requires a bigger serving container and more room to heat the dish. Reheating meat on the bone is a bit trickier than heating it without.

And then there are the questions of disposal. Bones add both weight and volume for handling at the destination. Where would bags of bones be stowed until disposed of?

Plenty of input came from forum members but one question surely topped it all: What about opportunistic enemies and other nut-jobs who watch way too much television who would convert a broken chicken bone into a weapon and use it to attempt a highjack?

Okay, maybe while we try to digest this we shouldn’t get the Chick-fil-A cows too excited just yet. Have you had an inflight meal recently? Sizes are now down to what, snack size kiddie meals? Perhaps passengers should just fly without their wings; after all, they’d be more likely to enjoy a larger portion and the sauce and seasonings of their choice with a preflight meal in the terminal. On the other hand, maybe with the cost of food going up higher than the airlines’ flight levels passengers could buy boneless wings and get a free flight.

Mike: So speaking of what you’re willing to pluck from your wallet for air travel, just curious, how much above the ticket price would you pay if airlines offered to pack a parachute under the seat? Of course back in November of 1971 Northwest Orient Airlines actually provided one passenger with not one, but four parachutes and paid him $200,000 to take them. And where is D. B. Cooper now?

September 17, 2013 Raining fish and...toilet paper?

The Liberty Gazette
September 17, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: It sounds a bit fishy but it’s a story that came my way thirty years ago from a game warden pilot who worked for California’s Fish and Game department. I was a flight instructor at Long Beach/Daugherty Field in California when I met a couple of pilots who flew the department’s single engine Cessna airplanes based there. Their job was multi-faceted including inventorying game, transporting personnel, aerial photography and searching for illegal poaching activity, but their stories about planting fish in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains’ backcountry lakes and streams are my favorites.

Fish and Game pilots accomplished the task with a Beechcraft KingAir twin-engine turboprop with a belly pod, which is where the fish rode. The KingAir would fly low over a lake and then jettison the load of fish from the pod much like a "borate bomber" would unleash a load of red-orange slurry on a forest fire. Frequent fish flying made these pilots pretty good at the game; the piles of plummeting pesce almost always plopped down right on target, but in mountainous terrain are often unpredictable air currents and turbulence which can interfere with the pilot’s aim.

On one such occasion the pilot missed the lake almost entirely. Normally a game warden is on the ground and in radio contact with the pilot to ensure the drop zone is clear, as was the case on this day. When the pilot set up his approach to the small lake, he opened the hatch about a second too late and the fish flopped down on the far lake shore, landing not too far from a couple of fishermen who didn’t have any idea what was going on.

Startled by the sudden raining of fish, the two speechless and befuddled fishermen ran over to where the fish had landed and stood there looking around at all those fish lying on the ground.

The game warden seeing the fishermen in the middle of the "catch" couldn’t resist the opportunity presented by this scene. He walked over and looked at all the fish, then looked at the fishermen, then back at the fish as he slowly removed his citation book from his pack.

The fishermen protested "No! A plane came by and dumped ‘em here!"

"Right, sure," said the warden as he continued to cite the pair.

"Really, they just fell here and we came over to look. You don’t really think we caught all of these do you?"

"Yeah, they just fell from the sky," the warden baited them on. But he couldn’t keep from laughing at the flabbergasted fishermen and soon the truth was out about the fishy downpour.

Another silly story about falling stuff came from a young man who celebrated his high school graduation by flying with a friend in a Cessna 172. Having filled the airplane with a case of toilet paper it’s no surprise it rolled out the windows. Holding on to the start of each roll the boys let them unravel and rip away from the force of the air moving around the airplane. Once started, the rolls continued to unfurl and eventually floated down, coming to rest upon buildings and trees in the small downtown.

The pranksters landed and snuck back into town to enjoy the masterpiece TP job with which they had graced their hometown.

If you know someone graduating this school year you might keep that in mind.

September 10, 2013 Catchin' the fever - Hoosier style

The Liberty Gazette
September 10, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Another blatant act of zoomarama was committed recently by aerial speed junkies. Fantastic Midwestern August weather greeted air racers as they zipped around the city known as the auto racing capital of the world, Indianapolis, causing smiles to appear on the faces of sponsors, volunteers, racers and race fans, from newborns to seniors.

