formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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December 24, 2013 WestJet Christmas

The Liberty Gazette
December 24, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Airline travel this time of year can be stressful. Getting to the airport, going through that mockery we call "security" and finally boarding the airplane in full cattle-car fashion can be overwhelming even for young, healthy people not traveling with children. If you are one of the millions of viewers who have experienced WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video, surely you’ve been blessed to have been an observer.

Canada’s low-cost and second largest airline is known for their customer service and friendly attitude, but now they’ve taken that to a new altitude.

In the middle of the night at each of two Canadian airports, Pearson International in Toronto and Hamilton International Airport in Hamilton, Ontario, WestJet employees quietly plant a large box in the departure waiting area. The next morning, as passengers scan boarding passes a virtual Santa magically appears "in the box". Addressing each passenger by name he interacts directly with them, confirming this is not an automated machine, and listening to each Christmas present wish list. Chuckling passengers then proceed to board their flights to Calgary.

The Santa boxes in Toronto and Hamilton are connected by Santa-cam to a studio in Calgary where Santa can see and speak with each passenger. Behind the scenes 175 WestJet employees volunteer as Santa’s elves, logging wish lists, organizing and executing the surprise. Once the customers have checked in at the two departure cities, the folks in Calgary head out to have some fun. WestJet teams race to local stores picking out exactly what the passengers requested, scurrying back to the airport in time to wrap and label each present and rush them to the baggage claim area.

Linda: The two flights land in Calgary, passengers disembark and make their way to the baggage claim area. As the baggage ramp buzzer sounds and the carousel begins to turn Christmas decorations illuminate and (fake) snow begins to fall on the weary travelers. Captivated by the holiday scene surrounding them, many pull out their cell phones to take photos…and then they notice the baggage that is coming down the ramp to the carousel is not baggage at all, but gift wrapped boxes labeled with their names. At first they’re stunned. Then that same Santa they spoke to before they boarded their planes shows up in the crowd. Realizing the gifts are for them, tears, laughter, and looks of astonishment fill the room as they unwrap and find exactly what they told Santa they wanted.

From a marketing perspective, WestJet has scored a mammoth branding win by pulling together joyful emotions, shockingly unbelievable actions, and real people who really give – a story everyone wants to share. It all adds up to a remarkable image for the company; one of honesty, integrity, compassion, and at a fraction of the cost of a television ad.

We haven’t totally spoiled it for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to YouTube and enter WestJet Christmas Miracle, and add yourself to the more than 30 million others this brilliant little surprise has touched. It’s narrated in the style of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas," though the words were changed a bit.

To quote Santa, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good flight!"

December 17, 2013 Rosie's daughter

The Liberty Gazette
December 17, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We left you hanging last week in Part 1 of The Real Rosie the Riveter. Don your parachute, we’re about to take a leap.

Rose Will Monroe, the woman who became the human face of Rosie the Riveter while building B-24s’, worked hard, had a passion for life, and never knew failure, not because she never failed, but because she never gave up. Her daughter, and my good friend, Vickie, inherited that spunk.

Mike: Although she enjoyed learning about flying from her mom, by the time Vickie was out of school she was eager to begin carving her own life. Flying took a back seat, or should I say, Vickie took a back seat. Instead of being up front at the controls, following in her mother’s wake, Rose’s youngest child moved to the back where there was easy access to the door, and began jumping out of airplanes – but not before she’d written a few new chapters in her own story.

After some time in New Mexico that included a horse, a dog, a marriage and a daughter, Vickie found herself a single mom and returned home to Indiana for a restart. She opened a water treatment business and considered earning her pilot license in order to more efficiently reach customers, but then she met a special someone who introduced her to skydiving.

Vickie became enamored with the flying world. Through her new position at the Clark County Airport in southern Indiana that old life she knew as her mom’s became her own, but with a twist – professional skydiving.

With a scholarship from the Ninety-Nines Vickie finally earned a pilot license while continuing to perform at airshows as part of the Aerial Allstars Skydiving Team, one of few people performing a unique night pyrotechnic routine. Control boxes strapped to her arms were wired underneath her jumpsuit, connected to pyro tubes attached to her feet. During a jump she’d monitor the altimeter on her wrist, pressing switches to release fireworks at predetermined altitudes.

