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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April 15, 2014 Flying with Google Glass

The Liberty Gazette
April 15, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The weather was pleasant, no fog, no storms, and the wind was blowing from the west at about 20 knots, with gusts up to 30 knots. With the east-west runway the pilots had no problem landing with that wind, although the ride around the pattern was a bit bumpy from the gusts.
For 25 minutes they flew the twin-engine turboprop airplane called a Beechcraft King Air C-90 around the traffic pattern at the Salamanca airport in Spain, and as they flew, they were bringing the future with them.
The prospect on their unique flight was new vision: Google Glass, wearable and functional.
Two pair of eyeglasses each equipped with camera, GPS, Bluetooth, microphone, and a small screen programmed to display the airplane’s checklists and real-time navigation, made their maiden voyage last month adorning the heads of two people from Adventia, a European college of aeronautics.
Linda: The head of training, Juan Riquelme, spoke to the glasses, saying, “Okay, Glass, checklist” and there a screen appeared in the upper right of his spectacles displaying the before take-off checklist of the King Air he was about to fly. As he read off the items to be performed, ‘remove chocks, check oil, inspect ailerons’, Google Glass put a checkmark next to the item in his vision, then removed it from the list. Likewise, his co-pilot, Adventia’s Chief Flight Instructor, Diana Rodriguez, saw the checklist items, and when she called for the map it appeared in her vision without obscuring the real world beyond it. This technology was adapted from that designed by the Faculty of Medicine at Standford University and used for surgical procedures.
Pilot Innovation Day, and the first conference on innovation in the cockpit were the backdrop to this first-ever demonstration of wearable flight information during an actual flight, so all the big-wigs were on hand for the show: the university chancellor and dean of the aeronautics college, the head of training for Spain’s Iberia Airlines, as well as developers from Google and its partner in this project, Droiders.
All the gee-whiz-wow-bang coolness of Google Glass should not shroud the goal – improved safety and efficiency in training and in the cockpit. Wearing the device that provides information can significantly reduce the need to let go of flight controls to look up data during flight. In the training realm these glasses are expected to reduce the amount of time lost due to real-time updating of important data, such as weather, navigation, and special notices to airmen. There it will be, right before our eyes.
Mike: There are still a lot of questions to be answered before this product can be applied to aviation in the way its creators hope. In our industry we consider redundancy as important as speed and accuracy of information. The question begs to be asked: what if I drop them?
Flying with advanced automated cockpits can be overwhelming for students. Hopefully the glasses perform as advertised and reduce training time and improve comprehension.
Linda: They also claim that airlines will realize savings in fuel costs by switching from several pounds of paper navigation charts to Google Glass, the reduction in weight making for better results – but your mileage may vary. Wasn’t there a song about someone with “googly eyes”? Ah, yes, back in 1923. “Barney Google (With the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes”). Amazing foresight!

April 8, 2014 The Need for Speed (Guest writer, Gloria Lyons)

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

Linda: This week we are especially honored to hand over this space to a dear friend, fellow pilot and published author, Gloria Hander Lyons. Here’s her piece, titled, “Need for Speed”.
Gloria: As a student pilot, I was recently introduced to the world of air racing by friends, Linda Street-Ely and her husband, Mike Ely. Both are members of the Sport Air Racing League (SARL), a national organization of pilots who love to fly fast. Members host racing competitions all over the country during the months of March through November.
I’ve met many people in the flying community while learning to fly, most of whom own their own planes, but those with a passion for racing are set apart by their competitive spirit and need for speed. After attending these races for years, many SARL members have become close friends, sharing their mutual love of the sport and admiration for fellow pilots.
The Elys graciously invited me to tag along with them to two racing events, where I witnessed first-hand the camaraderie and generosity of this elite group of people. Don’t get me wrong, they take their racing seriously. At the most recent race, the Texoma Air Race in Sherman, Texas, I overheard numerous conversations about engine modifications, race course strategies, and the latest innovations in high-tech electronic gizmos.
But the highlight of the event for me was learning that, just like Olympic ski racers who wax their skis before each race, these pilots wax the surface of their airplanes, hoping to gain a few extra knots of speed. Who knew?
Rivalry was fierce but friendly among the pilots in each plane category that day: experimental (those built from kits or plans) and factory (those built by a manufacturer). The race briefing was peppered with jokes and light-hearted banter, but tension was high as each pilot plotted the course, about 130 miles long, with several sharp turns.
Competitors at these events vary widely from old to young, veteran to rookie, and include both male and female pilots. Some participants work as teams, such as the Elys, or students aided by their instructors. Others fly alone, like the Hammer brothers, Bruce and Steve, jostling for first place in their Glasair 1 airplanes.
Occasionally, new faces show up unannounced, as the competition is open to the public. Rookies read about the races and think they can out-fly a veteran just because their plane came from the same factory, unaware that most pilots tweak their engines to boost the speed.  But speed is just one factor in air racing—the other is the pilot’s skill in flying a tight course, sometimes with the aid of an experienced navigator.
Surprises are inevitable, however, when a trophy is at stake. Sometimes a rookie walks off with the prize, as was the case at the Texoma Air Race, beating a veteran pilot by just a few seconds. Oops! Maybe she missed a spot with the wax.
It’s all about the fun, though, and everyone went home with a trophy. Sometimes you win first place, sometimes not. But there’s always a next time, and another shot at setting a new personal speed record.
As one pilot said when we left the awards ceremony, “Same time next year!”  Their need for speed keeps them coming back—for more racing thrills!