Linda: My nephew Levi made up the other half of Team Ely this time. "Awesome! Simply awesome!" were his words when they returned from the course. He went to an aviation camp earlier this year and this was the first real time he was able to practice the navigation principals and skills he learned there. For his services he was rewarded with a first place trophy and an hour flight lesson after the race from my favorite flight instructor.

Mike: I had as much fun teaching Levi new things and introducing him to new experiences during that flight lesson. Like anyone who is enthusiastic and prepared to learn, he absorbed what he was taught and did a great job performing the maneuvers. He even did his first landing. He’ll be a great pilot someday.

Linda: Many stories like Levi’s are overlooked because they occur off the race course and he wasn’t the only person to experience post-race euphoria.

Case in point: One racer’s generosity and enthusiasm won the day for a fan that came to see airplanes and wound up a passenger on a fun after race flight. You know how you hold up your hands, palms out, showing all ten fingers / thumbs? When asked how the flight was on a scale of one-to-ten Mark opened and closed his hands "in tens" several times. Probably in his 50’s now, Mark flew once in an airplane as a youngster but hasn’t since then. He wanted to join the Air Force but his eyes are not good, and a doctor has told him he will lose his vision soon. Let that soak in. He’s always wanted to fly but has been unable to. One racer’s pivotal action changed the day. While he can still see, Mark was invited by Dave to take to the air and ride the wind, leaving gravity’s grasp, breathing in moments he will cherish forever in freedom of flight.

Mike: The chance to see airplanes up close brought out families with small children, too; like the family with several children who were playing kickball at a park nearby and upon seeing race planes fly overhead piled into the car to find out what was going on. They ended up munching on popcorn and snow cones, jumping in the bounce house, chasing balsa wood gliders, and walking up close to the airplanes after they landed.

Linda: Jorge, a new employee at the airport who is working toward earning his aircraft mechanic license brought his wife and their seven children to see Planes – we’d all gone to the premier the night before the race. The family travels together in a small bus, and race day would be the first time the children would see airplanes up close. Even my mom’s broken shoulder didn’t keep her at home. She’s a real trooper, and loves these air races.

Mike: We hope that those who joined us learned a little more about airplanes and went away from the experience with a new horizon to appreciate.

September 3, 2013 Hank's Stowaway

The Liberty Gazette
September 3, 2013
Psssst: The following story was shortened for space in the print version but appears here in full-length, as originally written.
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: This week we’re sharing Hank’s story. He’s from California, but don’t hold that against him. It’s a good one.
Hank: Last week Michelle and I took a short flight in my Cessna 172, the one painted like a bee, down to the Reid-Hillview airport just south of San Jose. We were going down to pick-up a Margaritaville drink maker machine that I had bought on Craigslist. We arrived at the plane about 10:30 did the normal preflight inspection and got ready to go. I taxied out to the runway, had an uneventful takeoff and was climbing through 600 feet when I noticed we had a stowaway.
Hank's Cessna 172
I was looking out the windshield when a wasp dropped out of the left air vent. He landed on the dash and started flexing his wings and tail. I'm pretty sure he was about a foot long with a two foot wing span and a stinger the size of a fountain pen. I stared at him and he stared back at me.
I think I said, "Oh, look Michelle, there is a wasp on the dashboard."
It probably came out like, "Holy crap there's a huge freaking wasp on the dashboard kill it before it kills us!"
 Michelle looked over at me and immediately pushed herself as far back in her seat as she could and said something like, "Sweetie, would you please get the wasp out of the airplane?"
What she actually said was at a pitch beyond what the human ear can hear.
At that point the wasp apparently heard her and began flying around the cockpit. I decided that I needed to concentrate on flying the airplane so I ignored the inhuman sounds coming from the passenger seat, continued to climb and made my turn toward the south.
Once I got on course and trimmed the airplane I picked up some paper and started looking for the wasp. It wasn't long before the wasp landed on the windshield right in front of me. I reached out and squashed him against the windshield and he fell onto the dash. I was very pleased with myself and looked over at Michelle expecting some praise. Instead, I saw wide eyes and finger pointing. I looked back at the dash and saw that the wasp had picked himself up and was now standing on the edge of the dash staring at me with a look of fury.
Before I could attempt another squash maneuver, he toppled over the dash, landing somewhere near our feet, by the way, we are both wearing sandals.
At that point, Michelle pulled both her feet off the floor and said, "Sweetie, the wasp isn't dead."
What came out was again beyond my capability to hear. She started looking for the wasp but said she couldn't see it. I reassured her that I had in fact squished it so hard that it must now be dead.
We flew for another five minutes, I was starting to feel better, then I looked over at the area where the front seats come together and you guessed it, the wasp had crawled up between the seats and was now zeroed in on Michelle's left thigh.
I told her that the wasp was now on her seat doing a slow crawl toward her thigh. She immediately closed her Nook electronic reader and promptly smashed it against the wasp.
I forgot to add that I put sheepskin covers on the seats; they have about two inches of nice fluffy wool that keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They also make it very difficult to smash a wasp with a Nook.
A reasonable facsimile of Hank's stowaway
Michelle decided that it would be best if she just kept the Nook pressed against the wasp until we landed. So for the next 20 minutes she kept the Nook pressed against the wasp so hard her knuckles were white.
We finally made it to Reid-Hillview and landed. Once I parked and shut down the engine, we both opened our doors. We stepped out and Michelle slowly lifted the Nook. Mr. Wasp was still alive and moving. He was a little lethargic from being pressed into luxuriously soft and fluffy wool for 20 minutes. He struggled to get up and fell to the floor where I finally dispatched him and removed him from the plane.
I guess you might say it was a pretty stressful flight for Michelle. I looked around the plane and found another dead wasp on the floor.
From now on, I am going to make sure the vents on the plane are closed when I lock it up after flying.
We picked up the drink machine and took off for the return trip. The flight back to Concord was uneventful.
It was a great day for flying, bad day for stowaways, bees and wasps just don't mix.

