formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

May 5, 2015 Skyway Gypsies - Part I

The Liberty Gazette
May 5, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: What do you get when you mix two pilots with a couple of unexpected days off work in the middle of the week that are not contaminated by rain and thunderstorms? Airway trip!

After making a quick assessment of where to go we chose west and tossed a few things into bags. Soon the Elyminator’s wheels were up and we turned the nose to 290 degrees on the compass. The flat lands below began to change shape and character, first becoming low rolling hills, then a few breaks, then large rugged slopes off plateaus, and even bigger breaks and canyons in a volcanic landscape. West of Plainview where we stopped for fuel, stockyards with covered silage mounds dotted the landscape. As though the land were taking steps, it’s elevation gradually increased, bringing us closer to the ground until higher we climbed. From our lofty perch we could see well ahead as we crossed the plains. This is an area I know from the westerns I read by Louis L’Amour and Luke Short. I could picture story characters Orin and Tyrel Sackett somewhere below riding herd or hunting up trouble. How would it have been for those adventuresome souls as they inched across that ground?

If one flies through the mountain passes the polite and neighborly way to fly over the Indian reservations is to climb to 12,500’, but with the wind howling through those passes we elected to hug the mountains and take the longer way around. As we crossed the lower ridges of the Rockies heading into the valley near Santa Fe I pointed out the Pecos River and all the lands in Lincoln County. That’s where Billy the Kid rode and the Lincoln County wars took place. We had climbed to over ten thousand feet and were looking up at the still snow-capped thirteen thousand foot peaks as we turned the corner and headed up the west side of the eastern most range, crossing the reservations Tony Hillerman depicted in his Jim Chee novels. Destination: Taos.

Linda: Sometimes the best adventures are the unplanned ones. Last week’s impromptu trip goes down as a win.

An airport is a community’s front door, and an airport manager is often a transient pilot’s first impression of a town; Taos didn’t disappoint. We called Taos’s airport manager Kino before departing and he said he’d see to it we had transportation and a place to stay, and looked forward to meeting us. As we taxied toward the ramp Kino came over the radio with a warm, friendly welcome to Taos, while Mike, the Hertz agent on site, brought a car over to our plane and had it open and ready before we even shut down the engine. Kino and Mike enjoy good rivalry bantering as former Air Force and Navy pilots, respectively.

Into town we ventured, first to check in at the Don Fernando hotel. The crew there served us well with a clean and modern spacious room, at the "pilots’ special rate". There wouldn’t be much time to check out the galleries and shops in the Plaza so we hurried to find a quick bite to eat before they rolled up the streets. We found the area to be cute and quaintly New Mexico, but with some of the shops too commercialized for our taste. Then we stepped in to a place to find extraordinary artwork by an inimitable artist. We can’t wait to share what happened next, so tune in to this space next week for more on the amazing Taos adventure.

April 28, 2015 Better Branding

The Liberty Gazette
April 28, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Thanks to Andrea’s involvement in her community as an assistant superintendent of a school district in Southern California and the president of her local Rotary club, a small group of U.S. military veterans dressed in smiles earlier this month when her club sponsored a special day at the local airport to honor the WWII vets with free rides in a Stearman biplane. The Stearman is an open cockpit airplane, but I’m willing to bet not a one of the men minded if they had to pick bugs off their teeth – just more proof of a good time.

Something like that could be done here, just maybe not during love bug season.

Goodness does good for everyone, and in this case doing something nice for people who have served our country, and using our local airport in the way it was meant to be used – to give back to the community – would be a fabulous use of the Liberty Municipal Airport.

Airports are for people who don’t fly.

Small community airports are a door for products and services, including emergency services, and for business people to travel, and maybe even to invest in a forward-thinking community. Overseers of any airport, big or small, can launch a progressive campaign to advance its purpose, increase revenue, and further branding, both of the community and of the airport.

Mike: Branding is something Cutter Aviation does well. A small family owned company that offers fueling services, maintenance, hangars, and aircraft sales, Cutter stands out in the industry with impressively low turnover for key positions. What one sees in Cutter, what can be learned, can be applied to any airport or aviation company.