April 1, 2014 Painted Places

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

Linda: While visiting the traveling exhibition "The Age of Impressionism" at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, as I stood mere feet from the very canvases made famous by Pierre-Auguste Renoir 140 years ago, Mike noticed a familiar sight. Being a world traveler there are many places familiar to him, but maybe not so many that are the subject of museum paintings.
Mike: Though it’s been ten years since I stood in that very spot, the one in Renoir's "The Doge's Palace, Venice", his painting takes me back. The Learjet we flew in was but a speck as we crossed the cold waters of the North Atlantic to Spain and then on to Verona in Northern Italy. The passengers were timing their business trip to take advantage of the August opera season in the location where the real Romeo and Juliet’s story took place, the same one Shakespeare penned.
We had a few days open for sightseeing so my co-pilot and I became Gentlemen of Verona, exploring the city, and the places described in Shakespeare's play, including the balcony where Juliet beckoned “Wherefore art thou?” Her balcony is in a courtyard, basically the squared-off end of an alley, and is covered with thick green ivy. If she did call to Romeo from there the neighbors surely knew because every sound there echoes.
There must have been a dozen different performances of the play in parks and places throughout the city. But one can only see so much of a tragic love story so we spent the next day on yet another adventure: Venice.
The best way to enter Venice other than by boat is by train, avoiding parking a car on the opposite side of the bay to catch a shuttle over the bridge only to be dropped off further from the city than Venice’s train station.  
On that sunny summer morning we stepped from the train and checked out the tour options: cattle car tourist boats, and “gondolas” that float down side canals. We opted to walk, which took us to bridges over smaller, curiosity-enhancing canals, and along stone walkways. The city became a maze as we explored, sometimes reaching a dead-end at a hidden canal, forcing us to retrace our steps and find another route. We were on our way to see the Basilica di San Marco and the Piazza San Marco, a spacious public square dominated by a tall red brick clock tower along on the Grand Canal, on the other side of town.
We made it there, but seeing the crowds in the square we passed on a tour though the Church of St. Mark. After three hours of walking on stone pathways, when it was time to go we hailed a water taxi back to the train station. The tourist boats only sailed the deeper canals, but water taxis with their knowledgeable skippers could make the trip in short order and give us a great personal tour in the process.
As we pulled away from the dock at Piazza San Marco the blue-green waters created a foreground for a charming scene. Behind us, on the other side of the Grand Canal was Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, a church seen on many postcards. These stone docks are where I believe Renoir stood as he brushed into creation the painting that brought back so many good memories, and I walked up behind Linda in the museum and said, “I was there.”

