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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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. 

May 20, 2014 Coda the Pilot

The Liberty Gazette
May 20, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Last week we shared our fly-in-camp-out adventure at Critters Lodge, a grass strip near Centerville, Texas. Joining a couple hundred other aviation nuts was Coda Riley, who arrived in his Cessna 170B, taking a break from his weekday corporate piloting and his usual weekends towing banners over Houston skies – a job not for the faint of heart.

Coda grew up mostly in Fannett, Texas, one of three boys who were encouraged to play outside and discover the world around them. This strapping young man could be easily assumed to have played every sport. A pretty tough guy who’s as down-to-earth as they come, Coda has developed outstanding skill as an aviator and enjoys sharing his love of flight.

Walking up to the large hangar where food was being devoured by appreciative, happy guests at Critters Lodge, Coda found a chair and joined in the conversation, but sitting doesn’t hold his attention for very long. He began looking around for someone who might be interested in an airplane ride. "Fly-ins," he said, "are where you go to fly, not sit!"

It wasn’t long until Coda started up his engine and taxied out to enjoy the perfect weather. The air molecules would behave at his command, providing lift to his high-wing taildragger, propelling him through the atmosphere, an open playground for the pilot. Aerial demonstrations of his abilities and low passes down the turf strip were admired by all.

Linda: Years ago I learned to fly a tailwheel airplane. There wasn’t much wind the day I was required to prove I could land it in a crosswind, so I was expected to use the alternate method: fast taxi (without taking off) on just one main wheel. Tilted to the side, this demonstrates the ability to control the airplane when landing with wind from either side. Having been through that training, I knew when I saw Coda land and keep the airplane on one wheel that he was in control of his plane.

Natural skill and great teaching from WWII fighter pilot "Doc" Charlie Smith have blended to make this remarkable pilot. "Doc" was so impressed he let him fly solo after only two hours of instruction. Since then Coda has flown skydivers, towed and piloted gliders, was featured in Animal Planet’s "River Monsters" and flew the show’s host, Jeremy Wade, around the Baytown area while filming a few years ago. Once while ferrying a plane the prop came off over Stigler, Oklahoma. Of that incident he says unassumingly, "I made an uneventful landing in a doctor’s hay meadow."

He also sings, and recorded demos in Nashville in the mid 1990's with Reba McEntire’s band.

We weren’t surprised when he beat us by a quarter inch in a spot landing contest recently. For this sportsman, there’s probably not much he doesn’t do well…except maybe that time he spotted what looked like one of those inflatable balls that is a favorite of kids and dogs. He shouted to a friend, "Hey, watch this," with every intention of a full-strength kick. Building up speed on his run, he approached the ball, swung his leg full power, and wham! Down he went.

He’s probably a little soured on bowling now. Or at least bowling balls.

Coda is one who exemplifies one of my favorite sayings: "If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space." In spite of his size, Coda Riley doesn’t take up much space. 

May 13, 2014 Critters Lodge

The Liberty Gazette
May 13, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: With the last of the camping gear packed into the Elyminator we climbed in and took off into the brilliant afternoon sunshine for a short flight north. Critters were awaiting us – it was time again for the not-to-be-missed Critters Lodge Fly-in at the Dillard Ranch near Centerville, Texas.
With the Southeast Texas landscape sliding beneath our wings we joined a hundred or so other airplanes bringing aviation lovers to descend upon the 3,000 foot grass strip.
Tents sprung up at campsites the full length of the runway, on both sides, with more people staying in RV campers, and a few in the newly finished lodge.
These fly-ins bring together old friends and the opportunity to make new friends, all hosted by the very gracious Wendell and Beverly Dillard and their incredible team of volunteers.
Bev and friends work for hours on their feet cooking, cleaning, cooking again, cleaning again, and again, so that meals are provided for their guests all weekend. Long rows of picnic tables invite community seating with a perfect view out the open hangar doorway to the midpoint of the runway.
Linda: Mike’s landing between the tall stands of trees that line the runway was spot-on and Wendell directed us to a nice quiet clearing to pitch the tent next to our plane. Even as we were still taxiing I began to see friends and familiar airplanes, such as Jim Doyle and his daughter Darcy, who arrived in the beautiful yellow and blue Skybolt biplane Jim built.
Wendell spends the day with a hand-held radio communicating with pilots flying in to ensure a safe environment. At one point he was suddenly needed in the expansive hangar-turned-cafeteria-with-commercial-kitchen because one of the ovens was not working properly. There would soon be hungry mouths to feed. With a break in air traffic, Wendell darted into the 4,000 square foot hangar, repaired the oven, and was back outside before the next airplane arrived.
Mike: Pitching the tent in the waning last light as the sun dropped behind the trees, we hurried down to the mess-hangar.
Afterward on our romantic walk down one side of the runway and then the other we encountered dark silhouetted figures and glowing faces as campers sat around telling tales while the campfires crackled and flared. Here, all is quiet as the darkness deepens. Half-way between Dallas and Houston the city lights no longer dim our view of the night sky and the stars begin to carpet the heavens. We snuggled into our evening quarters keeping the mosquito net closed but the tent fly open for gazing at constellations, planets, and the occasional satellite moving from horizon to horizon.
As we slept the temperature dropped to a cozy 44 degrees – a perfect night, handed over to a perfect morning, sunlight gently nudging us awake.
Crawling out of our shelter we were greeted by crisp air and the buzz of a prop on a plane that goes whirring by on take-off. Back to the hangar for breakfast, joining others milling about in great spirits at the prospects of a wonderful campground day. Nobody was in a particular hurry to do anything except the occasional pilot taking off to make a few low passes down the runway to the delight of the gathered observers. After breakfast we joined in the festivities and made a few go-arounds of our own.

