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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February 18, 2014 Oversea to Land Down Under by Air

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

Mike: Peering through the mirth and heavy rain slapping on his windshield the pilot concentrates on the little green light about 25 feet beyond his wingtip and a little white light 25 feet ahead. The lights on the other airplanes bounce around and the pilot works hard to keep them in the same position relative to his; momentarily they disappear. Lightning flashes and sometimes he wishes he were at home enjoying the comforts of his easy chair while reading a book about adventures like this. That thought evaporates as quickly as the lightning flashes – nothing can compare to being here, doing this.

In the 1970’s Australians developed an appetite for small airplanes to efficiently access the Outback. Their manufacturing industry could not fill their needs so they turned to the United States and the aviation capital of the world, Wichita, Kansas.

The problem was delivery across 7,000 miles of Pacific Ocean. A new airplane would be completely disassembled, packed in a container and carried by ship. The journey to the Land Down Under took about three months. When it finally arrived the airplane had to be reassembled and repainted. Some airplanes could not be disassembled and spent months on deck exposed to the rough elements on the high seas. All the while buyers were paying mortgages on their dream machines. They sought a new solution.

A group of Australian and American pilots figured they could fly the airplanes there, saving time and money, forming Southern Cross Aviation. They stripped the planes down to reduce weight and installed auxiliary fuel cells essentially making them flying gas tanks. On November 21, 1976 the group initiated its first delivery flight departing with seven Cessna 172s from Santa Barbara, California, 2,200 miles to Hawaii on the first leg of their journey. The planes weighed so much it took nearly six hours before they could climb above 6,000 feet. Midway across the group ran into heavy storms that lasted for hours and had to descend to mere hundreds of feet above the frothing ocean swells.

There was no GPS; navigation was mostly by deductive reckoning. The group was blown off course and set behind schedule because of the storm and received help from an airliner high above in recalculating their route.

The pilots fought weather and the monotony of a bare horizon, and fatigue. I can only imagine the relief once the first hint of land was spotted, and forcing oneself to stay alert and not succumb to careless relaxation. These planes made their first stop 23 hours after departing Santa Barbara, the pilots having new stories for the guys back home. But first, they spooled down and headed to a long deserved nap.

The rest of the trip consisted of more open water legs from Hilo to Christmas Island, to Pago Pago, Samoa, Norfolk Island and finally Sydney. Five days and 73 hours of flying time from start to finish, this was the first of many such trips. Southern Cross delivered 40 airplanes that first year, and now make somewhere around 150 deliveries per year. From small single engine airplanes to the largest airliners, these are pilots seeking a front seat in the big adventure.

February 11, 2014 A barrel of tea - Hoover style

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

Linda: Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s talk about something lovely!

In the world of aerobatics we have loops and rolls, tail slides and hammerheads, spins and knife edge, lomcevaks (lomcovak: a Czech word used to describe the rotating motions of one who has had one too many of the alcoholic drink slivovitz) and other G-force producing action fun. Some maneuvers have variations on a theme. Rolls, for example. The barrel roll: where the airplane’s path continues in one direction as it is rolled, looking much like it’s flying with its wheels running around the inside wall of a cylinder, or barrel, it’s path like a horizontal corkscrew.

Mike: Now that you know that, would you believe us if we told you a story about a pilot who performed a barrel roll while pouring iced tea from a pitcher into a glass, even while upside-down, and never spilled a drop? It’s true. You can see it and other of Bob Hoover’s infamous stunts on YouTube.

In addition to his popular iced-tea-pouring act, Bob is well known for his amazing demonstration of energy management, flying and landing an airplane after killing the engines. I first saw his airshow routine at the Mojave Air Races in 1976 as he thrilled the crowd with loops and rolls after shutting down the engines, then landing and rolling to a stop in front of the crowd stopping in exactly the same place he started.

