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.