May 6, 2014 The Start of Fly-In Season

The Liberty Gazette
May 6, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The big Texas sky is abuzz with airplanes and helicopters signaling the start of a busy fly-in and air show season. With so many events the last weekend of April pilots had a smorgasbord from which to choose, and while murky weather may have dampened some activity by midday the cloud cover burned off, opening up for acts of aviation to be committed.
The good folks at the Cleveland Municipal Airport, Clay and Darline Dean, hosted “Renegades on the Runway & Crawfish Boil”, while Southwest Airlines Captain and Reno air racer Alan Crawford held a cross-country air race in Llano. Another Southwest captain and air race friend, Ryszard Zadow had a gathering at his grass strip west of Houston, which included flour bombing and target shooting. Vying for attention were air shows in Burnet and Lago Vista, and then there was the big one: the first-ever Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Regional Fly-In at the San Marcos airport.
The 400,000-plus-member AOPA has traditionally held an annual fly-in convention called “Summit”, but now under new leadership is returning to its grass roots focus by hosting five regional events this year. The first one was shaping up to be bigger than expected – more than 725 RSVPs scheduled to arrive within hours – so special procedures were enacted to handle all the aircraft, including designation of the New Braunfels airport for overflow.
Weather kept some away but more than 475 airplanes did finally alight on terra firma at San Marcos. Pilots brought aviation enthusiasts along to introduce them to the joys of flight and all the friendly folks involved. Thousands meandered the grounds to see display aircraft, visit aviation vendor booths and listen to well-known aviation speakers at scheduled seminars.
Linda: Master of Ceremonies, the immensely popular flight instructor, humorist, and author Rod Machado introduced a very important aviation supporter to the crowd: the mayor of San Marcos, a city that has done a lot of things right.
Mayor Daniel Guerrero is not a pilot, however he is an avid aviation supporter and he loves airplanes and what the airport is doing for his community. He spoke with genuine enthusiasm of the vast plans and hopes the city has for their airport, his comments answered by resounding applause and cheerful sounds. Rod, who is from California, stood up after the mayor’s address and exclaimed, “California needs a whole lot more mayors like San Marcos has!”
Speaking of mayors jumping into General Aviation airplanes with both feet and spreading their wings, our friend Yasmina Platt, the regional AOPA representative, took Houston’s Mayor Parker on an aerial tour recently. The mayor enjoyed the view and learned first-hand about airports as economic engines. Houston Airport Systems has three here (and more abroad) but the metropolitan area boasts several more airports making it a hotbed for business looking to relocate to Texas, bringing jobs with them.
Support been echoed by mayors across the country, more than 100 joining forces actively calling on the White House to recognize the value of General Aviation; 49 states have sent declarations to Washington (California fails in many ways).
Here in Liberty our airport has vast potential to help the area grow and prosper. There have been great changes in recent years and we look forward to more growth to come.

April 29, 2014 Lost Luggage

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

Linda: When my sister’s luggage was lost by the airline she hired to transport herself and her belongings from Bellingham, Washington to Houston, Texas so she could take part in our wedding ceremony, we all began to have visions of her wearing her comfy travel clothes as she stood as my Maid of Honor. Fortunately, at the last possible moment the airline delivered her suitcase, complete with wedding party attire and all other necessities present.

Not everyone is quite so lucky though, and thanks to writer Lorna Terrapinn and, we can peer in to the seeming Never-Never-Land of airline-lost-and-found for some interesting outcomes. The website says it connects airports and airlines with searching personal property owners helping to recover their belongings. Feel free to browse their list of open claims, as Lorna did.

According to Lorna’s compilation which she posted on her blog, BlueSky, 25.8 million bags were mishandled in 2011. The vast majority (86%) were delayed, such as we experienced with my sister’s luggage, but more than 2.8 million were either damaged or pilfered. The rest, not returned; either stolen, or lost for good.

