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!

November 18, 2014 From an Enterprising Generation

The Liberty Gazette
November 18, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Jack left business college at Washington University in St. Louis to join the Navy in 1940. By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. officially entered WWII, Jack had become a fighter pilot. He heroically flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat from the decks of the USS Essex and the USS Enterprise. The young aviator earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Navy Air Medal. That in itself says enough, but there’s more, which shouldn’t be a surprise because most of the guys who made it that far didn’t stop there.

After the war Jack sold cars – Cadillacs, to be specific. Of course, being a pilot and living in St. Louis, naturally he sold cars for the dealership that carried the Lindberg name.

Listening to customers and analyzing how to best meet their needs, Jack believed that the dealership should be able to rent cars to them when theirs were in the shop for repairs. This was a novel idea at the time and the Lindberg dealership was interested in Jack’s proposal. By then he had worked his way up to Sales Manager, and had been working long enough to have saved some money. He agreed to a 50% pay cut and made a cash investment of $25,000 to own 25% of the new business. To him, it was worth the risk, and thus began the Executive Leasing Company, with an inventory of eight cars.

After more than a decade of success the company expanded beyond St. Louis and as always happens when an idea works, competition began to enter the marketplace. It was that same time when Jack decided to change the name of his company to pay homage to the aircraft carrier upon which he had served, which was his landing strip for the Hellcat.

While his competitors preferred to rent cars at airports to business travelers, Jack concentrated on the hometown market offering home pickup services which led to Enterprise’s now famous slogan, "We’ll Pick You Up".

Mike: Of course we know that Enterprise now offers rentals at airport locations as well, but it seems the company has not forgotten its roots. Often, they are the only game in small towns. People using private aviation often opt for a closer, small airport such as Liberty’s as opposed to the complexity and distance of the larger airports, and it is here where Enterprise reigns.

According to the company, by 1980 the rental fleet that began with eight had grown to 6,000 cars, and to 50,000 by 1989. In 2007, Enterprise purchased National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-A-Car.

Today the company is run by Jack’s son, Andy, a business aviation advocate who often speaks to groups about how corporate aircraft have helped the family business become the world’s largest rental car company. They have two long range Gulfstream aircraft which fly teams of sales and management personnel directly to cities throughout their world-wide network, allowing employees to conduct business in several cities in a single day and return home to be with their families.

Enterprise is an American tale of capitalism that began with a great idea, backed by the hard work and ingenuity of a veteran of the Greatest Generation.

November 11, 2014 Zoning in on safe airspace

The Liberty Gazette
November 11, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A few years ago as the City of Liberty was struggling with how best to develop our airport one of the first things that had to be done was bring up to date the zoning around the airport before any more grants would be given. This zoning is known as height hazard zoning and is not what you think of when you think of land zoning. This is regulated by the FAA and is a requirement for any airport that accepts federal money, as Liberty does.

Liberty County and the cities of Liberty and Ames created a height hazard zoning board in order to comply with these regulations and to be eligible to receive further federal grant money. TxDOT, under authority of the FAA, performed a height hazard study and the board accepted the study. Then each of the governmental entities voted to accept those zoning regulations. This effectively keeps someone from placing a cell tower or windmill so close to the airport as to create a hazard to aircraft.

Under these rules, on an airport the size of Liberty’s no structure may be built within 250 of the outer edges of the runway. At large airports such as Bush Intercontinental, the required distance expands to 400 feet. There are exceptions for structures in existence prior to the ordinance, however those structures must be lighted so pilots can see them. You can imagine the danger to a pilot and to people on the ground if a structure violates safety zoned air space and isn’t even lighted. Once on notice both the owner of the structure and the city may be held liable.

Mike: And what if a pilot is flying in soupy weather? Flying "on instruments" is the kind of flying necessary when visibility is so poor that a pilot can’t see through the clouds or fog. An approach to land at an airport may be either visual or instrument. If it’s an instrument approach, meaning published procedures are used that safely get an airplane to the runway in poor conditions, you can bet that hazardous structures need to be even farther away, just in case a plane is a little bit off course. For that reason, in order for an airport to increase safety with instrument approaches there must be a larger safety zone. Approval of safety enhancing instrument approaches are dramatically affected by the existence of hazardous structures.

From the 250’ (or 400’) point the protected area extends outward and upward at a specific angle for several miles. Buildings, antennas, windmills, cannot be built to encroach on this protected air space. The angle off each end of the runway is even more restrictive because that’s where airplanes are closer to the ground – taking off and landing.

As Liberty proceeds through the process of extending the runway, height hazard zoning will be revisited under the leadership of the helpful people from TxDOT.

The FAA has reviewed its criteria for height hazards and will tighten up restrictions, making protected zones larger, setting stricter height limitations for structures near airports.

This move, applauded by pilots and the managers and owners of airports, means increased safety zones for the people who use airports as well as people on the ground.

Why would anyone build a house under the approach path to an airport anyway? Local ordinances and height hazard zoning help prevent this from happening and promote safety.

November 4, 2014 Parade of Planes

The Liberty Gazette
November 4, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: It isn’t every day you can walk out to the main street in town and watch airplanes taxi by, not being towed, but under their own power, propellers spinning. Not just one, but a whole parade.

Over the years the city of Palm Springs, California has hosted such an event where locals and visitors alike line the sidewalks to watch the parade of planes come through town.

Everyone loves a parade, and in Palm Springs folks find a bit of shade from a palm tree, sit back and enjoy the view as a great variety of airplanes taxi the route that follows main thoroughfares through downtown and to the city’s convention center where they park, on display for all to see and ask questions during the week of Aviation Summit.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association created and sponsored the event biannually for many years but now that the AOPA’s focus has shifted to regional events held in several places throughout the country – and finding great success drawing huge crowds – the very popular Flying Magazine, published continuously since 1927, is behind the prop-wash, stepping up as sponsor to keep the tradition alive.

Mike: We recently made a trip west that included a brief stop-over in Palm Springs to visit with one of my childhood friends. Tim and I grew up on the same street along with 40 other kids, and as kids do we had many adventures hiking, biking, climbing trees, going to the beach, hunting up frogs and even making trips in airplanes when I first became a pilot. Tim, now a middle school teacher, was one of my first passengers.

Tim’s home in Palm Springs basks in the silhouettes of the San Jacinto Mountains to the west, San Bernardino Mountains to the north, Joshua Tree National Monument to the east and the Salton Sea to the south. Temperatures in the summer months exceed 100 degrees regularly and it rarely gets close to freezing at the city elevations. It’s a popular place for vacationing in the winter months as it’s moderate temperatures at that time of year are offset by close proximity to recreational activities in the mountains such as hiking, backpacking, rock climbing and skiing. One thing on my list of things to do "someday" is to scale the peak of San Jacinto via the snow creek route. This is the longest and most vertical climb in the lower 48 states, over 9,600 feet up in less than four miles horizontal distance.

This is also part of the area where the Sky King serial drama was filmed in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. It’s full of rugged backdrops and dry lake beds for Sky’s Cessna 310 named "The Songbird" to land.

Flying through the passes and over the deserts and ranges of Sky King country triggered memories created during the thousands of hours I spent flying here.

Maybe some of the pilots flying to the Aviation Summit earlier this month found themselves looking for landmarks from the Sky King series. Spectators lining the boulevards may have had their imaginations spurred to think about the Golden Age of Aviation as the magnificent flying machines paraded by.

October 28, 2014 Chasing the Lark

The Liberty Gazette
October 28, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I recently met a former Army Air Corps/Air Force pilot who flew in WWII and Korea. He is approaching 90 years young and still flies. Like so many others of his generation he was flying high performance fighters like the P-51 in life and death aerial slugfests at the ripe old age of 19 or 20 years old.

Our encounter was brief and I hope to have more conversations with him but it reminded me of the great documentary film, Runway 16 Right, which covers the history of the Van Nuys Airport in California. If you have never seen it, it’s a must-see. Even if you’re not an aviation nut, it’s history well-presented and time well spent.

The Van Nuys airport started as a cow pasture, pretty much like the one here in Liberty before Benny Rusk and Earl Atkins turned the Liberty Airport into Liberty Airport.

Van Nuys has since developed into the largest supplier of jobs in the San Fernando Valley (that’s just north of Los Angeles). Now, there’s an economic engine if I’ve ever seen one!