Take for instance, how their transparency turns the face of a stranger into a friend, and how careful attention to detail means in every space where they have a presence their logo and colors are easily spotted.

Think of the Buccee’s character. That’s successful branding. They have developed a following of loyal customers, and even non-customers associate the friendly chipmunk in the ball cap with clean restrooms, good fuel prices, and fun shopping.

When a pilot visits the Cutter Aviation website he or she is treated to the faces of real people who work for Cutter, along with all their contact information and a bit about them. It’s personal, and it gives the customer a feeling that they will receive personalized, not automated service. People like that.

Cutter creates an enjoyable experience and everywhere they are, there’s their brand – the red color and the arrow that has been in their logo since the beginning – and customers see that and it triggers the emotions formed from positive experiences and personal service.

Recently, Cutter employees have been dressing in Western garb for industry trade shows and events. Since the company got its start in the Southwest, Albuquerque to be precise, the Cutter folks began showing up with boots, hats, and Western wear, and now the Cutter Cowboys are becoming as much a part of the company’s branding as the 85-year logo.

Linda: Some municipal airports use their city’s logo, while others create their own identity, understanding that they are reaching a unique market – one full of people drawn to images that exude aviation friendliness. Combining an airplane with parts of the current City of Liberty logo image, something inviting, saying this community welcomes aviators, could be the beginning of better branding for the Liberty Municipal Airport.

April 21, 2015 Busting myths one Pat answer at a time

The Liberty Gazette
April 21, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: As one who entered aviation mid-life I envy my wonderful husband and others who, like him, knew at an early age they wanted to fly. They were smitten with airplanes and flying; nothing else would satisfy, and they seemed to be born knowing that. But not I. Oh, aviation was around me, and I had opportunities, even occasional small bits of encouragement to learn to fly, but neither props nor jets could seduce me in my youth.

Until recently I’ve thought that there were basically these two groups of pilots – those who played airplane at recess instead of tag, and those who received a great awakening after years in the cave of unknowing. Then I considered Patrick Smith. He’s an airline pilot and writer who was attracted to a life of flying because he wanted to travel. That seems strange to me. I have never thought of people who fly for any other reason than that they become engulfed in this love for being in the air, and what it takes to be there – the knowledge, the machines, the glorious machines; the act of piloting, to any place or no place, just out and back, the where doesn’t matter.

Travel? Well, Patrick Smith is probably very different from Mike and me in a lot of ways. Neither flying a Piper Cub nor watching the Blue Angels perform impressed Smith as a kid – he’s even said those things bored him. But he liked maps, and geography, and different cultures, and so that’s what drove him to fly, and to write. He writes, he says, because he senses a mission to unite the means and ends, essentially, to inspire people who just want to get somewhere to appreciate the journey.

Patrick has written books and magazine columns, runs a blog,, and has offered his expertise on radio and television programs.

In one of his articles Patrick set out to debunk myths people believe about airline travel. Mike offers his own comments to a couple of the illusions aviators hear often.

Mike: This: "A co-pilot is less qualified than a captain to fly the airliner." First, I think what’s meant here is First Officer – by definition both pilots are co-pilots. Regardless, all pilots are trained to fly the aircraft and must pass standard testing. Both pilots can take over for each other and either is fully capable of landing the airplane safely without help from the other. However, with two, or three pilots the workload is distributed. A captain holds that rank by virtue of a seniority system within that particular airline. A co-pilot may have been a captain with another airline and just changed employers. Pilots at every level are always learning and refining their skills and knowledge.

And this: "Modern airliners have become so sophisticated they can fly themselves." Automation has become more complex but it is still just a tool to get the job done. Pilots spend an enormous amount of time training and retraining on these systems because as nifty as they are electronics still go haywire and anything mechanical can break. Yes, there are some aircraft that can auto-land but that only happens at specific airports, on specific runways, controlled by pilots with special qualification, and under specific conditions. While redundancy is available for almost everything on an airliner the ultimate safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained, onboard crew, whether that’s the Patrick Smiths of the air whose love of travel brought them there, or those whose passion is purely flying the plane.

