The Liberty Gazette
December 9, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Back in my days of aircraft delivery and repossession there were trips that afforded some pretty interesting flying, a chance to step out of the everyday schedule.
One of those excursions was to be had while returning a DeHavilland Twin Otter to Spring Bank, a small town just west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A Twin Otter is a big twin-engine, fixed-gear turboprop. The 1,600 air miles between Burbank, California and Spring Bank included crossing both the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Most of the trip was above the high peaks and low valleys.
With a pocket full of company credit cards, refueling in Minden, Nevada was easy. Next stop, Glacier National Park in Montana however, proved to be more of a challenge, but not with the landing. With all the credit cards I had I was still out of luck; they only accepted the one card I did not have, so I checked around and discovered a small airport not unlike our airport here in Liberty. Kalispell Municipal airport has a short runway, too short for jets to use, but they had jet fuel to feed the Twin Otter and I had a credit card to pay for it.
The airport was quiet. The windsock, mounted atop an old telephone pole, was so close to the taxiway I had to maneuver the big twin into the grass between the runway and taxiway so the long wing could clear the pole. The ramp area was back away from the runway, down the long taxiway. I spied the fuel truck and hoped there was fuel in it.
The next biggest airplane there was a Cessna 340, a six-seat twin. Lacking room on the ramp, I spun the Otter around and its wing easily swung over that small twin, casting a dark shadow on it.
The startled but hopeful FBO owner asked as he walked up to the airplane,
"You want some fuel?" I think he expected he wouldn’t be that lucky – that plane holds a lot of fuel. "Sure, fill it up," I said.
The bright smile on his face stayed put as he pumped 400 gallons into the Otter, probably one of the biggest fuel sales he made that month.
"Is there a place close by to get something to eat?" I asked.
"Town’s a couple miles that way. Just take any one of those cars or trucks in front of the building. The keys are in them," he replied.
Peering out at the parking lot, I asked, "You have five airport cars?"
"No," he chuckled, "they belong to people who work here, we all just leave our keys in them so people who drop by can use them if they need a vehicle."
Lunch was excellent, I was impressed with the friendliness of the town, and this airport achieved something not even the big airport in the area could do: it gained a customer, and built a better reputation. Many of our company pilots made stops there in the years to come as I spread the word.
Heading out to complete the mission, I crossed the high peaks and glaciers of the National Park (no, I didn’t see any Grizzly Bears), and finally the border into Canada and on to Spring Bank.
The airline trip back gave time to reflect. It had been a long but successful day, with a little adventure thrown in.