The years before WWII saw the airport producing pilots, many who would go on and do the same thing that the gentleman I recently met did. But what stuck in my mind was some of the antics of these young daredevils.

To the west of Van Nuys airport lay farm fields where the young pilots would land and pick up anything that might be lying around, such as old boots, and use them for target practice pelting things on the ground as they played "bomber pilot". Or, they’d throw out a roll of toilet paper and see just how many times they could sweep back and forth in their airplanes and cut it before it got too close to the ground.

Today the FAA and the TSA would have conniption fits over these proceedings but in those footloose and fancy-free bygone years it was just plain fun, and darn good practice for young pilots. People just worry about too much stuff these days, and then you have the worthless TSA, but don’t get me started.

Another favorite unofficial "attack" practice maneuver for those young Air Force pilots in Van Nuys was swooping down on the Lark, an all-night train from San Francisco that arrived in the valley a little after ten o’clock every morning.

Picture this: The planes would fly low over the top of the train as they approached the engine from behind, startling the engineers with their noisy engines right above the engineers’ heads. The pilots then peeled off, headed for another caper.

It didn’t take long for the engineers to return the favor. As a plane approached, the engineer was waiting for them and as soon as they were overhead he pulled the whistle and scared the beejeebers out of the pilots. Then it became a game of who-could-surprise-who first. This game has been repeated many times and in many places over the years and I can only guess that, much to the FAA’s chagrin, it is probably still being played someplace today.

All the fun these pilots had was good training, developing their skills for their future as wartime pilots, and for many flying careers. The 20 year olds in 90-year old bodies today like to tell the stories of those happy-go-lucky days.

October 21, 2014 I'm a Lauda fan

The Liberty Gazette
October 21, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Our recent trip westward brought new experiences and new friends. Landing in Chino, California, the place where all this flying business began for Mike, as we were marshaled into a parking spot we learned a bit too late that the area was not cleared as three small wooden chocks caught up in prop wash began a dance that would make Simon Cowell grant a perfect score. Unfortunately, a few chunks of paint departed the airplane during the chock dance. Fortunately, the FBO graciously had the area repainted for us during our stay in the Golden State.

Several days later we returned and met Eveline who, along with her husband, owns Century Aircraft. They had repainted the nose wheel cover.

Her Austrian accent was thick enough to be lovely, thin enough that her words were easily understood. We talked about our rescue dogs, the Berlin Wall, the weather, and of course, airplanes. Consider this, because it came up in our conversation: if you just learned you were chatting with an Austrian, what would be your first association? Would it be Arnold Schwarzenegger? Adolf Hitler?

As it turned out, mine was Niki Lauda, the Formula One champion race driver of my youth, more recently the subject of the movie "Rush". I was a huge Niki Lauda fan as a kid. Growing up in an auto racing family how could I not be? I loved Lauda. I rooted for him every race and wrote him a get-well letter when he had that horrific crash. I used to do that a lot when I was little, and some time I’ll share the story of taping a nickel to a get well card when I was five – but on with the story.

Eveline, herself a mega Formula One fan who watches every race on TV and then calls her dad for a post-race analysis, beamed as my association question sunk in:

"Oh, Austria, as in Niki Lauda?"

It was refreshing to her that for once she was not faced with another Schwarzenegger association, or worse, being asked about the days of Hitler. The lady is a generation after Hitler; not that she doesn’t know the evil that happened, but it can’t be enjoyable to be assumed to be a generation older than one is. But back to the story.

She phoned her husband, Mike, who was down the way in a hangar, and asked him to bring their lovely rescue dog so we could swap dog stories as we loved on him – the dog, that is – and we visited way too long and it made us late leaving and we didn’t make our planned destination that night, but we did make new friends. And, I learned that Niki Lauda is a commercial pilot and founded two airlines, Lauda Air and Niki.

According to Eveline, back home Niki is known for being a spendthrift. So much so that he is often called to advertise low cost goods to emphasize, "even Niki Lauda would buy this".

I liked Niki because he was a formidable competitor, admiring him because he never backed down. My new friend Eveline admires him too.

If it weren’t for cluttered parking spaces and dancing chocks, and nice people who help, I might never have known Niki Lauda founded two airlines, and I would not know my new friend Eveline. Things just seem to turn out okay sometimes.

October 14, 2014 Some change is good

The Liberty Gazette
October 14, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: There was good conversation over lunch with a friend last week at a little eatery in Pasadena, California as we shared stories about our Moms, both of whom recently moved to heaven, which is what brought Linda and I back to California.

"Email, Facebook, and other social media are all wonderful tools for communicating with friends and relatives and even making new acquaintances," says my friend John Brinkmann, "but we’re missing the human contact, the sitting face to face and sharing similar interests. I want to see excitement and life in the eyes of those I’m talking with."

John’s magazine, American Bungalow, a rather prominent publication that shares the love of craft homes, in which many of the Greatest Generation were raised, is appreciated by people with taste. John, to be sure, pours his heart into it. He is my former mountain climbing partner with whom I shared many days and nights on wind-driven and snowy slopes and peaks. This is catching up time with an old friend.

John bursts with energy as he regales with tales of a German pilot, "Hans," who he met thanks to their mutual affection for MG motorcars, especially the pre-war models, of which there were not many made. Someday there will be a book about one of those pre-war MGs with a fascinating history, whenever John gets around to putting it all down on paper.

Hans is now in his 90’s and still very full of life. He was an instructor pilot for the Luftwaffe during WWII and flew about everything the Germans had. Toward the end of the war they had him flying the Messerschmitt ME-262 because it was the only thing the Germans had that could catch the British Mosquito, a twin-engine ground attack bomber. At the end of the war seven ME-262s were under his command based in a little town in the northern part of Germany.

John chuckles, "I’ve been to that town. I told him I once paid two Marks a night for a little cot in the attic of an inn there because the innkeeper was the only person I knew who spoke English. Then Hans says to me, ‘Back then I had a cot in the attic of a farmhouse in that same town.’"

Even though the ME-262 was a "wunderwaffe," John says Hans still prefers the ME-109E. According to Hans, "you don’t fly the 109E, you wear it like a tailored suit of clothes."

Linda: John just happened into the magazine business when he had to move his graphic arts business to another location, and happened to move into an old house – an American Bungalow. What began as a newsletter has become a treasure. 84 quarterly issues have been published so far.

We reminisced the days when the American culture had unity and kids were raised differently than they are today, when babysitters were human, not electronic.

However, today the Germans and Japanese are not our enemies, and there is no animosity between those who savagely fought each other in the skies. They had their duty and somehow, being locked in that conflict where lives hang in the balance, there was a kinship like no other born. And that’s a positive change.

October 7, 2014 Grandma learns to fly - and saves the day

The Liberty Gazette
October 7, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Eight years after by-pass surgery Roger Peterson returned to flying. With the advent of the Sport Pilot license and the lighter medical restrictions he is able to fly in the U.S. under certain conditions. But this meant someone else would have to be the pilot in command when the Petersons went to their summer home in Canada.

Alverna Peterson had some flying lessons years before, but raising a family took priority. Now that they were empty nesters she had time to finish her training. A couple of months before her 65th birthday, "Al" earned her private pilot license and became the pilot in command for every summer trip north of the border, whether in the couple’s Cessna 172, their Piper J-3 Cub, or Piper PA-11.

"If this old lady can do it, anyone can," she chuckles. We like to call her our modern day "Sky Queen".

Linda: A few years ago the fire chief of Old Ocean got a call from the Texas Department of Public Safety. They needed help and they needed it fast. Four or five barges had gotten loose and were missing somewhere on the Brazos River. They had to be found and stopped before they hit a bridge.

It was Thanksgiving Day when Chief Craig Peterson got the call: "No," he replied, "I don’t own an airplane, but my parents do."

"He called and asked for his dad," Al recalls. "I told him his dad had gone fishing and wouldn’t be back for awhile. That’s when he asked if I’d fly the plane to help him find these barges!"

She loves telling the story.

Craig rushed over to his parents’ home and he and his mom hopped into the J-3 Cub and took off. Flying over the Brazos River they searched for the missing barges for an hour, in constant communication with authorities until the U.S. Coast Guard helicopters arrived to take over.

"While I was out fish-fishing, she was out barge-fishing," laughs Roger, who has been a pilot for more than 50 years.