August 27, 2013 Hanoi Taxi

The Liberty Gazette
August 27, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I first learned about the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter that was in the corner of the ramp in Reno, Nevada from Jan, the woman behind the desk at the FBO. "It’s some sort of flying museum. They used to fly troops to Vietnam in it," she said.

I recollect Dad’s office in San Bernardino, California near Norton Air Force Base, where several C-141’s parked between trips to South East Asia, but they recollect something else.

Big is the word, and it was the workhorse of the U.S. Air Force’s heavy lift fleet. When I began flying cancelled checks in a Piper Lance out of Blythe, California I’d watch for the lumbering transports to cross in front of me along a ridge, maybe 500 feet above it, training.

But here was a particular Starlifter, registration number 66-0177, the Hanoi Taxi; one of fifteen C-141’s that carried our P.O.W.s from Hanoi back to U.S. soil. This particular day in Reno I only had a few minutes to check it out as people filtered through its front doors, eventually exiting down the ramp at the airplane’s rear.

This past February 12th marked the 40th anniversary of the start of Operation Homecoming. On that first day the Hanoi Taxi and two other C-141’s flew 116 P.O.W.s to Davis Air Force Base in the Philippines, then to Norton A.F.B. for emotionally wrenching reunions with loved ones.

54 flights brought home 591 of our boys between February 12 and April 4, 1973. Among them was U.S.A.F. Col. George Everett "Bud" Day, after he spent more than five years and seven months in the hellhole prison called the Hanoi Hilton. He was one of the last Vietnam War soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor. Other American prisoners may not have been as well-known as Col. Day or Senator John McCain, but their stories are just as important. Each suffered defending our freedoms along with the 58,152 soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice, including 2,255 missing or killed in action, body not recovered. About 80 percent of the missing are airmen shot down over Vietnam and Laos.

When the Hanoi Taxi was not on display as a museum, it continued to serve as a transport aircraft. It even flew relief and evacuation missions during Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, 40 years after it took to the air, 66-0177 was retired to The Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio where it can be appreciated today.

The following day I was back in Reno, the C-141 had moved on, but Jan was there to fill me in. On board the airplane is a plaque of P.O.W.s flown home. The 591.

August 20, 2013 Inky and Stinky

The Liberty Gazette
August 20, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: It was a Monday morning about 5:00 a.m. when a pilot began loading an airplane with containers on the UPS ramp at Ontario Airport in California. Filled to capacity with boxes and bags, the airplane departed for California’s Central Valley. The unpressurized twin-engine turboprop climbed to over 10,000 feet to cross the San Gabriel Mountains, the Mojave Desert and the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains before making an approach into Bakersfield where it would be met by a UPS truck. As the rear doors were opened an incredible stench greeted the pilot and UPS truck driver.

