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!

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".

June 18, 2013 Airport Celebration! (by Debbie Mabery)

The Liberty Gazette
June 18, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike & Linda: Special thanks to our guest columnist, Debbie Mabery. Enjoy!

Debbie: In February of 2012, my husband Jose and I peered through the chain link fence on the south side of the Liberty Municipal Airport. We could see two faded orange hangars of another decade to the west dotted with trash, one modern beige hangar to the north surrounded by weeds, acres and acres of waist high grass and not a person or plane in sight. After a few moments, I glanced over to see Jose smiling.

"The airport is beautiful! It just needs some work….mowing, painting, and a lot of cleaning. Debbie, what do you think?" he asked as he started to take pictures.

"I agree; there is something very special about this airport. I can’t stop grinning as I look at it! It just needs some attention. If you are hired as the manager, wouldn’t it be great to help revitalize it?" I responded enthusiastically.

Now just over a year later, thanks to the support of the City of Liberty and many long hours put in by my husband the airport manager, city employees and volunteers, Liberty Municipal Airport has gone through a major transformation. It is no longer that sleepy airfield we first saw. So, two Saturdays ago it was time to let everyone know Liberty Municipal Airport is alive and well by holding a public airport celebration.

At the open house, laughter could be heard yards away and smiles could be seen wherever you looked. Every time a pilot was heard on the radio announcing his approach, excitement spread through the crowd. And when planes exited the taxiway to the ramp, people paused in awe of their stylish paint jobs and powerful engines.

Over one hundred people and two dozen airplanes were part of the day’s events. Everything from a 1957 Piper PA-22-150 visiting from Oklahoma to a Citation jet lined the ramp at one time or another. Brian Bertrand president of the Beaumont Radio Control Club and five club members brought their amazing collection of radio controlled planes and helicopters to entertain the crowd with high flying and daring stunts. Captain Brad Taylor and his crew from the Liberty Fire Department grilled tasty hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch in the unforgiving Texas sun while visitors dined in the shade provided by the newly constructed t-hangars.

And to the delight of all, two precision flight formation shows were performed by Dennis Irvine and three other Freedom Flight pilots from Conroe, Texas. The Freedom Flight pilots are former military and professional airline pilots who fly at community events to foster patriotism and remember those who have served our country. The four RV aircraft decorated in red, white, and blue made several passes over the airport to impress the crowd with well executed formation flights and smoke trails.

In the end, the airport celebration provided the last element needed to complete the airport’s renovations….people and planes! Yes, it is official, Liberty Municipal Airport is once again a place for aviation to come alive and be shared by all.

June 11, 2013 Tyranny

The Liberty Gazette
June 11, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We enjoy sharing stories here about our favorite mode of transportation and the world about it. The aviation community is like none other, mostly made up of people with a sense of responsibility, community, honesty and integrity. Sure there are some loose cannons, as one may find in any industry, but we have found the vast majority of aviators to be a fine, upstanding lot. Imagine our collective surprise then, as news stories have begun to emerge over the past year or so, and growing in number, that regular citizens with no criminal history doing perfectly lawful things are suddenly being held at gunpoint, intimidated and threatened upon landing because – are you ready for this? Because they allegedly fit some unexplained "profile" of which about all that has been deduced is that the victim pilots were flying from west to east – inside the United States of America. That’s it.

Unbelievable, isn’t it?

This activity equates to a traffic stop where you would be detained and searched by local, state, and federal law enforcement – S.W.A.T. teams even - with no probable cause and no explanation. Let’s say you’re just driving a few states away to see family, and because you are going a certain direction, you are pulled over and faced with dozens of law enforcement officers who aren’t really enforcing any law, they’re following orders from someone to do something illegal. That’s what’s happening in the pilot world right now, unlawful restraint of citizens from moving about freely in their own country.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news – and this certainly qualifies – but if we leave it unspoken, if we just cower and hide and stay quiet, fewer people will know of the abuse, and then it will spread, as disease does when it is not treated.

Mike: A few years ago I stood at "Checkpoint Charlie" along the Berlin Wall. Most of the wall had been torn down but enough was left to serve as a reminder of what can happen if we give tyranny a pass while we watch for pretty butterflies. The sad history of that location comes to my mind when I think of these illegal actions escalating unchecked.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is supposed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. Flying in one particular direction doesn’t give probable cause to seize and search an individual. But word from the battle field where the not-so-secret-but-denied war gluttonously swells: one pilot wasn’t going to even be allowed to call to his mother to tell her that he had made it to his destination safely. Federal agents stood around and listened in on the conversation making sure he obeyed their orders not to mention them.

While the FAA reports* aviation’s contributions of 10.2 million jobs, $14.2 trillion in value-added economic activity and $1.3 trillion in total economic activity – about 5.2% of the total U.S. GDP – as being "a vital link to economic opportunities home and abroad" evidence grows daily that the U.S. economy is under attack, and now includes targeting innocent pilots.

*The Economic Impact of Civil Aviation on the U.S. Economy, August 2011, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration

June 4, 2013 Pixar Planes!