We became acquainted with Roger and Al at the Reklaw fly-in. They are typical of the retired couples we’ve met who enjoy their time traveling by air. While general aviation attracts all ages, it’s especially encouraging to meet someone who has the courage and snap to learn to fly as a senior citizen.

Mike: That reminds me of a man I met in Nogales, Arizona years ago, a retiree flying with his dog in his Piper Cherokee. Lots of retirees travel the country in motor homes, but this man was flying to all the places he and his wife had wanted to visit but didn’t make it to before she passed away. So the widower and his faithful dog were seeing North America by light plane.

With the FAA’s Light Sport Aircraft classification and the Sport Pilot Certificate it’s now much easier and more affordable to attain a pilot license. For some, it’s the best retirement, for others, the best therapy.

September 30, 2014 Tommy - not the rock opera

The Liberty Gazette
September 30, 2014

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: After the young Marine was discharged from duty during the Korean War and came home with a Purple Heart, he found work in New Jersey as a steamfitter, and there he worked for 51 years, during which time he also married and raised three sons. At least that’s what we can find out about Tommy Fitzpatrick from articles written after his passing in 2009.

But in reality, Tommy didn’t settle in to a quiet civilian life immediately after the war. There were some wild years when he was in his 20’s that included a lot of time spent in bars in his old stomping grounds in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

That’s when the trouble started.

It so happened that exactly 58 years ago today young Fitzpatrick accepted a bet while imbibing with friends. The bet was regarding whether Tommy could get to Washington Heights from New Jersey in 15 minutes; Tommy insisted he could, and promptly left for New Jersey to prove it.

By 3:00 a.m. he returned to the bar on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street, still inebriated, making a perfect landing at the front door.

Yes, he landed there. In the middle of the night, with no lights and no radio, on a narrow street, missing the street lights, the buildings, and parked cars, he landed an airplane he stole from the Teterboro School of Aeronautics, on a street in New York City in front of a bar.

He won the bet, hopefully enough to cover the $100 fine he received from the judge for "wrongdoing".

Mike: The owner of the airplane refused to press charges and everyone was quite impressed with this war hero’s skill. Even the New York Times said he made a "fine landing", calling it a "feat of aeronautics".

And maybe all that about being a hero for winning the bet the way he did just went to his head, because the story continues.

I can just imagine the scene in that bar two years later, as the unbelievable account of wager comes up in conversation and a patron new to the area thinks this is one tall drinking tale. Clearly people in New York City weren’t used to big, wild stories like that, unlike all of us Bob Jamison fans, who were treated to unusual lore often, because that poor sucker of a new-kid-on-the-block fell prey to Tommy’s bet when he insisted Tommy couldn’t possibly have done what he was claiming he did.

At 1:00 a.m. he did it again. He stole another plane from Teterboro, flew it to Washington Heights and nailed another perfect landing on the street in front of the bar. He won the bet again, but this time he had to pay a heavier price, as the judge did not agree this was the best way to clear any doubt the other bar customer had about Tommy’s pilot skill. He gave Tommy six months to think it over in a jail cell.

You can find photos of the incidents online. Among them will be one that includes the pavement in the photo, to show where the airplane landed. If you look closely you will see there on the ground is drawn a silhouette, an outline around the entire plane, the "victim’s" chalk line.

September 23, 2014 Go Fast!

The Liberty Gazette
September 23, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: A couple weekends ago we scored some tickets to the Red Bull Air Races in Fort Worth when a friend had a sudden change of plans, giving us prime seating for an exciting show of speed and aircraft agility. The weather was a bit dicey when we began our trip but we weaved through the broad expanse between two large thunder-bumpers and made a fuel stop at the airport here in Liberty before continuing north.

Deviating around weather as we approached the Dallas area, air traffic controllers were quite helpful threading us through the threatening storms while avoiding the busy approach paths to both Dallas Love and Dallas-Fort Worth airports. We landed at the Alliance airport as massive dark clouds were inching toward the end of the runway from the south. Only the eerie background music was missing from that scene.

Lickety-split, we secured the airplane, tossed our baggage into the back of a pick-up, and jumped in for a ride up to the terminal before the first raindrop fell. Tomorrow, we hoped, would be better flying weather for the races.

Linda: The weather had calmed for Sunday’s spectacle of high-speed turns around inflated pylons, vertical reversals and mad dashes to the finishing gate. Over the Texas Motor Speedway each plane flew its heat races solo and was timed from entry to exit with a few penalties assessed for not having wings level at specific points, being too high or too low as it rounded pylons. Fun to watch once, but I’d rather be participating.

At the end of the race we visited the pits where each of the eight contestants had temporary hangars. Most of the planes racing in Red Bull races are Edge 540’s, built by Zivko Aeronautics in Guthrie Municipal Airport outside of Oklahoma City. They look fast just sitting on the ground.

Mike: We’ve had a short break in our racing schedule as of late but will be back at it full throttle in a couple weeks in Tullahoma, Tennessee for the Tennessee 150 Air Race. Following that we will be participating in one closer to home in the only air race that takes place in Liberty County at the Cleveland Air Race Revival on October 11th.

Airport Managers and FBO owners Clay and Darline Dean will be hosting the race with a lot of support from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce.

The public is invited to come out and enjoy the festivities. The 150-mile zigzag cross-country race course will start and end at the Cleveland Municipal Airport and cover much of the northeast corner of this county and occasionally crossing into the neighboring counties. Racers will takeoff at 30-second intervals and accelerate to race speed as soon as they reach a safe altitude.

There is no admission fee to watch. Many folks come out to just look at the pretty airplanes, talk with the pilots and enjoy a day at the airport. Come and join us for "racing for the rest of us" in Cleveland. It’s guaranteed fun.

September 16, 2014 ALS Around the World, part 2

The Liberty Gazette
September 16, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Last week we began to tell about CarolAnn Garratt and her around-the-world flights which she does to bring awareness to ALS and encourage donations for research for a cure.

While her 2008 flight was a world record breaker (around the world in eight and a half days), the third trip was for no such attempt, but to see the places she hadn’t seen before, and take time to talk with groups about ALS and the hope for a cure.

During her time in Europe, Berlin was an important stop for CarolAnn, seeing the place where the wall once separated and imprisoned people, its removal a sign of hope that today causes a mix of emotions. There would be further conflicts when she later visited two other places on her list.

Longing to visit Bethlehem, CarolAnn agreed to the terms and conditions which included strict rules about flying in to Israel and no personal flying without an Israeli pilot. In spite of the challenges she was glad she went. After seeing Jerusalem she thought it would be perfect to visit Bethlehem next, not knowing the mental difficulties she would experience from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, taking in the cold reality of human events, past and present.

"I had left Berlin earlier where the walls have been torn down only to come to a place where they are going up," she explained. We could hear her heart sink in her voice, as she explained that Bethlehem is in the "Palestinian" section, a wall separating it from the rest of Jerusalem. This reality left her with a heavy feeling.

For the most part, her trip was everything she hoped for. People were friendly and she was having an adventure of the grandest proportions. While still in Israel she met a local pilot who offered to fly with her from Haifa to the lowest airport in the world: Bar Yehuda Airfield in Masada, just west of the Dead Sea, about an hour and a half drive from Jerusalem. The airport’s elevation is 1,240 below sea level.

With so many highlights from this longer world trip, one really needs to read her latest book to get the whole story – Upon Silver Wings III – but there’s one highlight we can’t leave out.

CarolAnn purchased school supplies and chalkboards in Istanbul, Izmir and Cairo and flew them to Tulear, Madagascar where she delivered them to a group of nuns and doctors to take to an orphanage "at the end of the world" on the remote southern tip of Madagascar. With no airport near the orphanage she made plans to fly over it three days later. As she approached, she was not prepared for what would greet her from below. There outside the building were all the children, lined up in shaped rows, spelling "CAROL". In a call that evening to her contact at the orphanage she learned that there was not a dry eye on the ground. She also learned that the children had never seen an airplane before.

As CarolAnn made several passes overhead, rocking her wings, her heart deeply touched by the scene, their tears of gratitude flowed below because there was someone who cared about a place where no one else ever goes, about the people who have nowhere else to go but there.

She will be returning soon to bring more help as she continues to bring her message of hope Upon Silver Wings.

September 9, 2014 ALS Around the World, part 1

The Liberty Gazette
September 9, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Chances are you or someone you know has taken the ice bucket challenge within the past 12 months. Its all the craze and has brought a significant increase to awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS. You’ve probably seen video testimonials of people suffering from ALS, or their loved ones. The ALS Association wants to create a world without ALS, and if you’ve been moved by the stories and challenged by your friends to donate you have likely called either the ALS Association or ALS Therapy Development Institute.