As the unloading process continued the foul smelling second-day-air package was finally discovered, leaking fluids on every package around it and through the floor panels of the airplane’s cargo compartment. The rewards of a hunting trip in Alaska would be left to someone’s memories – someone who packed moose meat in a box with ice, not dry ice, but the wet kind. Flying at altitude in the unpressurized cargo compartment caused the bag containing the rotten smelly water to expand like a balloon and then leak. Perhaps it was an effort to pinch a penny here or there, but failing to mark "perishable" and pay for a guaranteed delivery date meant the once-frozen package that arrived after all the feeder aircraft and trucks had left would be stored on the ramp Saturday and Sunday in 100+ degree heat.

The pilot and a mechanic cleaned and deodorized the airplane as best they could, but without success, and that is how the Beechcraft BE99 known as N12AK became known to the pilots who flew her as "Stinky."

Stinky had a sister ship – N34AK. Less than two weeks after the aforementioned incident I was flying the newly acquired red and white turboprop (still sporting the paint scheme of the previous operator, Air Kentucky) over the same route as eau de moose meat. Upon landing I opened the cargo doors, and then I saw red – red, gooey stuff that is – oozing down the sides of several of the packages, and spilling out of boxes distributed throughout the load. Without any package markings the boxes lay on their side or upside down, and whatever was inside was anybody’s guess.

Pulling aside one of 20 red-soaked boxes, the UPS driver and I opened it to find two loosely closed Tupperware containers of printer’s ink. Nineteen more boxes meant ten gallons of the stuff was leaking everywhere, seeping into the airplane’s subfloor and through joints in the outer skin. I cleaned as much as I could reach, and the mechanics did their part, but hiding away in crevasses there always seemed to be more that would streak the outside of the airplane every time it flew through rain. With the red and white paint scheme it wasn’t as obvious. But after the airplane was repainted blue and white, a flight through rain made the streaks quite noticeable, and that is how the Beechcraft BE99 known as N34AK became known as "Inky."

The tales of Inky and Stinky describe two minor, even comical incidents, but shipping undocumented hazardous material by air, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is no laughing matter. Take this old freight dog’s plea and properly mark your packages – doing so could save lives.

August 13, 2013 Arriving Osh

The Liberty Gazette
August 13, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Just back from a trip north, to the big playground for aviators. For a week every year, end of July through early August the small city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin becomes a bustling community of wing nuts. Of four large conventions in varying industries, AirVenture is the last on the town’s summer calendar, and the largest convention of any kind, drawing 800,000 people and 12,000 airplanes. During summer months restaurants quadruple their staff, a great fit for teachers and students. Sales of big ticket items are frequent; it’s not uncommon to find an airplane, a few exotic cars and a boat or two displayed on a restaurant lawn.

The world’s best air traffic controllers come by invitation to manage the skies over Oshkosh during the week of AirVenture; and proudly hang the large banner on the outside of the control tower touting, "World’s Busiest Control Tower". During peak arrival times it seems they can barely take a breath between giving instructions to pilots on approach and landing.

I funneled in according to the rules for arriving at Oshkosh, over the town of Ripon, which is about 15 miles southwest of Oshkosh. Transponder turned to "Standby," landing light on, airspeed down to 90 knots, altitude 1,800’ – Check! Just look for the Ripon water tower and grain silos, then follow the railroad tracks that run north-south and then take a bend northeast. No talking on the radio unless a controller asks you something. No S-turns allowed, keep a half-mile spacing between you and the next airplane. No overtaking is allowed, and if you’re gaining on another airplane return to Ripon and start over.

Stay directly over the meandering railroad tracks, do not fly a straight line, through Ripon ten miles northeast to Fisk Avenue. At Fisk, a contingent of air traffic controllers housed in a comfortable trailer, equipped with radios, binoculars, and lawn chairs, take their best shot at airplane identification and instruct each pilot flying over to "Rock your wings!" Hearing that is sort of like making the field at Indy and hearing, "Gentlemen, start your engines," triggering your official start as you enter the flow to the world’s largest fly-in and air show.

As I did last year, I contacted my friend Grant to let him know we’d be approaching Fisk Sunday evening around supper time. He was scheduled to work the Fisk Arrival Sunday, but was apparently on a break when we came through. The controller on duty gave me the welcome, albeit with a mistaken identity but I knew he meant me, "Red and white RV, Rock Your Wings!"