April 14, 2015 For daring men

The Liberty Gazette
April 14, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The ad blared with dark, bold, large letters around a drawing of an airplane. Sweeping lines to make readers think of wind seemed to whisk the words across the page to keep up with the plane, giving special effect to the message:

                       "Step Into Aviation"

                                    "Adventure… Thrills… Big Money!"

                                                  "The Game for Daring Young Men"

The year was 1928, just one year before 20 women pilots would show those daring men that quite frankly, the airplane doesn’t know whether the person in the seat is male or female. The ad’s first paragraph taunted men by suggesting that a "regular" job (anything other than aviation) is a dull grind, and that they should "Break into one of the most fascinating, most thrilling occupations since time began – Aviation – the virile, exciting, romantic game for men of sporting blood."

Yes, it really said that. You can read it for yourself in the very first bound issue of Popular Aviation, March 1928. I wonder what they thought about all those aviatrixes who flew in dresses and wore make-up and piloted their planes at full race speed across the country from California to Cleveland, Ohio the following year in the First Women’s Air Derby, the finish line being at the National Air Races – which were "for men only."

About that same time a pilot instructor by the name of Clevenger who lived in Denver turned to the modern marvel of radio to promote flying. This was only the eighth year commercial radio had existed, and the Golden Age of Aviation, when we celebrated U.S. Air Mail Week every January and the list of all the mail routes and passenger schedules took up fewer than three full pages, and for fifteen minutes every Friday evening for ten weeks any guy who fancied himself to be of sporting blood could listen to flying lessons on the radio.

Mike: Cloyd Clevenger worked for Alexander Aircraft Company and in his weekly fifteen minutes of fame he acted out a flying lesson with another fellow, a regionally famous humorist named Gene Lindberg (no "h" on the end but the similarity is amusing). Sound effects were typical of the era: find what you can use to make a particular sound believable. In this case, electric fans were pointed straight into the microphone to sound like a plane taking off, and blowing away from the mic once the plane was in quieter cruise flight. The show’s main competition was appealing jazz orchestra broadcasts, the music of the time.

In living rooms, dens, kitchens all over America self-assessed daring men probably followed the advice of Captain Clevenger and listened intently to the predecessor of the podcast while seated firmly in a chair, broomstick handle in hand, "chair flying".

That advice has not gone away. Today’s instructors still recommend chair flying to enhance skills by helping the mind focus while imagining flying.

Even though they were eavesdropping on the sometimes comical dialogue which was meant to convey the lessons at hand, results showed success by an increase in customers at the flight school, and in sales of Clevenger’s book, "Modern Flight". Alexander Aircraft was, after all, just doing its part by sponsoring the radio lessons to educate the public in air-mindedness, albeit while playing a game for daring men.

April 7, 2015 In the Age of Airplanes

The Liberty Gazette
April 7, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Since the early ages Man has yearned to take flight. Philosophers pondered anti-gravity, artists painted winged images, writers penned humanity’s desire to break free from the ground. For them it was still a dream.

Greek mythological figure Daedalus fashioned wings for he and his son Icarus to escape the isle of Crete. Leonardo da Vinci rendered drawings of aircraft, and even of a helicopter, and inscribed, "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." Jules Verne wrote such tomes as From the Earth to the Moon and Around the World in Eighty Days and actually lived in the days of manned flight, though mostly by balloons. He died a couple years after the Wright Brothers made their historic flight.

In the 20th century Man not only took flight, but after making that initial jump of 120 feet, a little over a third the length of a football field, began trips to the moon and back. Now, nearly 100,000 commercial airline flights depart (and land) daily. Hundreds of people board a single flight to travel in relative comfort for 14 hours to a land nearly halfway around the world, although we grumble about false-sense-of-security lines and being sardinized. Has flying lost its luster, its sense of adventure, become ordinary?

Linda: Brian Terwilleger hopes to reacquaint us all with airplanes. A few years ago he produced the spectacular, romance-of-flight, award-winning movie, One-Six Right. The title is the number designation for one of the runways at Van Nuys Airport, and the movie celebrates the unsung hero of aviation – the local airport. Now Brian has teamed up with National Geographic Studios for his latest project and once again, the results are inspiring to say the least. Living in the Age of Airplanes will take you on a visual journey of past decades of incredible advances of flight, arousing your inner pilot.

