The Liberty Gazette
April 30, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: I’d only been flying a year or so when I went to Flagstaff, Arizona to visit friends. I was quite surprised with my success convincing Janet to take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, but probably not nearly as surprised as she was with the view and the sensation as we reached the edge of the canyon. Her gasp let me know she was happier in the back seat than the front, while I soaked in the great experience – better than a movie – from the panoramic bubble of the Eurocopter. Focused as I was paying attention to how to fly a whirly-bird, I didn’t realize until later that Janet thought the pilot was handsome. For me, flying over that amazing feat of God’s hand was the attraction.
Mike: Flying to Washington State last June with a comfortable mid-season lead in the Sport Air Racing League point standings, we stopped for a couple hours to visit my brother in Boulder City. Crossing the canyon that encases the Colorado River south of Hoover Dam the weather was severe clear, visibility seemed endless, and the shimmer off the deep blue hues of Lake Mead corked up behind the dam was inviting.
Approaching Boulder City Airport we blended in with the local air traffic and after pulling off the runway a bright rainbow-striped Grand Canyon Airlines DeHavilland Twin Otter landed behind us. Grand Canyon Airlines and sister companies Scenic Airlines and Papillion Helicopters (where Linda’s friend became smitten with the pilot) offer aerial tours over the Grand Canyon. Their airplanes are modified with enlarged windows for exceptional views.
I first experience the canyon years ago when three friends and I loaded backpacks into a Cessna 210 and flew there for a weekend trip. After hiking over a vertical mile down into the canyon I ripped off my boots and gleefully doused my aching feet in the icy waters of the Colorado River. Though long, the trip back to the rim was a satisfying accomplishment.
My first job flying charter flights took me to the Grand Canyon. We euphemistically referred to it as "the ditch" but that’s just the rashness of youth speaking. My trips were traditional charters, flying from southern California to Grand Canyon National Park Airport where I’d hand my passengers over to the ground tour operators and head to the Grand Canyon Village. That was a great spot for lunch while watching people ascend from the canyon carrying backpacks or riding on mules.
These days flight restrictions dictate where aircraft can be flown over the national park, but before those restrictions were in place I flew the entire length of the canyon back to Boulder Dam below the rim and once rode in a helicopter down to the Havasupai Indian Village where a majestic waterfall rushes into a stunning turquoise pool.
Linda: Even with the flight restrictions a trip over the canyon is still amazing, and for the best view I recommend a helicopter. Leaving the airport the flight doesn’t climb high, so the effect of visual cues brings awe when going from low-to-the-ground to a sudden vast, deep opening; it’s as though the bottom just dropped out and there you are, looking way, way out over the edge, in canyon color – something my friend Janet says she will never forget.