Along with several other airplanes we made our way from Fisk Avenue toward the gravel pit, staying between the pit and the northern most runway, entering the traffic pattern flying right downwind to Runway 27. Turning into the base leg over Lake Winnebago, then turning final, the tower controller directed me to land on the orange dot, then changed it to the green dot.

Once down and parked I had a full week of fun work ahead representing my employer. On the last day Grant invited me up for a tower tour and I watched the busyness from up high. Later, as I departed on Runway 18, I heard my good friend’s voice from the tower, "Have a safe flight, Linda, see you back home." There’s just nothing like Oshkosh.

August 6, 2013 Sky Typers

The Liberty Gazette
August 6, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: When the international signal of distress - SOS - appeared in the sky as if magically streaming across an unseen aerial electronic billboard some may have wondered, is it an alien trying to communicate? It was only an advertisement, but quite an effective one.

As Universal Studios Hollywood began promoting their two new 3D rides, Jurassic Park and Transformers, calling it the Summer Of Survival, the signal from above caused more than 10,000 hits on Twitter in just a couple hours. People stood mesmerized as the message appeared.

The company that today can plaster dot-matrix style messages across the sky is called Skytypers. The original one-man sky billboard company started out sky writing (not typing) in Ohio in 1932 when a then unknown beverage company hired Andy Stinis to "write" Pepsi Cola with his 1929 Travelair biplane in skies all over the United States. Later, in 1946, Andy developed sky typing by having several North American SNJs (also known as T-6’s) flying in a straight wing-tip to wing-tip line formation each putting out puffs of smoke forming a dot-matrix printed letter in the sky. He patented this delivery system of signs in 1964.

Andy continued posting messages in the sky on behalf of Pepsi Cola for more than 22 years. When his son Greg took over the company there was such a demand for their creative marketing tool that requests were juggled from coast to coast. To meet the demand they opened a second base on the west coast, based in Long Beach, California, becoming known as the Miller Squadron, after their sponsor, the Miller Brewing Company. To reduce fuel costs, now in some areas the fine work of art is executed by five Grumman Cheetahs like our Elyminator, only these are painted blue, nearly invisible against the sky, and flying so high they cannot be heard.

They’ve come a long way since 1932, and can now type out messages in any language, and have done so over many a friendly foreign sky, employing fleets of North American SNJs and Grummans to post their signs 10,000 feet up in the air, each letter up to ¼ mile tall; a typical 20-character message reaching five miles long.

The Grummans carry two smoke systems capable of spewing white or colored smoke puffs, controlled through a laptop computer carried in Skytyper #1. Taking off in a tight five-ship "V" formation, as they approach their altitude and begin their "message run" they spread out using white bracket marks on their wings to hold their distance and alignment, making the smoke letters look uniform from the ground. During one advertising gig they printed out the first 10,000 numbers of the character Pi’s infinite sequence across the skies over San Francisco – it took more than an hour to complete.

My friend Jim Wilkins flies a Grumman as Skytyper #3, the plane that flies in the far right position of the five-plane formation. He retired from flying jump planes (meaning he let people with parachutes jump out of a perfectly good airplane) and Grand Canyon tours. Now sky typing has become his "retirement" job, typing out messages over county fairs and special events. Jim has a lot of fun typing in the sky, and enjoys the benefits: a way to keep his flying skills current and get paid to travel.

July 30, 2013 J.P. and The Collings Foundation

Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: His Texas A&M cap and that big smile that beamed from his face were all I could see.

"It still fits, can you believe that?"

As his eyes turned back to the instruments I knew his hands were finding the controls and his feet the rudder pedals. J.P. Greenwalt and I have worked together for a few years and he has shared many stories from his flying career. Now in his seventies sitting in that cockpit was like a time warp back to his twenties.

The Elyminator is getting its annual inspection. Our neighbors in the hangars directly across from us have a few interesting pieces of history and I gave J.P. a call to come out and look around.

Dropping the kitchen remodeling project he was working on for his wife, he donned that A&M cap and dashed over, three cameras in tow. After surveying our airplane in its undressed state of inspection we walked over to see the folks at The Collings Foundation.