So where will your money go?

Well, if you donate to the ALS Association ( 28% will go to research, 19% to patient and community services, 32% will go to public and professional education, and there’s an allotment for fundraising and administration for the rest of it. Depending on what you want done with your money, this may or may not be the choice for you.

Point is, you do have choices.

ALS TDI has put their plan for the ice bucket challenge windfall on their website for all to see – - with 86% going to research.

Basically what you need to know is that your ice dumping and your donations have made a difference. Funding that was not available in last year’s budgets is now available for critical research, mainly using either iPS cells obtained from skin biopsy, or mice. That’s great news to people such as our friend CarolAnn Garratt who has been funding her own efforts to eliminate this disease since 2003.

CarolAnn has flown her single engine Mooney M20J around the world three times to raise awareness of and funding for research to find a cure for ALS.

Her first flight around the world was in 2003, the year after her mother died from the disease. The trip took seven months and CarolAnn began to tell the world about ALS and the need for a cure.

I first met CarolAnn about five years ago when she came to Houston to share highlights from her second around-the-world trip in 2008. She and co-pilot Carol Foy broke a world record, completing the 25,000 plus mile trek in eight and a half days - quite an accomplishment in a small single engine four-place airplane.

CarolAnn returned to Houston last week and it was great to see her again. This time she shared stories about her third trip, which she took in 2011-2012. This time she took her time to see places and people she had always wanted to see, like Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

With each trip she has written a book about her experiences titled Upon Silver Wings, Upon Silver Wings II, and Upon Silver Wings III. 100% of the proceeds from book sales go to ALS TDI, and CarolAnn funds all of her trips 100% herself.

Mike: It was particularly interesting to me as she was talking about some of the places I have been but from and entirely different pilot perspective.

She found that flying around Europe is very expensive as fuel can cost upwards of $13 per gallon, and she has to do a lot of pre-trip planning to reserve aviation (non-jet) fuel that is scarce in many parts of the world.

We’ll share some of her interesting stories here next week.

September 2, 2014 A new class of Pinch Hitters

The Liberty Gazette
September 2, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The smiles said it all, the Pinch Hitter course held at West Houston Airport was a success. Sharing the passion for flight and some knowledge and encouragement, a handful of pilots met with 50 non-pilot flying companions to begin a journey to learn how to land the plane they ride in often, in case they have to.

Nobody wants bad things to happen, but the fact that the class was at maximum capacity shows that people are willing to face reality and begin to prepare if they need to take over and land the plane.

Chances are, that won’t ever happen, but if it does, one would want to be prepared. There’s a significant beauty in this, even if basic survival instinct is what motivated attendees to register. The beauty is the fact that when families and loved ones share in an activity, communications improve, relationships are enhanced, appreciation grows, and people discover more about themselves and the world around them.

And non-pilots discover they can do it – they can understand more about what makes an airplane fly, how to communicate, and what to do in case of emergency.

The non-pilot flying companion course isn’t only about landing the plane in an emergency. It’s also about sharing flying duties and putting more purpose in the passenger’s flight experience. By participating and understanding more about the flying process, participants gain a different perspective on flying, potentially to the point of pegging the enjoyment meter. Some students of flying companion courses have gone on to earn their own pilot license, but there is never any pressure to. Rather, they are encouraged to take the next step toward becoming more than just a passenger.

Building up confidence that the pilot companion could assume control of the aircraft and get it onto the ground safely if something should happen to the pilot, and building on that confidence to further enhance the flying experience can have nothing but good as the outcome.

Mike: Five Pinch Hitter instructors helped to present the vast amount of material covered in the daylong session, from aerodynamics and radio communication to air space, traffic patterns, emergency procedures, and more.

By the end of the day 98% of the attendees stated that they are ready to "take the next step", whatever the next step is for them. That may mean scheduling time with a flight instructor, training in the aircraft in which they most often ride, or the next step may be to become comfortable with operating radios or GPS units. Whatever that next step is, this group of flying companions proved to be courageous, smart, and sensible – a dynamic group of people who put aside their Saturday to make the effort to learn more about the world that has captured the heart of their loved one.

The Pinch Hitter program used to be offered by AOPA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. While educational materials are still available from AOPA, as well as an online course, conducting the course in person is now the work of volunteers.

That makes especially rewarding the requests for a course that began coming in from other parts of Houston, Dallas, and Austin, even before this course had begun. Details are being worked out for the next course to be offered in November, this time in Conroe, with another in Fort Worth in February.

Let the journeys begin!

August 26, 2014 A walk in Space

The Liberty Gazette
August 26, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: It’s a surreal feeling, floating in space around the International Space Station. There is no air and there are no contaminants so everything seems stark, sharp to my eyes. Up here white is incredibly white and black is blacker than anything we’ve seen on earth. One side of my body faces the sun and bakes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. On my other side, pointed away from the sun, the temperature drops to negative 400. I raise my hands and look at my white gloves and rotate them about as if I’ve never seen them before. I turn my body to the left and looking through the visor in my helmet I see Linda in her spacesuit floating next to me.

We drift and move around the Space Station; sometimes we tilt in a different direction to look at something because it’s hard to move about with so much bulkiness covering our bodies.

There really is no up or down in Space but when I tried to look down at my feet and wiggle my toes I could not see past my chest pack which contains my environmental regulating equipment and oxygen. Protruding from my chest pack is a "T" shaped thing that looks sort of like a handlebar with loops for gripping at the T-ends. Onto these loops we can hook our tools as we carry them out to work on the station.

Past the long solar panel arrays, wing-like structures extend from the station to catch sunlight and provide power. I watch the earth and the clouds slide by faster than I would see even in a fast jet. The Space Station and us along with it are traveling at over 17,000 miles an hour. It takes us little more than an hour and a half to make a full track around the world which means we get to see about 15 and a half brilliant sunrises a day. Our temporary home is suspended in a low orbit, somewhere between 205 and 270 miles above the earth. Gravity still has a pull that far away, and as the station orbits it gradually descends, its orbit decaying. We rely on the Russian Zvezda rocket engine to push the ISS back out to the higher orbital altitude.

When the sun goes below the horizon, the brilliant solar panels become dim. In order to see we use powerful headlights attached our helmets which illuminate the areas on which we came out to work.

We drift down to the lower side of the station and peer into one of the cupola’s seven perfect distortion-free windows. From inside it is like a miniature Omnimax theater view of the earth, but for now we are outside. We move over to the airlock, our Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) is almost finished. I look over at Linda again and wave. She waves back. Funny, she only has partial arms. Only her gloves are waving about.

Linda: No, it wasn’t a dream. It was reality - the Virtual Reality Lab at NASA, that is. In a small room in one of the more obscure buildings at Johnson Space Center is the lab that has been training astronauts and movie makers for 15 years. Everything about the Space Station and space walking is recreated in the greatest detail by the most highly skilled engineers. The only thing that seems to be missing is elbows.

August 19, 2014 Beryl Markham

The Liberty Gazette
August 19, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Impressionable during the Roaring Twenties, a horse trainer born English but raised in Africa, who had scandalous affairs, went into the history books as a pioneering aviator. Despite being a failure in personal relationships, this flyer’s childhood offered a world without walls. Developing great skill with the spear and the rifle, our subject this week was as comfortable with animals as with men. Although English by birth and ancestry, Swahili became the would-be aviator’s primary language. A couple of years of formal schooling in Nairobi were all the school could handle of this wild child, who, being a "bad influence", was denied a return to school.

Learning how to repair an engine, read aeronautical charts without the help of GPS, and fly "blind" relying on instruments when meteorological conditions prevented visual flying, the sky-bound adventurer logged thousands of flight hours flying people to distant farms, delivering mail, rescuing downed pilots, helping hunters find big game in big Africa, and at times flying as an air ambulance pilot, when the need arose.

Who was this dare-devil person of the 1930’s, the first to fly from London to New York nonstop? Her name was Beryl Markham and she was the first woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license. People who knew her say that she lived what she believed, that "Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday."

Mike: She flew east to west across the Atlantic in 1936, the first woman to do so, in her plane she named The Messenger, a monoplane called a Percival Vega Gull. From this famous flight came her book, "West with the Night". The plane was a four-seat, single engine British-built aircraft made of wood and fabric, with folding wings.

