The Liberty Gazette
May 20, 2014Ely 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.