A non-profit organization, The Collings Foundation owns ex-military aircraft that they keep in airworthy condition. Using them for historical education, they fly them in air shows and tours around the country. At their Houston facility at Ellington they maintain a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star jet trainer, a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk carrier based attack aircraft, A Bell UH-1 (Huey), a North American F-100 Super Sabre and a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom. They also have a WW II Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter undergoing repairs in Midland.

The Elyminator faces out our hangar doors nose to nose with the F-100, the United States’ first fighter capable of supersonic speeds in level flight. I think Linda thinks that makes the Elyminator go faster.

I left J.P. in the hands of the foundation’s head of maintenance, Alan, and returned after our inspector and I did some work on our airplane.

Later, I found him sitting high up in the cockpit of the F-100 reliving his days as a pilot with the 119th Fighter Squadron, Tactical Fighter Group flying for the New Jersey Air National Guard out of Atlantic City, New Jersey. He carries a faded photograph in his wallet of him in his younger days standing in his flight suit looking very dapper in front of his trusty NJ ANG Super Sabre. I snapped another picture of him so he can show everyone how little things have changed.

J.P. was talking about ejection seats when Alan smiled at me and said, "I love the look on their faces when they see these planes. They just light up the world. It takes them back to a different time and place. That’s one of the reasons I do this job."

J.P. moved from the military into the airlines, flying for TWA, which eventually merged with American Airlines. After more than 30 years of airline flying he decided that was enough, retiring as a captain on the Lockheed L-1011 wide-body jetliner. He doesn’t fly anymore, except when he gets a change to jump into the cockpit of an F-100 and flies back in time.

July 23, 2013 Girl Scouts at T78

The Liberty Gazette
July 23, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: I looked forward all day to getting back to Liberty after work, to meet with local Girl Scouts at the airport. While working with Scouts and other groups is always fun, this was special because it would be where we live, at an airport we have put a lot of time, energy, and personal expense into over the years. With Jose Doblado and the immeasurable contributions of his amazing wife, Debbie Mabery, the Liberty Airport is once again heading in the right direction; their open invitation to the community to learn how valuable it is will continue up a winning path.

Greeted by several of the young ladies in the parking lot, we walked into the terminal building to get acquainted. There were a few male siblings along for the trip and they certainly added to the fun. As luck would have it, just after introductions, we heard a plane landing, so out the door we went to meet the pilots. The middle-aged student pilot (who was just stopping in with his instructor while getting ready for his check ride on Saturday) had no warning of what he was about to encounter. Excited Scouts were eager for a peek inside the little Cessna 152 and the owner/student pilot was gracious and patient as several children climbed up inside his airplane, pointed to the gadgets inside and asked a million times, "what’s this?" He stayed as long as there were questions and portrayed a positive image of pilots.

Jose and Debbie had arranged for a Piper Comanche 260 to be available for inspection by the curious Scouts and as luck would have it (again!), John Griffin happened to arrive at his hangar just in time – not to wipe bugs off his beautiful Cessna 182, as he thought was his plan, but to open up his airplane for wide eyes and fascinated fingers to explore, learn, and become intrigued with the world of airplanes and the idea of flight now open to them.

A great teaching opportunity presented itself when our 152 student pilot began to head back out for more practice. Inspired by the rolling package of rivets, sheet metal and a whirling prop discussions arose about taxiing, running up the engine at the end of the runway before take-off to be sure it all works, and interesting facts about airplanes and traffic patterns. We were treated to a very special low pass and we all waved to the visitor wishing him well as he whizzed by, then climbed and banked toward his next destination.

The Girl Scouts (and their brothers who joined them) had paid attention when we talked about parts of the airplane, smartly answering when we quizzed them, and came up with even smarter questions of their own.

The children might say the highlights of their field trip to the Liberty Municipal Airport were sitting inside airplanes and watching one land and take off again. But every time I saw young eyes sparkle with wonder and felt little arms wrap around me as the words, "This is the best thing ever!" danced up to my ears, I found my own highlights.

It’s a busy season. Coming up: AirVenture, the world’s largest convention – a week-long fly-in, air show and trade show, then the Indy Air Race. I better get packing. Till next time, blue skies.