Filmed in 95 locations around the world, on all seven continents including the South Pole, detailed stunning images dance with a beautiful score. Narrated by Harrison Ford, the movie premieres at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. on April 8, with general release beginning April 10th. Unfortunately, this much anticipated film is not yet scheduled for theaters in the Houston Museum of Natural Science or Space Center Houston; the closest locations scheduled for showings at this time are in Austin, Dallas and Lubbock. The site for more info – and a peek at the trailer – is, but fair warning: prepare to be entranced. Living in the Age of Airplanes will eventually be released on video and possibly cable, however, if you have the opportunity to see it on an IMAX screen, do that – that’s where it was meant to be seen.

Mike: Harrison Ford asks that you "leave behind everything you know about airplanes; anything you’ve heard about their history; every conclusion you’ve drawn from your own experience and prepare to see them again, for the first time."

Linda: Oh be still, my heart!

March 31, 2015 More than a calling card

The Liberty Gazette
March 31, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: As a kid I, like many, built models. Model cars, trains, boats and of course, airplanes. While they were never masterpieces my model airplanes fueled my imagination and took me on many adventures to other places in the world. When I was about eight someone gave me a control-line gas powered airplane. It really flew, for a few minutes anyway, because my dad, thinking it might be a bit much for me, tried it out first in the circle of our cul-de-sac and crashed it. It never flew again. I still have to laugh about that.

When I was studying aerospace engineering we strapped down specially constructed models in the wind tunnel to gather data and learn how the air flowed around them. This helped us make designs with less drag and thus more efficient. We tested models in both subsonic and supersonic wind tunnels, some reached as much as four times the speed of sound as we photographed the shock-wave of air splitting off of them.

Though not as much so as was when I was a kid, the airplane model kit industry is still going strong. There is even a whole specialty industry that has developed around high quality model airplanes used as calling cards for business deals. When airlines are courted by aircraft manufacturers, or when airlines begin serving a particular city executives often come bearing gifts – models of their planes, painted in the airline’s paint scheme. During conferences the model planes serve as centerpieces.

These models are typically one to two feet in length, mounted on stands and are not the lightweight plastic types found in hobby shops. I see them on desks, in trophy cases and in museums. Aircraft manufacturers order a lot of them. Last year Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, took in 1,456 orders for new airliners purchased by 67 different airlines. They bought over 30,000 models of their airliners to give away as gifts – that’s just over 20 models per customer. Boeing Aircraft Company here in the U.S. and Embraer Aircraft in Brazil have made similar purchases. And while manufacturers of airliners by far buy the most, business aircraft manufacturers hold the same tradition. These are far more effective marketing tools than a business card as they are always out where the recipient can see them, not in a drawer or a contacts file, but a constant reminder of the company who gave it.

Some people just like to collect model airplanes and there are companies that oblige them. If you want a model of an Airbus 320 in Alaska Airlines livery, it’s available in sizes from six inches to several feet in length. I prefer older airliners, and I have my favorites. Many younger people would never know they ever existed without the presence of models. With airlines merging and legacy lines fading into memories, it’s nice to look at a model and remember when the airline flew that airplane or had that paint scheme.

When I look at a Lockheed Super Constellation painted in TWA colors it takes me away, back to when I was a kid when I was flying to the Orient or some other exotic location in the world, if only in my mind.

March 24, 2015 Olives, airplanes, and your fifth sense, Taste

The Liberty Gazette
March 24, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: While hospital food is commonly despised, it has nothing on the reputation of airline food, which has not only been reduced in meal size, but quality as well. Keeping ticket costs down while keeping stock prices up continues to challenge financial wizards who take their sharpened pencils to task to increase airline profits. Of course, there’s that pesky retirement package pilots and other employees have worked for years to earn; now there’s another area that could be reduced or even eliminated. And then there’s the feeding of all you hungry seat-fillers, which has proved to be such a burden that bean counting has been overtaken by olive counting for one airline, and peanuts for another. A few decades ago American Airlines removed one olive out of each salad they served and cheered at the bottom line, an annual savings of $40,000. Don’t scoff, that’s nearly twice what a first-year regional airline pilot makes these days.