Linda: A bus ride while visiting Cancun offered another twist. Wyn Croston, a dashing U.S. Air Force captain, electrical engineer and missile launch officer, took the last open seat on the bus. Exchanging phone numbers led to Wyn’s introduction to skydiving. "And I fell for her," he chuckled as we sat on the porch of the cabin they’re building in Willis. "Our first kiss was during a free-fall jump," Vickie chimed in.

These days Wyn and Vickie use their own plane to fly people and pets in need for Angel Flights, Young Eagles, Challenge Air, and Pilots & Paws.

Vickie reflects proudly yet humbly on her mother’s accomplishments and influence. "Mom was inducted posthumously into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame for her role supporting the war effort, as Rosie the Riveter," she says with the smile in her soul beaming.

The Rose Monroe Society raised funds to support the National World War II Memorial. At the ground-breaking ceremony Vickie was joined by Colin Powell, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Dole, and others. When a woman named Mrs. Smith struck up a conversation and asked, "What’s your connection with the Memorial," Vickie told of her famous mother. Mrs. Smith insisted Vickie stay put while she fetched her son, and moments later, FedEx founder Fred Smith was ushered over to shake Vickie’s hand as they discussed the importance of the National Memorial and of leaving a legacy.

December 10, 2013 The Real Rosie the Riveter

The Liberty Gazette
December 10, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Farm kids learn early to do what it takes to make things work, and to work with what’s on hand. Vickie’s mom grew up on a farm, one of nine children, and one of the things she learned was how to build houses. That skill was enhanced when she became a widow and had to leave Kentucky with her two young children in search of work. Henry Ford had made his factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan available for building B-24s, and when Vickie’s mom heard there was work in Michigan she and her children boarded a bus that headed north.

Times were tough during WWII, and a job in the bomber factory was a good deal. They say they turned out one plane every 55 minutes, thanks to the handiwork of America’s women. They called them collectively, "Rosie the Riveter", after a popular song of the day. There was not just one Rosie, but six million who replaced the men who had gone to war.

When actor Walter Pidgeon came to the Willow Run factory in Ypsilanti to film a war bonds film the crew began looking for the woman who would be the human face of that spirit, the woman who embodied courage, strength, and determination.

Someone at the plant declared they had the perfect candidate right there, building airplanes. She was spunky and gutsy, fit the character of the song, her primary job was riveting, and her name really was Rose.

Linda: That all happened before Vickie was born, but she loves telling the story about her mom, Rose Will Monroe, the original Rosie the Riveter.

The familiar poster of the lady sporting a red bandana, flexing her bicep, was not the original. That was a Westinghouse company morale poster. The emblem on the model’s collar is a Westinghouse badge. Geraldine Hoff Doyle was a musician who decided after a couple of weeks working in the factory that the risk to her hands was too great. Not willing to sacrifice her future in music, she quit the job, but was there the day the photographer came to take pictures and choose a model. Years later, in the 1970’s, that Westinghouse company poster became the symbol of "Rosie the Riveter". Geraldine wasn’t even aware they had used her likeness until decades later.

Rose had long admired the women who came to pick up the airplanes she helped build; watching the WASPs fly away relying on her rivets, she longed to be one of them. The rules forbade her, a widow with children, to join the WASPs, but in spite of her circumstances her heart belonged in those airplanes.

In the early 1970’s Rose finally became a pilot, and shared her passion for flight infectiously for a few years, until one day when a passenger changed the course of her life. In his first flight in a small plane, the passenger reached forward on take-off and flipped the switch that operated the electric flaps asking, "What’s this do?"

What it did was slam the plane into the ground, causing serious injuries to Rose, Vickie, and the passenger. Rose lost an eye and a kidney, and her health was never fully recovered.

Says my amazing friend, Vickie, "Seems so final, but it's not. Mom left a legacy for all. She was uncompromising in her high standards, no job was beneath her, and she believed teamwork could accomplish anything."

We’ll leave you hanging ‘til next week when we’ll have more on this riveting history.

