The Liberty Gazette
October 8, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The 3,000’ grass airstrip just southeast of Highway 59 near Louis, Texas is tough to spot. Trees extend along both sides and an even denser stand masks its northwestern-most end. But the field is flat and has good drainage so it’s rarely closed for long even after a big rain. Upon landing a golf cart directs us to a parking spot. "Welcome to the Flying V Ranch!"
The V stands for Vajdos. Robbie Vajdos and his company Vajdos Aviation have been hosting an annual fly-in called Under The Wire since 1989. All proceeds generated from the event go to local community programs.
The airstrip, built on land inherited from his great-grandfather, a Czech immigrant who fled from the Prussian Army, was once part of a cattle ranch and farmland. Electrical wires strung across the runway about 40 feet above, a third of the way down, gave pilots had a choice: land early and roll out under the wire, or fly over it and land with quite a bit less runway available. In the days of barnstormers and other real pilots, before the overpopulation of opportunistic lawyers, the wire offered sharp pilots a challenge. But people have changed, so to avoid a potential disaster Robbie and the electric co-op agreed to bury the wires underground.
There’s more to Vajdos than a super fun fly-in. The son of a WWII B-25 pilot, Robbie’s flying started early, soloing an airplane at age 16. Particular fascination with his father’s era of aviation drove the boy to ardent study of the planes. Fixated on a nearby Boeing Stearman, Robbie was denied the chance to fly it at the age of 20 when the owner felt he needed more experience. "So I bought a project airplane," Robbie says, "and first learned how to rebuild it."
A year later the FAA gave its blessing on his work, allowing him to fly it. "I taxied up and down the runway for two hours getting the feel of it. Then I just went for it," he says of teaching himself to fly his first Stearman.
Since that day in 1987 he has restored 18 Stearmans, a Ryan PT-22, Grumman AgCat, DeHavilland Tiger Moth, Piper Cubs, Aeronca Champs and Citabrias. His work has been recognized around the world, winning prestigious awards at the two largest aviation venues: 1994, 1995 and 2005 WW II Trainer Champion at Oshkosh, 1995 Grand and Reserve Vintage Champion at Sun ‘n’ Fun. Recipient of both the Gold and Silver Wrench awards for outstanding workmanship, he was also featured in the Bob Bullock Museum’s 100 years of Texas.
Linda: Want a classic vintage biplane of your own? Vajdos Aviation offers a turn-key Stearman; a fully restored Stearman delivered to you about four years after placing your order.
His talents don’t end with his expert craft breathing new life into old planes; Robbie is also an accomplished pilot currently holding FAA letters of authorization to fly the Douglas SBD Dauntless, Grumman Hellcat, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and his favorite, the Vought F4U Corsair.
While the recognition is deserved, possibly the best reward is knowing his teenage daughter shares his passion for flying. To celebrate her 14th birthday she will begin flying lessons so that the pair can take a "Sweet 16" summer tour around the United States in the Piper Cub he is rebuilding just for her. She's already selected her colors: pink with a black lightning bolt.