March 25, 2014 The Checkered Flag

The Liberty Gazette
March 25, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The Sport Air Racing season is about to begin and to get you in the mood we thought we’d share a bit of history on flags used in racing. Although flags are generally associated with auto racing, when we hold the Indy Air Race each August we include the waving of a green flag (usually by a former Indy car driver) in honor of our host city – the one that is Linda’s hometown.
The green flag is universally understood, probably owing to traffic lights. In 1980, Chief Starter Duane Sweeney launched a tradition at the Indianapolis 500 of waving twin green flags for added visual effect at the start of the race. Linda has more on that.
Linda: Duane Sweeney. I knew him years before he was honored with the position as official flag man at Indy, back when he was flagging at dirt tracks and other smaller venues. Duane was a kick, a retiree from Milwaukee whose arms were evidence of robust flag waving at weekend races for decades. His son Mark was a little older than I and when Duane was chosen as Indy’s Chief Starter, replacing long time flag man, Pat Vidan, Mark and I were excited for the Big D.
Plenty of theories have been posited as to the origins of the checkered flag, including one about horse races during the early days of the settlement of the Midwest. The races were followed by large public meals; the signal that the meals were ready and racing was over was allegedly the waving of a checkered tablecloth. But I don’t buy that one.
Another theory is that the checkered flag was first used for 19th century bicycle races in France. Nope, I’m not giving this one to the French.
However, in 2006 "The Origin of the Checker Flag: A Search for Racing's Holy Grail", written by historian Fred Egloff, was published by the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen, NY.
Fred’s research traces the checkered flag's origin to Sidney Waldon, who worked for Packard Motor Car Company, and in 1906 created a flag to mark checkpoints along rally races. That fact holds some interest for me because my Indy racing grandfather also worked for Packard.
A couple of months ago I received a call from a gentleman who said he was looking for Jim Ford’s daughter (that’d be me), and that he had worked for my dad in the late ‘40’s-early ‘50’s when Dad had an exotic foreign car dealership in Evanston, Illinois. My dad has been gone for over 15 years now, so the call was a delightful surprise. Turned out to be Fred Egloff, whose professional accomplishments go far beyond publishing the history of the checkered flag.
Before the availability of reliable two-way radios, flags were the only real communication from race officials to drivers. They still wave today for that same purpose. And sometimes radios malfunction, leaving flags the only way to relay messages to racers. And, radios still aren’t used at many dirt tracks and lower-level speedways. Flags also tell the fans what’s happening.
Today the checkered flag is the universal symbol for conclusion, and its use has spread beyond auto racing. The next time you finish a download and see a checkered flag, think of the early days of racing, and thank Sid Waldon for the idea, and Fred Egloff for his research.
Mike: Air race season beings March 29 in Sherman, Texas. We’ll be flying fast for the checkered flag.

March 18, 2014 About Flying

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

Mike: Whether your type is stick-‘n-rudder, cyclic and collective, kerosene burner, quiet glider, full of hot air, or a ground-bound lover of aviation, this is your little corner of the paper for aviation stories from everywhere.
Did you know the average age range of today’s student pilot is in their 30’s? The average actively flying private pilot is in his or her 40’s, and many over 50 are now fulfilling their lifelong ambition to fly.
What draws us to aviation? Well, the view for one thing. Experiencing the dimension of altitude means your world is no longer flat, and we humans are attracted to fullness. The next time you’re in a store, notice how the displays fill the entire store. Retailers know this is appealing to consumers, and that “flat is bad.” Flying gives us an experience of fullness in a whole new way, a perspective on the world denied when gravity isn’t defied.
Linda: And how about challenge and accomplishment – the hunt and the capture. No matter how long ago it may have been, aviators remember clearly their first solo flight, from the moment the instructor stepped out of the airplane and cleared the way for the student to say, “I made that airplane fly – me, the boss, the pilot in command.” And yet we knew there was so much more to learn.
Mike: There will always be someone who has flown more or bigger aircraft, or has flown higher, faster, longer, yet stories from novice pilots are just as exciting, and that’s the fun we have here in these air lines; the people, the adventures… oh the places we can go.
Linda: Speaking of airports, I was amused by a Facebook post made by the amazingly talented composer, Eric Whitacre a couple of weeks ago.
This Classical composer with the rock star image made the following public admission: “Yesterday in the airport gift shop I hear this very familiar oboe solo wafting over the store sound system. I listen more closely and can't believe it: they are playing my 'Equus' for orchestra! I am so excited, take my magazines to the counter and ask the woman, ‘do they play this piece often? I wrote this music!’ She smiles at me strangely, and as I open my bag to take out my wallet I realize that the music is blasting from my iPhone; I must have accidentally started it at airport security. I blush like an idiot and get out of there as fast as possible.”
It’s nice to see the real and human side of someone who spends his life in the spotlight. He could so easily become what turns us off most about people in the public eye, yet he comes across as a likeable guy with a sense of humor. I’m thinking he needs his own jet…and a couple of pilots. Nothing against my airline friends, but this guy probably travels enough to justify a company plane.
And so, aviation nuts, propeller heads, jetti-sons, rotor rats, glider guys and gals, hope your next weekend includes some measure of aerial awesomeness. You can always go out to the Liberty airport and say hello to Jose and Debbie while you watch for airplanes. They’re great folks!

Give me a mile of highway and I can travel a mile;
give me a mile of runway and I can go anywhere.