December 3, 2013 The Ace

The Liberty Gazette
December 3, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The boy filled his glass jar with gasoline, hopped back on his bike, lawn mower in tow, and peddled out in search of tall grassy yards. Gas was 25 cents a gallon and for an enterprising young man, money could be made if he was willing to look and work for it.

The filling station owner had taken notice of the youngster and offered him a job. Jim had long admired the men who stood at the station’s pump island with their pressed uniforms, tire gauges in their shirt pockets and smiles on their faces, and accepted the job, thinking of the respect he would earn when he quickly serviced cars belonging to ladies like his mother, who often stopped in for gas.

Fast-forward six months, Jim proudly wearing his crisp uniform at the pump island. He’s worked his way up from cleaning hub-caps, vacuuming floors, washing windows, and stands like a sentinel surveying his domain one Sunday morning when his grandfather drives past on his way home from church.

An Austrian prisoner of war captured during WWI, his grandfather had been held in Crosby, Texas. After the war he saw opportunities here not available in Austria and declined the free trip back to Europe, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen.

Grandfather glanced at the boy sternly, driving on without waving back. Later that evening young Jim would begin to learn an important life lesson.

Grandfather: "What were you doing, and why were you not in church this morning?"

Jim: "Well, that’s my shift."

No matter what the image he thought he’d built for himself, Jim was encouraged to do better – by God’s standards.

"Come to my shop and you can work every day after school and not miss church on Sunday," offered his grandfather.

Although the new job didn’t seem to have the same prestige, this place full of machines was fascinating. Jim started at the bottom, pushing a broom; soon the other men working there began showing him how to run the machines, entrusting him with work, but the customers weren’t convinced yet of the kid’s abilities.

When the men left on vacation or hunting trips and customer orders began to stack up, Jim decided he would fill them on his own. This meant he had to teach himself to type so he could create invoices as though he had turned the work over to the machinists. The customers never knew differently and Jim kept quiet and before long was a journeyman machinist.

Mike: Our friend learned to fly at a young age, the son of a flight instructor/airplane mechanic. His mom would drop him off at the airport after school and he’d climb the fence, pull a friend’s Piper Cub out of a hangar and go flying, then fill it back up and push it back in the hangar.

Jim Kubik was called to duty to serve our country as a medic, earning the right to be awarded credentials as a Physician’s Assistant, but he couldn’t wait to get back to the shop and the craftsmanship of making something out of a lump of steel. A humble man who probably wouldn’t want us to say how impressed we are with Baytown Ace Industrial, the business he’s built with faith and hard work, was that same young man who listened to his grandfather and set his priorities straight. He’s the one who holds court during Saturday morning breakfast gatherings of aviators in Baytown, and with his somewhat low-key exterior entertains us all with his many funny stories.

November 26, 2013 Pointing the way

The Liberty Gazette
November 26, 2913
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Hunkered down in his open cockpit the aviator is wrapped in a heavy jumpsuit, fleece-lined leather jacket and helmet, goggles, and a silk scarf tied securely around his neck for wiping engine oil from his goggles. He peers out into the nighttime blizzard looking for a farmer’s bonfire. Once he sees it he continues on looking for the next as he crosses the countryside flying the U.S. Mail.

Linda: Early methods of air navigation included following railroads, using road maps and looking for easily identifiable objects on the ground, even farmers’ bonfires, in this method known as pilotage. Barns and water tanks that had a town name with an arrow painted on them proved helpful in regaining one’s bearings. Another system of early air navigation relied on a compass and watch. Flight planning for a particular heading at a specific speed for a certain amount of time results in a predictable flight even without fancy equipment. In the first days of airmail cockpits were unlit so reading instruments was difficult, and locating ground markers in the dark not so easy either. Most flying was done in the daytime.

Experimenting with bonfires in 1920 and then beacons in 1923 proved to the U.S. Mail service that it was possible to fly successfully at night along preplanned routes, even in marginal weather. This made operating mail routes with airplanes more efficient than trains, prompting Congress to fund a navigation system using beacons to light the way across the nation. Mail planes were served by an arrangement of beacons mounted on towers every ten miles to cross the nation’s midsection. Four years after construction of the beacons began the Federal Airway system was turned over to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Lighthouses, the obvious choice for people with experience creating safe travel in the dark. Within 10 years 1,550 beacons covered 18,000 miles.