In the Gold Age of aviation the Vega Gull, piloted by Beryl and other then-famous aviators won races and broke records around the world.

The Percival Vega Gull stayed in production as a civil airplane until WWII broke out. Then, as with most other aircraft manufacturing plants, the factory built them for military use. It was a solid airplane. Sure, the wooden frame made for some weather restrictions, but even today the Vega Gull is admired for its ability to haul the weight of four adult sized people, plus baggage and full fuel tanks, and it could do so at a decent cruise speed and distance range. Since the engine was only 200 horsepower it only burned about nine gallons an hour. Even with all the weight it could carry, it could still land and take off out of a small grass airfield, and those folding wings sure helped when it was time to find a parking spot in a crowded hangar.

It is true, what Wilbur Wright said of flying, that "More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination" and equally true, too, are the words of Alejandro Jodorowski, "Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness." If it be so, then we, Linda and I, are incurable.

August 12, 2014 Reimagined Airplane

The Liberty Gazette
August 12, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Proudly displayed outside the AOPA booth at this year’s Experimental Aircraft Association’s National Convention – AirVenture, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin – was the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s little yellow and black Cessna 152. This, a symbol of one of the major efforts by AOPA, is an airplane that can make flying more affordable.

The day before the AirVenture Cup race Linda and I visited with AOPA’s president Mark Baker in Mitchell, South Dakota. The most down-to-earth, real guy had a sparkle in his eye as he talked about the employee who was flying the display airplane from their home office in Fredrick, Maryland to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the show. The trip would take her 14 hours and, he said, she was having a blast.

Linda: General Aviation has long needed a shot in the arm. Or the buttocks, or maybe both. Why? Because it’s so dern expensive. That’s thanks to lawyers and other greedy people.

Mike: We think Mark is the right person to put some smart moves into play and change the game. He explained some of AOPA’s strategies for rejuvenating flying activity. The two-seat Cessna 152, along with its older brother the 150, has been an airplane of choice for teaching thousands of pilots to fly. Mark calls it the Piper Cub of his (and our) generation. Unfortunately, rampant litigation by people not willing to take responsibility for their own actions made producing the popular airplane uneconomical and the last one rolled off the assembly line nearly three decades ago.

AOPA would like to bring the little trainer back as it makes for an inexpensive aircraft in which to take to the skies. Flying clubs, flight schools, multiple owner partnerships all find this affordable plane attractive. But even with tort reform, if Cessna were to produce the 152 today a full third of the purchasing price of the airplane would go to paying liability insurance premiums.

Linda: That’s disgusting!

Mike: So, carefully refurbishing and overhauling them is what AOPA sees as a starting point. Teaming up with Wyoming-based aircraft manufacturer Aviat to update these machines, they’re calling them Reimagined Aircraft. The price tag will be about half what it would be new.

Mark believes it’s more likely someone would pull out a small airplane for an afternoon sojourn around the local pea patch burning five gallons of fuel per hour than doing the same thing with an airplane that consumes three to six times as much. The Cessna 150 and 152 are a joy to fly, light on the controls and while they don’t perform like a rocket, each is quite capable. In fact, at the time of this writing there are two 150’s registered to challenge each other in the Indy Air Race.

Linda: Mike, brave man that he is, is going to let me have the last word. Putting aside my love of lawyer and politician bashing, what I want to leave you with this week is that this is huge. This news about the Reimagined Aircraft, central to AOPA’s campaign, "You Can Fly", and the leadership of Mark Baker has already begun to light up the future for a segment of the industry that supplies more economic support to this country than any other. Oh those wonderful flying machines!

August 5, 2014 Camp!

The Liberty Gazette
August 5, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Up to Mitchell, South Dakota we flew, in pursuit of another AirVenture Cup Race trophy and more points on the board for the national championship in the Sport Air Racing League. Post race plans were the typical – land at the finish line just outside of Oshkosh, fill the tanks, and fly in for another exciting week-long aviation celebration with a million other people.

But this one would be different for me. This year I would commit the week to Women Soar- You Soar, a program of the Experimental Aviation Association aimed at encouraging young women, ages 13-18, to follow their dreams and learn about careers available in aviation. Even today I know of women who have experienced that belittling attitude that says women should not fly airplanes or become engineers or be interested in math or science.

Now in its twelfth year, Women Soar – You Soar’s Chairperson, renown aerobatic Hall-of-Famer, and Southwest Airlines captain Debby Rihn-Harvey, asked me to join her group of mentors for the girls coming to camp at AirVenture this year.

First, the invitation alone is an honor, but now having spent a week with 87 teenage girls, each making plans for an exciting future, mentoring is as encouraging to a mentor as camp is to the campers.

In small groups the girls had mentoring sessions, seminars, and workshops that included welding, fabric aircraft repair, and woodwork. They went up into the World’s Busiest Control Tower (busiest one week out of the year) and climbed into vintage airplanes for an up-close feel of the cockpit. They watched a daytime airshow and a nighttime airshow, and spent a couple of hours with seven of the remaining WASP – the Women Air Force Service Pilots of WWII. Two of our campers were interviewed for a television show about the program, chosen for the interview because they had already soloed an airplane before camp started.

These amazing young women brought enthusiasm, creativity, skills and manners and enriched every one of us who came as mentors.

I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with one of the two who had already soloed in an airplane, as she was in my group. A couple of years ago she was shy and unsure of herself. Then she joined the Civil Air Patrol and her experiences there have completely changed her, giving her confidence in who she is and what she wants to do.

For these girls being in school and around their peers but having very different goals than most of their friends can bring feelings of isolation. Coming to an all-girl aviation camp lets them share their passion for aviation with others like them.

Not all of our campers want to be pilots. Some are interested in biomedical engineering, some want to be photographers, some aren’t sure yet what they want, but they know they like aviation. For this reason, mentors with varying backgrounds, all touching on aviation, were chosen so that the girls could be exposed to the variety of opportunities available, and to begin networking for their future.

A state director in math education who aspires to be an astronaut, a flight surgeon, an airline pilot, an aerospace engineer, an air traffic controller, a member of the NTSB, along with myself and others have spent a week with a group of girls who will someday lead, invent, and make the world a better place.

July 29, 2014 A family G.I.F.T.

The Liberty Gazette
July 29, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: It’s been a few years since we shared a post-race banquet table with Mary and Lawrence Latimer, but I’m honored to be working with Mary in the upcoming Pinch Hitter course August 16 at the West Houston Airport. Designed to teach non-pilot flying companions how to land an airplane in case of emergency, the course will last the full day and only cost the price of lunch, thanks to many gifted and generous volunteers, such as Mary Latimer.

Mary is an amazing woman. She is even amazing among all the amazing women I know. Her non-traditional flight school in Vernon, Texas provides just a peek into the lady who doesn’t believe in "can’t".

Mary uses her experience to encourage and to teach, and who better qualified than one person who has done it all. Not only is she a corporate pilot and a certified flight instructor, she is also one of few FAA designated examiners, meaning she gives the practical tests in the airplane (and decides whether a pilot gets a license); she is also not only a licensed airframe and power plant mechanic, but also a level above that, an FAA authorized Inspector, meaning she is the person who can sign airplane logbooks for any type of work done. Not only is she all that, but she was also an air traffic controller, and a 2013 Flight Instructor of the Year.

Nothing’s changed much over the last 100 years. Women still comprise only 6% of the pilot population. But Mary wanted to find out if she could identify what causes women to start flight training and then stop, not realizing their dreams. Then she could attack the causes and find a way to overcome the obstacles to flight training that are unique to women.

So began Girls In Flight Training, or G.I.F.T., a week-long camp held each July in Vernon for women to start on their dream, or finish the training they abandoned, totally free.

And lest you think husband Lawrence is a stand-by, try this on: commercial pilot, flight instructor, helicopter instructor, airframe and power plant mechanic, corporate pilot, and Vietnam Veteran serving in the Army as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, "Screaming Eagles". Mary calls him the biggest supporter of women in aviation.

The Latimers’ daughter Tamara Griffith, a former corporate and freight pilot, joins them as one of the instructors for G.I.F.T. week, as she takes time off from her own business of flight instructing and airplane mechanic-ing in the Dallas area. She and her mom are likely the only mother-daughter pair with FAA Inspector Authorizations, let alone all their other credentials.

