The Liberty Gazette
October 15, 2013Ely 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…"