The Liberty Gazette
August 19, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Impressionable during the Roaring Twenties, a horse trainer born English but raised in Africa, who had scandalous affairs, went into the history books as a pioneering aviator. Despite being a failure in personal relationships, this flyer’s childhood offered a world without walls. Developing great skill with the spear and the rifle, our subject this week was as comfortable with animals as with men. Although English by birth and ancestry, Swahili became the would-be aviator’s primary language. A couple of years of formal schooling in Nairobi were all the school could handle of this wild child, who, being a "bad influence", was denied a return to school.
Learning how to repair an engine, read aeronautical charts without the help of GPS, and fly "blind" relying on instruments when meteorological conditions prevented visual flying, the sky-bound adventurer logged thousands of flight hours flying people to distant farms, delivering mail, rescuing downed pilots, helping hunters find big game in big Africa, and at times flying as an air ambulance pilot, when the need arose.
Who was this dare-devil person of the 1930’s, the first to fly from London to New York nonstop? Her name was Beryl Markham and she was the first woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license. People who knew her say that she lived what she believed, that "Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday."
Mike: She flew east to west across the Atlantic in 1936, the first woman to do so, in her plane she named The Messenger, a monoplane called a Percival Vega Gull. From this famous flight came her book, "West with the Night". The plane was a four-seat, single engine British-built aircraft made of wood and fabric, with folding wings.
In the Gold Age of aviation the Vega Gull, piloted by Beryl and other then-famous aviators won races and broke records around the world.
The Percival Vega Gull stayed in production as a civil airplane until WWII broke out. Then, as with most other aircraft manufacturing plants, the factory built them for military use. It was a solid airplane. Sure, the wooden frame made for some weather restrictions, but even today the Vega Gull is admired for its ability to haul the weight of four adult sized people, plus baggage and full fuel tanks, and it could do so at a decent cruise speed and distance range. Since the engine was only 200 horsepower it only burned about nine gallons an hour. Even with all the weight it could carry, it could still land and take off out of a small grass airfield, and those folding wings sure helped when it was time to find a parking spot in a crowded hangar.
It is true, what Wilbur Wright said of flying, that "More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination" and equally true, too, are the words of Alejandro Jodorowski, "Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness." If it be so, then we, Linda and I, are incurable.