July 16, 2013 Cincy

The Liberty Gazette
July 16, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Climbing off Ellington’s Runway 4 in the hazy morning light, over refineries and across the ship channel, we kept an eye out for other airplanes. We’d stop in at Liberty Municipal Airport for fuel, then on with our journey to visit family and one special boy in Cincinnati. We’d refuel about half-way, in Kennett, Missouri, spending our 4th of July enjoying the freedoms of flight.

Navigation and flight planning have changed with new technology that only recently has found its way into the cockpits of small airplanes. We use iPads with aeronautical charts on them and through a magic box which we connect to through Wi-Fi we pick up information on weather and traffic that are overlaid on the charts. A little blue airplane icon shows us our geo-synchronized position thanks to GPS. Through the ForeFlight Mobile app and the Stratus receiver we receive weather reports and forecasts from airports across the country, available to us in flight with just a few key strokes.

Mike: A nasty occluded front extended from the coast of Louisiana into Michigan and we flew parallel to it the whole trip. Like a frontal fight, cold front versus warm front, neither seemed to be winning, nor moving much during our four-day trip. Churning up the air into billowing thunderstorms, it rained down heavily on Cincinnati. At our stop in Kennett we made the weather-based decision to make our next landing in Indianapolis instead, where we’d rent a car for the rest of the trip. We’d prefer to fly, but even the biggest, most powerful jets are no match for thunderstorms.

As the nurse practitioner entered our grandson’s hospital room, Myles asked for a pass, a brief reprieve from the four walls that had been boring him nearly six weeks for this round. "No pass," she replied, and then quickly asked, "How about a discharge instead?" Myles’ eyes lit up and he shot one exuberant arm in the air, then slamming his fist into the bed, shouted, "Yes!" High fives took over and whoops of excitement rose in the room. After so long with only an occasional pass an 11 year old boy headed home.

We enjoyed "the Grands" for a couple of days, heading back down the road to Indy too soon, yet our spirits buoyed by the latest events. In Indy, Linda’s mom and sister were anxious for an update on Myles. Sadly, we learned that a fever caused Myles to be readmitted to the hospital only a short time after we left.

Linda: After breakfast with Mom the next morning, she drove us to our chariot and waved as we did the traditional fly-by after takeoff. Once again, iPads in hand, we faced the challenge of circumnavigating large storm systems, flying much further west of our most direct route, scooting into Ellington before the bad weather arrived. Even as we tucked the airplane into its secure hangar, our hearts and minds were on a little boy whom we so hope will soon be able to climb in the tree house being built for him at home. My daughter has been dealing with her son’s health crisis for eleven years and there are times I don’t know how she functions. She is my hero, her inspiration well beyond the skies we fly.

July 9, 2013 Adventures with Air Race Classic 2013 Part 2

The Liberty Gazette
July 9, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: If you haven’t read last week’s Ely Air Lines you may want to catch up before starting on Part Two of Adventures with Air Race Classic 2013. Part One is nearly gripping, so hold on…

Drake Field in Fayetteville, Arkansas welcomed 33 teams across the finish line, and a few more good sports who finished the course knowing they wouldn’t cross before the clock stopped on Friday, June 21. This year’s race may set a record number of "did not finish" – 8 out of 41 – one of the most challenging races in years.

Weather in Pasco, Washington and a dust storm on the way to Idaho set several teams back.

It was a tough race to finish in just three days, covering over 1,900 nautical miles and celebrations awaited – starting with the "Meltdown Party". In the terminal I easily spotted racers – the tired, sweaty, happy women collapsed in comfy chairs absorbing the satisfaction of such an accomplishment. Excited to catch up with so many competitive pilots, one team I was especially eager to see was #17, Marge Thayer and Helen Beulen, both from Arizona. I hadn’t seen them in about five years and only kept up through occasional emails. This was Marge’s 28th race and this was one team whose progress I’d watched intently.

Representing two sponsors, ForeFlight and Sport Air Racing League, I visited with and congratulated every team I could find at the crowded party when I suddenly spied Helen amidst the masses and made a beeline for a very happy reunion. But where was Marge? She was battling a stomach virus which had her feeling worse than a dust-storm-in-the-mountains-landing all day. Concerned about Marge, I wondered how the duo managed the final day of the race.

Results are not published until the awards banquet Sunday night. Not having stayed for that, Monday morning I learned that Marge and Helen had won the race! Then I saw the news clip.