And are you ready for this? Granddaughter Amanda has joined the family’s focused venture. Not only is she one of the youngest female certified flight instructors, she is likely the youngest Gold Seal instructor, fulfilling more stringent requirements to achieve that recognition. Let’s not let it stop there. Amanda is one of a small handful of female crop dusters, too.

The accomplishments of the Latimer – Griffith family are amazing, and one could accept if they were full of themselves, but they’re not looking for the spotlight. This is a family of humble givers who just wants to encourage others to make use of the life God gave them.

I’ll meet you at the well in Vernon, Texas. I want some of that water too.

July 22, 2014 Pinch Hitter

The Liberty Gazette
July 22, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Pilot and aviation writer Doug Ritter desperately wanted his wife Sue to know how to land the plane in case he became incapacitated. He relates a story as an example of why this was so important to him. The true story is about a couple flying over Fairbanks, Alaska when the pilot husband suddenly suffered a brain hemorrhage. Just the day before this happened the wife had attended a flying companion course, often called "Pinch Hitter", which she credits for saving her life. She had learned how and where to call for help on the radio, how to get control of the airplane, find the nearest airport, and land safely.

Doug writes for Avweb and shared his thoughts in the hugely popular aviation digital publication. It doesn't seem very responsible to leave someone you care about with no backup when there is a very viable alternative available. 

He had tried for years to convince Sue to take the course. When she did, she realized she should have done it years before. Her appreciation, enjoyment, and comfort level with flying all found a new high, so much so that she shared her experience with her husband’s audience this way:

I did what I came to do. I learned how to safely take control of the plane and land it if I needed to in an emergency. I learned to not feel shy about asking for help if I need it. I have … no qualms about asking for help to get to a major airport and bigger runway if I have the fuel. I feel in control.
The Pinch-Hitter course gave me the knowledge and confidence to handle an emergency situation. … I can also be an even bigger help to him and I now enjoy our flights much more. It's fun.
It took me over ten years to be "convinced" to take this course. It doesn't hurt, it isn't fattening, and I should have done it years ago. Earning my Pinch-Hitter wings was one of my proudest moments. – Just Do It! — A Reluctant Participant's View of the Pinch-Hitter Course, Avweb, Jan. 5, 1998

Next month non-pilot flying companions will have an opportunity to take a Pinch Hitter course in Houston. They will learn fundamentals of flying, talking with air traffic controllers, and basic emergency procedures.

If you or someone you know could benefit from this course, please share. We will be holding it at the West Houston Airport, 18000 Groschke Rd; Houston, TX 77084 on Saturday, August 16, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

The cost will be minimal (lunch) and flights can be arranged individually following the ground school.

With an all-star line-up of some of the best female flight instructors in the nation we’ll cover safety, basics of aerodynamics, aircraft instruments and parts, basic navigation and chart reading, checklists, radio usage and communications, GPS usage, traffic patterns and landing, and emergency procedures.

We love to share our passion for flight, but this offers more – this could save a life. Here’s the web address, pass it on:

To register, RSVP by August 10, 2014 to Yasmina Platt at 

Anyone interested may contact me with questions:

July 15, 2014 Strange cargo - freight on a plane

The Liberty Gazette
July 15, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike and Linda Ely

Mike: Remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones comes running over a hill, dust flying from his clothes, waving his arms and shouting, "Get going, get going"?

His pilot is fishing off the wing of the float-equipped biplane when his serenity ends. The commotion gets his attention when he sees Indy running down the hill waving at him as dozens of natives charge over the ridge after him with spears and blowguns. Startled, the pilot tosses the fishing pole, jumps into the cockpit and starts up the plane.

Indy swims out just in time to grab the float, holding on as the plane becomes airborne. Sliding in to the cockpit he is surprised by the other "passenger" and screams to the pilot, "There’s a snake up here!"

The fact that it was a pet named Reggie didn’t dilute Indiana Jones’ hatred of snakes. Makes me think of other strange cargo I’ve known.

In a recent lively discussion with fellow former freight pilots the question arose, "What is the strangest cargo you have carried?"

After nearly 15 years of flying freight at all hours of the night, I’ve flown some strange cargo. I have carried dogs, cats and frozen bull semen, which is considered hazardous material due to special shipping requirements.

I offloaded 10 to 15 boxes of live Maine lobsters in Santa Barbara every morning for a couple years. Once while sliding a box of lobsters to the UPS driver, it missed him, flipped from the plane and split open on the ground; half a dozen dazed and not-so-happy red creepy things lethargically moving about. We corralled them without injury, their huge claws were banded. Seemed strange, shipping lobsters across the country since there are thousands in the Pacific Ocean.   

We flew a multi-million dollar missile guidance system from San Diego to Titusville, Florida by Learjet. A ten-man team took over an hour to carefully load it and set up monitoring equipment. The retrieval team ripped it out of the airplane in fewer than five minutes. So much for care in handling.

The pilots in the aforementioned discussion recalled similar cargo and some even more exotic - ostriches, penguins, sharks, komodo dragons, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and race horses. One of them even flew Willie the killer whale. Others said:

  "A big box of hamsters. Some got out!"

  "Baby crocodiles, loose, in an Brittan-Norman Islander. I figured if the croc hunter was prepared to sit down in the back with them it was OK, although some of them wound up under my feet a couple of times. I was younger then."

  "A case of live bees. Of course, half of them escaped and took their anger out on the loaders."

  "More boxes than you could shake a stick at on DC3. Full of WORMS. When my hearing came back after we shutdown (the noisy engines) you could hear a kind of slime noise. You think slime doesn't have a noise? Fly a million worms and say that."

Ah, my freight dog days. Stop it you guys...I'm getting all misty!

July 8, 2014 Dangerous Drones

The Liberty Gazette
July 8, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

If you read this space often you know we are not supporters of big government. Not even of medium government. And certainly not fans of most politicians who puppeteer the moves of the machine we call government. But in this case, we side with (gasp) the FAA. Don’t expect it to happen again though.

About seven years ago the FAA threw out the arresting cable to bring commercial drone flying to a halt. In our opinion they did not go far enough. Drones are drones and are no safer if operated by an employee of the machine than an employee of an entrepreneur.

So along comes this New York (strike one) lawyer (that’s worth two strikes), who steps up to the plate for’s planned delivery system, Amazon Prime Air, and says the most ridiculous, hair-brained thing: "It's a purported new legal basis telling people to stop operating model aircraft for business purposes." If I was Brendan Schulman’s mother he’d be spending the rest of his life in the dugout for that misguided statement. Wish we could stop the fountain of evidence that intelligence is not required for a law degree.

Mike: Did Brendan, or the folks at Amazon or anyone else stop to think about the severe consequences when those pesky robotic gnats are sucked into an airplane’s intake? Have they considered what it might be like to have your own skin thousands of feet in the air, a real pilot in a real aircraft and suddenly lose control because someone on the ground playing a video game had an "oops" moment?

Craig Whitlock’s piece in the Washington Post "‘Stop saying ‘uh-oh’ while you’re flying’: Drone crash pilot quotes unveiled" are words of warning. The publication’s yearlong investigation on drones has revealed facts that I hope scare you. Here are some of those quotes from Whitlock’s article that exposed recorded words uttered by Air Force gamers:

"This thing’s kind of climbing like a pig. Climb, you pig…Boy, this is going to be tight…Okay, interesting. We are falling out of the sky." Unidentified pilot of a Predator that crashed near Creech Air Force Base in Nevada on May 13, 2013

"Where the [expletive] is…where is the runway? It’s all the way over here. I overshot. Oh, [expletive]. I think we lost the engine. Oh, [expletive], oh [expletive], oh my God, what is that?...What was all that stuff I just hit?" Air Force Capt. Matthew Scardaci as his Predator crashed into a row of empty shipping containers at Kandahar Air Base on May 5, 2011.

"Stop saying ‘uh-oh’ while you’re flying. It’s never good. Like going to the dentist or a doctor…‘Oops? What the [expletive] you mean ‘Oops?’" Unidentified camera operator, to a habitually nervous Predator pilot right before he crashed on takeoff at Jalalabad Air Base on July 24, 2012.

"As the plane was going down, all I saw were tents and I was afraid that I had killed someone. I felt numb and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth." Maj. Richard Wageman to Air Force investigators examining the crash of a Predator at Kandahar Air Base on Nov. 2, 2008.