A decorated airman with 59 combat missions, Bob escaped from a German POW camp, stole a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and flew it to the Netherlands in World War II. He flew the chase plane when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947 (he was Yeager’s pick for his backup pilot but I personally think of Hoover as head and shoulders above Yeager).

The cream of the aerospace crop is coming together to pay tribute to living legend R.A. "Bob" Hoover on February 21 at a dinner at Paramount Studios. Tickets are $950, which goes to scholarships. But that’s not all. Apollo astronauts Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan, "Miracle on the Hudson" captain Chesley Sullenberger, airshow star Sean D. Tucker, actor and pilot Harrison Ford, Tom Poberezny, son of Experimental Aircraft Association founder, the late Paul Poberezny, and others will host the premiere of a new documentary about Bob Hoover’s life. Clips from other films about Hoover are part of it because, as Tom Poberezny says, it takes more than one movie to tell about Bob. They will also unveil the Bob Hoover Hall of Honor, to be housed at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, to honor Hoover and a select few others who stand apart with their accomplishments, passion, and commitment to aviation.

Linda: A couple of years ago after Yasmina Platt and I finished the AirVenture Cup race (Mitchell, South Dakota to Waupaca, Wisconsin) we spent the week in Oshkosh at the largest fly-in in the world. One day that week there happened to be terrible weather forming, heading our direction. There in Warbird Alley, amongst WWII bombers and fighters, I saw the black sky lurching toward us. I ran for cover in a nearby building and quickly discovered that I was sharing shelter with none other than The Legend himself – Mr. Hoover. We chatted and I took a picture, a moment that will long live in my treasure chest of memories.

February 4, 2014 Mexico mission flying

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

Mike: A few years ago our friend David Slack, a local missionary serving in Mexico, asked if I would fill for him in on a special flight. "Sure, where to?" I asked, excited. The medical mission would serve the small town of Xicoténcatl well south of Cuidad Victoria in the state of Tamaulipas.

The most visible part of any of these mission trips, the tip of the iceberg, is the doctors and dentists who use their medical skills to help those who would never have such an opportunity otherwise. But beneath the surface are the volunteers, both in Mexico and here, who are the backbone of the operation and provide the grease and prayers that things will keep moving. They are the blessings of God for these people.

I was honored to be part of this but mostly I was humbled by witnessing how hard all these folks worked and how much they cared and loved the people they were helping. I received far more than I gave through the minor role I played.

Tensions were high when two Houston area doctors and I departed from RWJ Airpark for our first stop, Reynosa, to clear Mexican customs. David had already prepared all the required documents, making for a quick stop and on to Cuidad Victoria. From there we traveled by ground via two lane highways and small country roads to Xicoténcatl.

My main job over until our return flight, I was able to participate in other ways. When people hear a doctor is coming, word spreads quickly. They began to show up and volunteers started the check-in process, finding out their ailments, writing them down on cards and then guide them to where they need to go next.

They see a doctor and/or dentist and they also have a chance to get a pair of glasses. One of the most fun parts for me was sitting at the glasses table. People would be brought to us and we would have them try several pairs and read cards. Seeing smiles because maybe for the first time they can clearly see enough to read something is rewarding beyond measure.

Perhaps you read before about this mission, Sus Manos Extendidas, which means "His Hands Extended" when we wrote about it a few years ago. It is a non-denominational Christian mission and thus part of the mission is to spread the Word of God. Volunteers from churches in Mexico will share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who come and they are given an opportunity to ask Him into their heart. It is never a requirement that they do so and some don’t. However, there are many who do. We saw hundreds of patients the few days we were there.

It’s an experience we hated to end, but we broke down the tents, packed up the old bus and the trailer full of equipment and headed back to Cuidad Victoria for a night in the church compound. In the morning the doctors and I were taken to the airport and the other volunteers continued north to the border.

David is now putting his energies into an orphanage in Mexico and still seeks to serve God with everything he does.