When "Good Morning! Arizona" anchor Scott Pasmore handed off to Phoenix news helicopter pilot Bruce Haffner for a report, his exclamation couldn’t have been more enthusiastic:

Pasmore: This is SO COOL! Can you keep up with them, Bruce?

Haffner: I don’t think so! These women are pretty amazing!

Haffner recounted the history of the race (which originated in 1929) as video showcased the grand welcome home for the local gals. There were Marge and Helen in Marge’s Cessna 182 – enormous trophy in the back seat – cleared by the tower for a formation fly-by with two other airplanes at Mesa’s Falcon Field.

Then you hear Helen repeat the tower’s clearance: "Seven-Five-Charlie, and Flight, cleared for the option (meaning landing optional), Four Right," as the flight of three makes a low pass, with "smoke on."

Haffner spoke of their passion to inspire women to reach for their dreams, diplomatically calling the formation flight the "golden age squadron" because the T34 pilot, Dick Stitch, is 80, the Nanchang pilot, Donald Andrews is 76, and Marge, 70.

The winners taxied through the congratulatory water arch formed by the Mesa Falcon Field Fire Department as Haffner bellowed, "Great show!" From the cockpit of the C182 came, "Good morning, Arizona!"

Tower controllers went down to congratulate them and Haffner concluded with, "You know how in aviation how cool that is and what a big accomplishment that is – it’s all about the passion – there’s nothing like it!"

July 2, 2013 Adventures with Air Race Classic 2013 Part 1

(to be added)

June 25, 2013 Dumb Chicks

The Liberty Gazette
June 25, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Chick Flick Alert! A video posted a few years ago still gets a lot of attention because two very attractive women, one blonde, one brunette, seem not to know one end of an airplane from another. The video begins with the women texting, "Let’s go shopping" and replying, "Oh yeah!!!"

The blonde, in skirt and heels, pours oil in one of the fuel tanks in the wing of a small Cessna, daintily kicks the chocks out of the way and proceeds to pull the airplane out onto the ramp. Enter the brunette, pulling the little Cessna further (while wearing heels), then climbing in the cockpit for "pre-flight inspection" which includes trying to sync the altimeter with her watch.

Then out comes the "map" which seems to cause them some confusion until a nice gentleman comes to the rescue and turns it right-side-up, for which they are giggly appreciative. The next scene brings more laughs with the ladies in the cockpit pulling down visors to apply make-up, and when it’s time to start the engine the prop doubles as a great nail polish dryer!

Headsets adorned upside down, excess luggage weighing down the little two-seater so the tail begins to drop and the nose rises, and then, its wheels-up… oh dear, what do these pedals do?

Mike: I imagine both women have grown tired of being judged by their looks, hence this video. The brunette is Sandra Krier, who, after suddenly becoming a single mom of two with no education went back to school, earned an IT degree and then learned to fly and bought an airplane. The blonde is Catherine Cavagnaro, Professor of Mathematics and Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of the South in Tennessee. Catherine has served as a spin demonstration pilot at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI), and served on the research and flight test team, testing effects of ice on aircraft. She’s no dizzy blonde. She also teaches aerobatics and spin recovery – a very important skill for pilots – at her Sewanee Aerobatic School at the Sewanee-Franklin County Airport on the campus of the University of the South.

The runway sits atop the Cumberland Plateau about 100 miles northwest of Chattanooga and the school is a commitment Catherine made several years ago when she worked as a flight instructor for the late Bill Kershner.

You could say Kershner "wrote the book" on spin training, but actually he wrote several. Bill helped many pilots and flight instructors acquire the skills to keep them flying safely, teaching them in his 1979 Cessna Aerobat named "Two Loops Lautrec." 

Formerly the Supervisor of Flight Testing at Piper Aircraft in the early 1960s, Bill assisted Cessna Aircraft Company by writing the manual for their then-new Aerobat. That evolved into his Basic Aerobatic Manual, which serves as the foundation for spin training and aerobatics courses.

Catherine came along and helped Bill with valuable research and now honors his wish to continue aerobatic training through her own Sewanee Aerobatic School. When she introduced "Wilbur", her 1979 Cessna 152 Aerobat, "Two Loops" was renamed "Orville".

Bill passed in 2007 and Orville has moved to the National Air and Space Museum at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Even with this proud legacy, Catherine’s great sense of humor shows what a really down-to-earth person she is. To see the video, search "dumb chicks who can’t fly a Cessna".