And these are the "experts". But drone manufactures want to reduce the requirements to qualify as drone pilots. How safe will the skies be when they unleash these deadly weapons into the National Air Space in 2015, as mandated by Congress?

July 1, 2014 Air Force One

The Liberty Gazette
July 1, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Covered in dust the tired old airliner sits in a dirt field in Arizona’s blazing sun. Occasionally blue smoke belches out of the exhaust stacks and the engines wheeze and pop to life as a small army of volunteers work to return this aircraft to airworthy condition. It has been over 15 years since the plane landed at this airport north of Tucson. Prior to that it only flew sporadically, at one time parked for 20 years in the airplane bone yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. As the sweltering heat baked the aircraft it was sanded by dust devils and sand storms. Pieces were removed to make other airplanes fly. Then it awaited a slow death from the scrapper’s torch.

Built by Lockheed in 1948, this big, four-propeller-engine "Constellation" was delivered to the United States Air Force and designated a C-121A. The Military Air Transport Command flew military personnel in this "Connie" from New York to Keflavik, Iceland and back. Later she was modified and put back to work as a VC-121A, a VIP version of the military kind.

As a VIP carrier her passengers included the Secretary of the Air Force, Generals, Admirals, Statesmen, Kings, Queens and a President and flew under the call sign "Air Force 8610" (because the serial number was 48-610) until an incident in 1953 when the Air Force entered the same airspace as Eastern Airlines flight 8610 and the air traffic controller’s instructions became confusing. President Eisenhower happened to be on board, so attention to the critical nature of the confusion was escalated, leading to the creation of the call sign "Air Force One".

Since then, many airplanes have carried the name "Air Force One", now the designation of any Air Force aircraft the President is aboard. Likewise, any Marine Corps helicopter is designated Marine One when the President is on board.

President Eisenhower actually had three of those VIP Constellations, the first of which was his before he became President. He nicknamed them all "Columbine" because his wife Mamie was from Colorado, and the Columbine their state flower.

Where are they now? The original "Columbine" sits not far from the second one outside the wind-whipped Pima Air & Space Museum across the street from Davis-Monthan AFB. Columbine III is in the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

The Air Force had sold Columbine II to a man who does aerial spraying as part of a package deal, a lot of five airplanes. The buyer really wanted the four airplanes that were in relatively good condition, but that other one was in such poor shape they left it at the Air Force base to be stripped for parts.

Fast-forward about ten years. A researcher from the Smithsonian contacted the now retired aerial sprayer to see if he knew the location of that one old airplane. As it was, he still owned it and was surprised to discover its heritage. 

Another decade flew by before the old girl received new life and flew the airshow circuit for a time. Alas, she was then parked out in the elements again.

The future of the first "Air Force One" is unknown, but the caretaker hired by the current owner is looking for a museum willing to preserve this piece of history.

June 24, 2014 Special passengers

The Liberty Gazette
June 24, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Every four years athletes and coaches pile into corporate jets and fly to their events in the Olympics. What? Are these sponsors hoping to sign endorsement deals with these top flight athletes? No! These are very special athletes going to a very special event, the Special Olympics. This year is the seventh time the Citation Special Olympics Airlift is transporting hundreds of participants to the games, held in Trenton, New Jersey.

What started out in 1985 when Cessna Aircraft Company transported the Kansas delegations to the Olympics in Salt Lake City in a couple airplanes has now grown to more than one hundred airplanes transporting from 800 to 2000 Olympiads. After that first year many of Cessna’s customers asked to be included in the next Olympics and the Airlift was formed. Since Cessna’s parent company Textron bought Beechcraft last year, King Air owners and operators are also participating. Many Texas companies are among those donating their aircraft, crews and fuel.

This year’s 100-plus plane Airlift was coordinated extensively with the FAA, the 28 departure airports in 22 states and the Trenton-Mercer Airport where on June 14th an aircraft was landing or departing every two minutes. The planes were scheduled to return June 21 to take all the winners back home.

Several aviation organizations participate in or support charitable activities. Our Sport Air Racing League will have the great privilege of using our race to support Down Syndrome Indiana in the upcoming Indy Air Race (August 9, Indianapolis) and there are Challenge Air events around the country flying hundreds of severely handicapped "heroes" every year.

Linda: To families with loved ones living with Autism or Down Syndrome the thought of airplanes and airports is daunting. Huge strides are being made to help these special people handle busy airports, and reduce their confusion and fears.

The Dublin Airport, the main airport for the country of Ireland, has earned its reputation as the standard for passengers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Helping them and their families handle the experience of traveling to and through an airport and the experience of flying has earned the airport great respect. For people with ASD, change is usually difficult so preparation is a major key to success in new adventures. To this end, the airport authority worked with Irish Autism Action to build a page on the airport website dedicated to helping individuals with ASD.

Families can now download visual guides with pictures and explanations of what the experience will be like and why they will go through it. This is a tremendous step forward. Families are creating journey books to prepare for their trips, helping their loved ones with ASD to become familiar with check-in gates, security check points, busyness and noise.

Thanks to a customer service manager at the Dublin Airport, Helen O’Connor, as word spreads this service is helping many families, even beyond the Dublin Airport. She offers well thought-out yet simple strategies to ASD families. Familiarity practice includes describing the situation or event, the possible or expected perspective of the person with ASD – meaning how they may feel about it – and providing clear direction as to how they should respond or behave in the given situation.

Of the many things we love about flying the aviation community is at the top of the list, and the dedication and compassion often demonstrated make us proud to be members.

June 17, 2014 A T-6 "Texan" flies over Liberty's D-Day parade

The Liberty Gazette
June 17, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: If you were in Liberty June 7, the Saturday after the D-Day anniversary, it’s unlikely you missed hearing and seeing James Bohannon flying his AT-6 "Texan", smoke streaming as he made passes overhead of the D-Day celebrations. Events that honor veterans and involve flying appeal to James, who comes from a family of aviators. His father was a mechanic in the Air Force and worked on AT-6s and B-29s at Randolph Air Force base in San Antonio, so the airplane he brought to Liberty has special meaning for him.

North American Aviation built the AT-6, an advanced trainer for pilots in the U.S. Army Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and the British Royal Air Force. The Navy called theirs the SNJ, and the Royal Air Force named theirs the Harvard; same airframe, just different configurations. The 450-horse single engine airplane’s military training life spanned from WWII into the 1970’s and then became a popular element in air shows and aerial demonstrations, including formation flights for commemorative events. AT-6 aircraft began racing at the National Air Races after WWII, and still race at the Reno Air Races today. Depending on who you ask, there were between 15,495 and 20,110 T-6s/SNJs/Harvards built between 1938 and 1954.

Bohannon’s North American AT-6 G model was built in 1944. His particular airplane never left home turf and later joined civilian life becoming an agricultural spray plane in northern Arkansas. James has several old pictures of his beloved trainer in civil duty, and of course, he knows its history.

After a rough life as an ag plane, it was rebuilt by its then-owner, a Delta Airlines pilot named Jim. The story goes that Jim met a former Air Force pilot in Arkansas who flew T-6s in the Mosquito squadron in Korea. He had pictures so Jim-the-Delta-pilot repainted then-his T-6 in the same paint scheme and performed with it in air shows. The flying Bohannon family bought it three years ago and stables it, along with the rest of their fleet at the Skydive Houston airport in Waller.

Linda: James Bohannon grew up in Tomball with high hopes of joining the military as a pilot. But by the time he graduated from Sam Houston State University, pilots weren’t needed so he went on to find work in the oil patch. After a few years as an engineer with TRW, he began his own oilfield services company. Now he keeps his son, daughters and a nephew busy as business partners in 5JAB Inc., an oil and gas services and engineering consulting company, and Corsair Well Service & Construction, named after his favorite airplane, the Vought F-4U Corsair.

As James flew toward the parade in Liberty he spotted a spray plane and they flew in formation for a while. The ag plane pilot wouldn’t have crossed town with a load of chemicals so he broke off to tend to his business over the fields, and James headed on toward the festivities. Being mindful of the fact that airplane noise can spook horses, James was careful to stay high enough not to startle those that were part of the parade. He’s flown many fly-overs, and loves to do it to honor vets; a tip of the hat to James for taking time out to enhance Liberty’s celebration.