One claim was made by a name you might recognize – a guy named Alice Cooper who has very strange behavior. Apparently some of his props for a Halloween concert came up missing. I wonder what one would do with a skull, skeletons, fake blood, and a giant syringe – keep them in the closet? Perhaps even more interesting is Lorna’s list of a few things found at airports around the world: 50 vacuum-packed frogs, a full suit of armor, and Hoggie, the dwarf from the movie, Labyrinth.

Mike: This reminds me of the disaster that was the Denver International Airport’s overly complex baggage handling system designed when the airport was being built. The mess cost the airport a 16-month delay in opening, and an estimated $560 million. Featured in “Why Projects Fail”, a resource for advanced project management, not only was the plan a grotesque 17 miles long, but the system was eating baggage like a hungry stray on garbage day. It obliterated snow skis and other odd-shaped baggage. Ironically, in testing the system the engineers used baggage from the Lost and Found.

For the ten years the bungling behemoth was beating up baggage, it was used only by United Airlines, and only for outbound flights. But they finally had their fill of damage in Denver and returned to manual labor and carts.

Luggage can still get lost today, so you might want to carry a change of clothes and any necessary personal items in a carry-on.

Good advice from the airlines is to use a unique bag tag to reduce the chances of someone mistaking your bag for theirs, and be sure your contact information is written clearly on it.

If you have to change planes for a trip it’s best to schedule the connecting flight at least an hour after the scheduled arrival of the first flight. That will give baggage handlers time to get your luggage on the plane you’re boarding – a situation responsible for more than half of all luggage being delayed. On international flights put your valuables in carry-on bags.

Better yet: Learn to fly! Then you can leave directly from the Liberty Municipal Airport, almost out your back door, and have your luggage safe at all times.

April 22, 2014 Mad Dog Kelly

The Liberty Gazette
April 22, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Mike “Mad Dog” Kelly is the kind of guy you can call “a pilot’s pilot.” His Stearman is painted as a Navy trainer – an N2S-3 – yellow and sporting the number 51, put on by a previous owner who was a Naval Aviator.
After retiring from Continental Airlines he initially kept busy volunteering at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport, and offering his skilled flight instructor services, but always on the hunt for adventure, Mad Dog went to Florida to tow banners behind a "Super Cub," above the glistening white sandy beaches teaming with sun worshipers and the Inter-Coastal Waterway’s heavy boat traffic between the busy Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale and Miami International Airports. The banner towing gig was not much to his liking though because, as he explained to us, you’re flying as slowly as the airplane will go and still fly.  
I just wanted to try my hand at it,” he explains. “It really sharpens one's stick and rudder skills. But it wasn't so much tiring as it was boring, dragging a rag up and down the beaches at 500 feet.”  
Linda: After a couple of months of that, it was time to get back to Texas. He’s been back awhile now and it’s as hard as ever to keep up with him. As a member of the Commemorative Air Force, Mad Dog flies a Douglas C-47 to air shows. The C-47, the military version of the DC-3, has two big Pratt & Whitney radial engines.  
A main source of revenue for the CAF comes from selling rides on these historic airplanes. The funds collected keep them flying, preserving history – lest we forget. The pilots aren’t paid but rather pay for the privilege of flying these treasures through sponsorships. They also help with the maintenance duties.  
We enjoyed one of Mad Dog’s recent stories about his weekend in Burnet, Texas, and thought we should share it with you. Here’s Mad Dog…
Captain Kelly: Swell weekend in Burnet with the Highland Lakes Squadron. Flew the squadron's C-47, the "Bluebonnet Belle," down the town's main street a thousand feet up for the opening ceremonies of the city's Bluebonnet Festival Friday evening. Then made a second flight that evening with a flyover of the high school baseball stadium honoring our wounded Veterans. The Belle thundered over the stadium just as they finished the “Star Spangled Banner.”  
Saturday afternoon, “Mission Day,” we barnstormed revenue rides with the old girl. The Pratts responded beautifully with their song of power as we worked the big Douglas around the buoyant air, setting her up on a long final, and forcing her to follow the center line in the gusting crosswinds. My legs are still sore from the rudder workout!  
That afternoon, a North American P-51, in Royal Air Force colors, came in, topped off the fuel tanks, and headed back out. The pilot was ferrying the fighter to Detroit.  
I asked, “How do you get a job like that?”  
“Ain’t easy,” he replied.  
Saturday evening, I settled into the cockpit of my little Cessna 150 for the hour and forty minute flight back to San Angelo under a high overcast, just topping the high haze of west central Texas. The l’il darlin’ just wouldn’t climb any more.
Linda: If you’re going to the air show in Burnet this Saturday look for Mike “Mad Dog” Kelly. He’ll be with the C-47.