Not all changes made to the food served at 40,000 feet are for the almighty dollar. Some are for safety, and some are simply to make you, the passenger, like them better. To reduce the risk of both pilots being stricken with food poisoning, the captain and first officer of any flight do not eat the same meals. If one type of pre-packaged meal is contaminated it is unlikely the other is also.

Mike: But are airline meals really that bad, or could it be our perceptions are affected by air pressure? Have you ever wondered why the popularity of the Bloody Mary in flight? Turns out, says a German physics research institute hired by Lufthansa, that our sensory perceptions are affected by altitude and humidity – and also by noise. End result is that we add salt to foods that should taste salty, and more sugar for treats that should be sweet, because those taste perceptions are reduced at altitude. Our receptors for sour and bitter don’t seem to be affected, but did you know there is a fifth taste?

Look for an increase in the use of spinach, mushrooms, and soy sauce in airline food, and don’t be surprised if you crave tomato juice, because the flight you take will enhance your taste of umami, an amino acid, L-glutamate, found in those foods.

Michel Lotito was not too finicky about pleasing his taste buds in the air or on the ground. God rest his soul, the man passed a few years ago, but he still holds the record for the largest airplane eaten, as well as the only airplane eaten. Lotito cut up, chewed, and swallowed such non-food items as light bulbs, razor blades, and glass bottles, eventually grinding his teeth to little stumps. He spent two years eating a Cessna 150. They say he used a sledgehammer, acetylene torch, and bottle cutter to make those tasty morsels bite-sized, but that he did bite most of the glass parts directly off the plane, and even ate the leather seats and the tires. The Frenchman’s bizarre eating made him an "entertainer" of sorts, earning the title Monsieur Mangetout, translated, "Mister Eats All".

Linda: I wonder if he added olives to that.

March 17, 2015 A few good women

The Liberty Gazette
March 17, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Malachi is one of six children. He is a normal six-year old boy in every way; he just happens to have a very serious medical condition. To get from their home in Iowa to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York Malachi’s family relies on the generosity of businesses with a few empty seats on their corporate jets, an idea that was given life by a very determined woman.

95-year old Pat Blum stood before the crowd at this year’s conference of Women in Aviation International and spoke of the nearly 600 companies providing 3,000 flights per year.

Every year the Women in Aviation International conference draws both men and women seeking growth in their chosen field through new employment, attending seminars, and building relationships.

Some of the most powerful women in America were among the keynote speakers. Inspiration came from Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Connie Barrett; Corporate Angel Network Founder, Pat Blum; Boeing’s President in Brazil and Latin America, Donna Hrinak; and the U.S. Air Force’s Director of Air Superiority Systems, Heather "Lucky" Penney.

These and other highly accomplished women sent messages to the thousands of attendees that encouraged us all to never give up, no matter what life throws our way.

Many other industries have annual conferences where they bring in the heavy-hitters who attract the crowds and make the event shine, but the line-up of amazing women at this year’s Women in Aviation conference is hard to beat.

I jumped in as a pinch hitter to give a presentation on our company’s app for pilots – ForeFlight – after our scheduled speaker had fallen ill. All went well, as pilots love our app and our company is surely the hippest and most friendly of all, and offers the very best mobile flight planning solution ever. Makes it easy for me to give a presentation – they already love us.

As I wrapped up the forum the room would be turned over to the next speaker. That was Heather Penney. If you aren’t familiar with her, let us give you just a glimpse into this young woman’s accomplishments.

Mike: Penney was one of two F-16 pilots who were ordered to take down United Airlines Flight 93 before it reached Washington, D.C. airspace on 9/11. For weeks after that dreadful date she flew combat air patrols over the capital and began preparing for war.

These days she can be found training Air Force pilots and working with a developmental program incorporating simulators, synthetic threat environments, and live-action training operations that challenge the next generation of Air Force pilots. In her off-time she enjoys flying the B-17G called Nine O Nine, and even flies a small plane of her own, a Cessna 170A.