The Liberty Gazette
June 4, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We bumped up our departure time by a few hours the Friday before the annual Memorial Air Race in Terrell, Texas, southeast of Dallas. The pre-race party would be at the home of our good friends, Bobby and AnnElise, but the call went out for racers to try to arrive by mid-day: Disney was sending a sound crew to the Terrell Airport to record airplane noise for their upcoming Pixar movie, Planes, premiering August 9.

When we arrived there were already five or six of our race buddies flying high-speed passes down the runway, providing a nice mix of different types of airplane noise for the microphones.
Check out the storyline and description of the cartoon airplane characters at There’s a canard named Ishani (voiced by Priyanka Chopra), so James Redmon made several low passes in his award-winning Berkut (a canard type of airplane), which he built himself.

Dick Keyt, who lives in Granbury, brought the unique and super-fast Polen Special to provide the powerful sound emitted by the amazing experimental airplane capable of 325 mph speeds with only a 180 horsepower engine – and it is the world’s fastest four cylinder vehicle. It’s a handful according to Dick, who is an airline captain and former U.S. Air Force pilot. Maybe the Disney folks can use the sounds of the Polen Special if they don’t find a real F4U Corsair to record for the sounds of "Skipper Riley", the Corsair voiced by Stacey Keach.

Mike: World speed record holding brothers Mike and Mark Patey offered their smooth singing Lancair muscle machines for Pixar/Disney’s pleasure. Those two might make a good fit for the sounds of Ned and Zed of the Ripslinger Team (voice by Gabriel Iglasias), although it sounds like Team Ripslinger is made up of bad guys - the Patey brothers are really nice guys. The main Ripslinger character, voiced by Roger Craig Smith, looks a lot like "Relentless", which races at the Reno Air Races, piloted by Kevin Eldredge.

The Pixar site shows other characters including a stealth bomber, F-15 fighter jets, a blimp, and a classic biplane (Stearman) named Leadbottom. Bulldog is a twin-engine British plane, voiced by John Clease. El Chupacabra is the name given to the Gee Bee looking airplane – the kind that used to be symbolic in the air race fanatical days of the 1930’s when the National Air Races were in Cleveland, Ohio.

Julia Louise Dreyfus lends her voice to the airplane named Rochelle, which looks like a V-tail Bonanza, except that it’s a twin-engine. Bobby Bennett flies a Bonanza and he provided several opportunities for the sound crew to capture the true voice of a V-tail.

And then there’s the star of the show – Dusty the crop duster. We all kind of snickered when we saw the movie trailer that showed the Air Tractor, a fixed-gear airplane, with its gear up in one scene, but hey, what does Hollywood know? For that matter, most of the audience who watches Planes won’t know whether the sound they hear fits the airplane they see on the screen. So while we don’t see a Grumman Cheetah in the all-star line-up, we just may hear our own engine whiz by in a high-speed low pass, an engine start, or taxi, all of which were recorded on May 24th.

Pass the popcorn! 

May 28, 2013 CFI'ing

The Liberty Gazette
May 28, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Believe it or not, I’ve actually thought many times over the years about flight instructing.

After all the intensive study and the gut-check, after passing a written exam, a new flight instructor candidate will spend two agonizing days with an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration; eight hours in a royally grilling oral exam of aeronautical knowledge and teaching theory, and the next day recreating all sorts of possible new student scenarios while flying an airplane. It’s not the study, nor the exam that has given me cause to pause, but the tremendous responsibility held by a person certified to give flight instruction. And that’s just for a primary flight instructor certification. At the end of every work day I am just floored to hear about Mike’s day – highly advanced flight instructing for pilots who are already flying commercial jets.

Mike: To teach in the airline or corporate aviation environment instructors must be well established in their career. Each of the highly accomplished former corporate, airline and military pilots I work alongside brings unique experiences which they use to help mold the thought patterns and skills of other pilots learning to fly a particular aircraft. Our purpose is to make the pilots we train the safest in the industry.

Because each airplane has uniquely designed systems and procedures that need to be followed pilots must learn how those systems work and practice those procedures. Therefore, each large aircraft or jet requires a rating specific to that type – a 747 pilot cannot just jump into a Learjet. The price tag ranges from about $15,000 to $60,000 just for initial training, and again for each recurrent training. Since some of the scenarios we must face would be too dangerous to recreate in an airplane on a regular basis, we practice in state-of-the art simulators which cost more than the airplane itself.

In ground school pilots learn the nuts and bolts of the airplane’s systems. Each system is broken down into its individual pieces and the student learns how the pieces of the system work together and how that system works with other systems. Some of these aircraft are so complex their ground school can last for weeks. Then it is time for the simulator.

In the simulator we not only instruct, but simultaneously run the computers that run the simulator all while acting as an air traffic controller, making everything as realistic as possible. Weaving scenarios into the training sessions, we set up system failures or weather conditions that present particular challenges to the crew – it can make for a tense and taxing session. Because of the realism some pilots may even start to sweat, forgetting we’re in a simulator. But these sessions also tax instructors. We’re continuously evaluating progress, measuring it against a set of standards that must be met in order for the pilot to be recommended to take the final exam for that type rating – the "check ride". Every now and then someone fails to make the grade and that’s the part I least enjoy – breaking the news to them – but fortunately those times are few and I consider myself privileged to have met many fine pilots who have taken on the challenge and achieved what they set out to do.