June 10, 2014 The Checkered Flag in Kerrville, and Airplanes Everywhere Else

The Liberty Gazette
June 10, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: At the start of Memorial Day weekend a fellow Saturday morning propeller-head breakfast-goer suggested Kerrville as a destination. The annual folk festival would be one of five festivals there that weekend.

A little weather didn’t deter us but 25 phone calls to find lodging was becoming discouraging. These on-a-whim adventures can come with a few pitfalls, but we struck pay dirt when a Bed and Breakfast near Boerne had a sudden cancellation. Winding roads led us to the quaint spot that in the morning presented a beautiful view of rolling hills in the distance covered in clouds and mist.

Fred Egloff lives in Kerrville, too. He’s the guy we mentioned a few weeks ago who wrote "The Origins of the Checkered Flag". When he was in college he worked for Linda’s father in his foreign car dealership in Evanston, Illinois. Fred found Linda from an article in a racing history group and from their first phone call she had been eager to meet him. Mr. and Mrs. Egloff are a wonderful and entertaining couple. A tour of their home revealed three offices for research and writing: one dedicated to racing history, one for Western history, and a third to handle the overflow, along with his own personal aviation history learning to fly in a Piper Cub.

Linda: With fly-in season at open throttle the calendar is filling up like a thirsty airplane fuel tank. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has invited its 450,000 members and their friends to come to one of the regional events they’re hosting this flying season. The organization has traditionally held an annual fly-in and some folks would plan a vacation around it, but a lot of the membership can’t make the trip every year because no matter the location it’s too far for some. So AOPA’s new president, Mark Baker, along with his esteemed crew have filed a different flight plan: instead of one large annual shindig the aviation advocacy group has planned six regional fly-ins, to get closer to pilots’ home turf. Not only does this make the popular event more accessible, it showcases the aviation industry as an economic generator to more cities.

As a vendor at the first two, San Marcos and Indianapolis, I listened to pilots discuss what they liked about the regional idea. They fly a shorter distance, have a pancake breakfast, attend seminars, enjoy lunch, and walk around gazing at airplanes, talking with other aviation enthusiasts. What could possibly beat that?

The weather was less cooperative for the April gathering in San Marcos, keeping some pilots away, but was overall a success. Under sunny skies in Indy airshow pilot Billy Werth entertained the crowd in his Pitts biplane, pilots talked with vendors about products and services, and attended seminars on safety topics.

While the average non-pilot living in Liberty, Texas might wonder why the bravado over six regional fly-ins instead of one, consider the concept of getting back to the grass roots of an activity, advocating safety and growing the ranks. We’ve said before and we’ll say again, airports are for people who don’t fly. Sounds funny, but it’s true. We all benefit by having an airport that serves the community. This is part of the work of the AOPA, to help both politicians and real people learn the value of their local airport.

June 3, 2014 The Learjet

The Liberty Gazette
June 3, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike and Linda Ely

Mike: Someplace in the world atop an airport observation area airplane buffs watch as airliners come and go, making smooth transitions from ground bound to airborne vehicles. The passengers in those steel tubes are whisked away and the whining of the large fanjet engines is almost hypnotic. Something new rounds the distant corner and begins its journey down the long concrete path. Quickly reaching flying speed its nose pitches skyward and breaks ground with tremendous fury, something like a fighter jet, and screams high overhead with a thunderous roar leaving its audience in awe, wondering what it would be like fly in that jet.

Back in the early 1960s, Swiss immigrant William Lear introduced the little rocket to the world. The Learjet has become synonymous with the words "corporate jet" so much so that almost everyone for a time referred to any small jet as a "Learjet." Competitors entered the market – Gulfstream, Falcon, Cessna Citation, and others – but even with upgrades and continuous improvements, many having surpassed the basic Learjet in speed and luxury, none hold its mystique, none can claim its reputation.

Having had the pleasure of flying many types of corporate jets in many different flight environments my favorite will always be the sports-car-like-handling Learjet. Sliding into the cockpit through a narrow opening and into the seat, the windshield is only inches from my head. It is often joked that one can tell the pilot from the copilot by the tilt of their head. It’s an airplane one straps on and wears. My 8,000 hours flight experience in Learjets equates to more than one full year spent in the confines of the cramped Lear flight deck, but I love it and have flown passengers and cargo all over North America, the Caribbean and across the Atlantic in Learjets.

The Lear’s thin sharp wings, tip fuel tanks and narrow landing gear can be more than a handful. No other airplane I’ve flown handles like Lear. It is extremely responsive to any control input and can challenge new pilots, taking several hundred hours to acclimate. Many Lear pilots share my opinion that if a person can fly one of these, they can fly any jet. Eventually flying the Lear becomes second nature, "willing" the airplane where you want it to go.

A fast flyer, the Learjet races across the sky at 80 percent of the speed of sound, a little more than 500 mph. Capable of powerful climb rates, 6,000 to 7,000 feet per minute upward on take-off in a Lear is normal. Many times I’ve shot into the sky achieving a 37,000-foot cruise altitude less than 15 minutes after leaving the gate, and that’s not even a record. Neil Armstrong and Arnold Palmer set a world record in a Learjet, model 35a, of over 10,000 feet per minute.

These days Bill Lear’s invention is a product line of Bombardier, a company that builds several lines of aircraft. However it’s the Learjet that is the most recognizable brand name. The passengers in the back of these planes often thrill at the feeling of being squished into their seats and watching the world below shrink quickly as their missile shoots them skyward. First time riders amazed by the propulsion tell friends and family, "I flew in a Learjet!"

May 27, 2014 Sunshine and Handstands

The Liberty Gazette
May 27, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: AnnElise Bennett directs her energy to lifting others up, giving tirelessly with compassion and encouragement. Heartbreaking circumstances have taught her to meet challenges daily with perspective: to water the flowers, not the weeds.
After the accident last year that took her precious youngest daughter Sarah, her “Sunshine Girl”, two months before graduation from Stephen F. Austin State University, AnnElise took charge of her emotional health and began to feel her way through the darkness of grief.
Each of us travels that journey in our own way, and this pilot, air racer, skydiver-dropper lady faces the grief that follows the loss of her 21-year old child, as a pilot-in-command.
She created an endowment at the university in Sarah’s name, honoring her passion for photography with scholarships. Having long been a fitness buff, she continued to challenge herself physically with yoga, Crossfit, and gymnastics. At 56, she’s more fit than most people in their 20’s.

Linda: The first year is hard. 
What to do, as much as what not to do on the date that marks one year since the start of so much pain, deserves great attention to the heart. Approaching that mark, AnnElise steered her course: to Machu Picchu, Peru, with family members.
Intensely interested and prayerfully supportive, I watched for what she would share knowing it would be completely AnnElise, and completely Sarah.
Then one after another came Facebook photos of handstands. Maybe they started as a funny pose on this special trip, but what’s evolved is a story of inspiration.
Sister-daughter-niece handstands in Moray and Lima, and all over Peru began to signify the AnnElise’s message, helping her fight the sorrow by telling the world about the funny, blissful girl Sarah was. Fighting sadness by sharing happiness.
Back from Peru with an undeniable urge to handstand, her upside-down way that helps turn pain into Sharahing Sunshine is quickly catching on.
What doubles the pleasure is that her sister Carol has been part of it from the beginning, and now their daily handstand photos are among the things I most look forward to on the social media site.
In the Bennett Easter family portrait is AnnElise, handstanding. Against a Southwest Airlines B737 engine nacelle are AnnElise and Carol, handstanding. Next to the windsock at the Bennett’s grass runway, handstanding.
Carol, a concert cellist, in handstand pose, titled one photo, “Chilling-With-The-Maestro-Before-The-Concert-Handstand”.
Handstanding in the orchestra pit, the dressing room, with a Silver Fairy from the ballet Sleeping Beauty, at the door of Homeland Security, while broken down on the side of the road awaiting a tow truck, upon a suspension bridge, helping young ladies primp for the prom, up against a police car (officer in photo too, smiling), and in front of a ladder truck as the firemen were grocery shopping.
When Carol posed with a cat atop her feet, AnnElise replied with a photo titled, “I’ll-See-Your-Cat-and-Raise-You-A-Rooster-Handstand”.
Then Carol found a photo of Sarah at the beach – doing a handstand.
Now others are posting handstand photos, under water, in front of the U.S. Congress building, and the sunshine is spreading because these handstands make a statement.
For AnnElise it’s about not letting the sadness win. From the fun comes the deep-seated intent of the act: to Share the Sunshine. Pass it on.