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.