The Liberty Gazette
March 19, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: "Let’s go catch a comet," Linda said to me last week. At first I thought she was kidding, but her friend Sarah was going to take off from the West Houston Airport and fly west until she saw the Pan-STAARS comet. It was to appear shortly after sunset just below and to the left of the small sliver of a crescent moon. So I packed up the GPS and met Linda at the hangar where she already had completed her pre-flight, fueled the airplane and was ready to go.
Hangar neighbor, Jeff, had just returned from a flight in his Bonanza and asked, "Where you off to," so we told him about the comet. A NASA guy, Jeff thought of joining us. He was curious where we’d go for the search and what altitude would be best for aerial comet viewing; Linda, on the other hand, would only respond with a claim that we were going to catch that comet and capture its supersonic astral power for racing fuel. After deciding to pack it in for the night, Jeff hollered over his shoulder, "If you get any extra comet juice bring some back for me." Linda of course had a price in mind, but was also prompted to broadcast that message and taunt our fellow air racers via a group email about how they’d wish they had comet juice in their tanks too, and perhaps they’d like to buy some.
Linda: What can I say? It’s good for competition.
Because of airline traffic at Bush and Hobby airports we took a route to the south of Houston’s busy air space but doing so requires careful attention to stay clear of a small airport called B & B Airpark where people intentionally jump out of perfectly good airplanes – especially on nice clear days – and the last jumps of the day were taking place from 15,000 feet. As we cleared the outskirts and city lights the sun was scooching down, tucking itself comfortably in to the horizon. It would be under cover shortly but its radiance would continue to overpower any trace of a comet for several minutes. Eventually we spied the sliver of moon, looking like the faint grin of a Cheshire cat saying, "Can you see me now?" From there we began searching for the comet and about that time radio traffic lit up as Sarah was climbing westbound in a Cessna and asked if we’d found the comet yet. Then a third aircraft arrived on the frequency, checking in with his position report, and now three intrepid airplanes flew their occupants trying to catch a glimpse of something that was only discovered eighteen months ago with an new astronomical tool called the Pan-STARRS telescope system.
Maximum sunset enjoyment registered as hues went from gold to orange to red to lavender to light blue to dark blue and finally to black. Taking our time we loitered about just west of Wharton, turning to and fro always keeping an eye on the moon and looking for the slightest sign of a feathery tail near it, but saw none.
Stood up by a comet, that’s a first. Still, the hunt got us out for a nice sunset flight, even if I do have to eat my taunting words later about that astral power fuel.