Mike: Often placed at remote locations each beacon site was built upon a concrete foundation in the form of an arrow pointing in the direction of the next beacon site. Mounted on the arrow was a tower that housed the rotating beacon. At the feather end of the concrete arrow was a shack protecting two generators; if one failed the other would continue on – pilots like redundancy. The beacons’ automatic bulb changing system swung a spare bulb into place when the other burned out. If a pilot had to land to wait out inclement weather or deal with a mechanical problem, the beacons were a welcome sight during those dark nights; their flashing green or red light signaling whether there was an adjacent landing strip. Many of the arrows still exist.

Ground-based navigation aids evolved over the years and the jump to GPS (satellite based navigation) equipment began offering precision positioning, but there are those who still use good old-fashioned pilotage as a preferred form of navigation. The Montana State Department of Aeronautics operates 17 of those original beacons to help pilots travel through the mountain passes that can be confusing and disorienting, even with GPS.

Who knows, maybe good old-fashioned pilotage would have been more helpful to the pilots of the 747 that landed at the wrong airport last week – using GPS. Oops.

November 19, 2013 The Sound of Flying

The Liberty Gazette
November 19, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s "Flight of the Bumblebee" is a well-known orchestral interlude in his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. Originally featuring a solo violin to create sounds of the bumblebee, the piece was composed 1899–1900, the same time frame that the Wright Brothers began laying plans for controlled flight and flew their first manned glider. The Bumblebee music is played in the scene where a magic swan changes a prince into an bee so he can fly away to visit his father without being seen because his father doesn’t know he is alive. This might give some idea as to why I don’t write operas…but on with our story.

In my car classical music often plays and I sometimes ponder the complimentary couple of song and soar. The Flying Musicians do, too; their motto, "Two passions - one goal – bringing aviation and music together." The group has enticed talented musicians into their membership, entertaining and educating youth.

I’ve flown cross-country flights over soft blankets of clouds with a variety of music piped into our headsets (the most unfortunate choice being "Danger Zone" reverberating in anything slower than an F-14). I’ve flown aerobatic flights, drawing graceful loops and rolls like a flowing musical staff, as though our ship were the conductor’s baton leading an orchestra as its notes danced in waves of the expanse. As common as these two passions are – flying and music – they seem to have traveled through time holding hands but never becoming one.

Having set my mind to searching for the place where music and flying no longer parallel, but join, I came across the transcript of Aron Faegre’s speech given at an Airport Management meeting on October 27, 2001, "Aircraft Noise, Wildlife Sounds, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."

Beethoven lived during the time of aviation pioneering. Balloons, both unmanned and manned first flew when Ludwig was a teen. When his Ninth Symphony premiered in 1824, flight by balloon was all the rage.

Aron imagined a symphony created from airplane noise, saying, "It is my hope that future aircraft can be designed so that they are able to produce more specific tones or frequencies of sounds when flying. In this way while aircraft fly overhead they can be "tuned" so that via use of standard air traffic control procedures, planes may be arranged in either major or minor chords as is appropriate to the community activities below. Perhaps if we are able to sufficiently develop the technology, there will be a day when aircraft coming to and from airports will be able to provide the sound of Beethoven's 9th Symphony to all below. Truly, we can hope that there may still be a time when the sound of aircraft is considered music and not noise."

Belgian pilot and composer Bruno Misonne seems to have shared Aron’s hope as he willed together the two beloved delights. Raised on classical music, he discovered new "instruments" during his pilot training. Mixing aircraft sound bites with instrumental music, Misonne’s aviation orchestra produces a unique sound. So this is where that pondering took me, to the place where the parallel ends. As Rimsky-Korsakov gave an insect voice to a violin, Misonne has given musical voice to aviation. Twelve compositions were released on his 2007 disc, Aviation Music. Perhaps one day, Aron Faegre, you’ll hear your arrangement, coaxed by careful conducting controllers.