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!