Linda: On the other end of the spectrum was Pat Blum. Pat started Corporate Angel Network when she realized as a cancer patient and pilot that there were a lot of empty seats on corporate jets. She believed that if those companies were willing, those seats could be used to help people.

She wrote to the CEOs of every company in the Fortune 1500, and when the first one responded and offered to challenge his counterparts to join in this worthy effort, Pat’s dream became a reality.

This is true leadership, as demonstrated by Pat Blum, who started what is now one of the most recognized and successful public benefit aviation charities in the world, and Heather Penney, who is committed to keeping our nation safe from harm.

March 10, 2015 Pinching Again

The Liberty Gazette
March 10, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: When Linda and I fly to some far corner of the country whether for a fall foliage tour of New England, a summer trip to the Pacific Northwest to visit family and friends, or journeying to a race someplace else, we share the flying and navigating duties. Oft times pilots lament that their favorite flying companions don’t share their enthusiasm for flying, while the family often wishes the pilot would stay home more. Where might they find that neutral ground?

Linda: Last August the pilot companion course, known as "Pinch Hitter", was such a big hit the room was filled and we had to turn people away. We knew the need was there, and we would soon be hosting another course. Now the next one is on the calendar: April 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lonestar Executive Airport in Conroe.

The flying companion course teaches the non-pilot how to participate in the flight activities and learn more about flying, and airplanes in general. Hands-on training in an airplane from a certificated flight instructor can be arranged separately from this course.

The course fee ($55) pays for materials and lunch catered by the Black Walnut Cafe, which is there at the airport. The instructors and presenters are all volunteers who get excited about introducing people to flying.

Planning the course offers its own unique challenges and sometimes the dates that work for us conflict with other events, even at the same airport. Such was to be the case for this course on April 4; the Saturday of Easter weekend two events will be bustling at the airport in Conroe: in addition to the Pinch Hitter course, the Hometown Festival of Flight will be hosted by the group, Everything Albatross. Rather than conflict though, the two activities actually complement each other.

The pilots will now have something fun to do while their favorite flying companion is attending the course. A large collection of airplanes and helicopters will be on display for all to see up close and to meet the pilots and others who keep Montgomery County's aviation community a vibrant one. There will be fun activities for the whole family, and they’re only asking for a minimum donation of $3.00 per person.

Mike: Everything Albatross gets its name from the Grumman HU-16C Albatross, a post-WWII large twin-engine amphibious aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard from the late 1940s to the 1990s.

The Albatross has long been a favorite of mine. Like the venerable WWII-era Consolidated PBY it replaced, the Albatross was used for extended patrols over the open waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Gulf, it’s primary mission being search and rescue.

The Everything Albatross group owns two of the beasts, one flying and one in the restoration process, dubbed Zeus and Pegasus.

A special guest at the event will be Kevin Lacey, star of the Discovery Channel series, Airplane Repo. Mr. Lacey is an ardent promoter of aviation and loves meeting people and talking about airplanes.

Linda: It’s a perfect match: Flying Companion course plus Hometown Festival of Flight equals something for everyone.

You don’t have to take the flying companion course to come out to the Conroe airport and meet the Everything Albatross Flight Crew and see Zeus up close. It’s open to all. Hope to see you there!

March 3, 2015 Time with Dad

The Liberty Gazette
March 3, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Sitting on an old carton in a semi-dark room, scant light filtering through a window past dusty blinds causing glinting reflections off floating lint, he stares at boxes and miscellaneous objects cluttered against the walls and in groupings around the room. No, he doesn’t feel much like it, but there are boxes to look through, clothing to sort, papers and tools, cases of tools that should go to a new home. The emotions bite like horseflies. Where to start?

He rises reluctantly, flips a light switch and opens the blinds for more light. That first reach is the hardest as he begins picking through the stacks. His own muscles prod him to move on. One by one he drags boxes near to him and starts pulling them apart. Some of the boxes have been marked with a felt pen, "Mom’s dishes", "Bedroom", and "Bob’s books". He opens each tentatively only to slide them to another place in the room, until one box catches his eye. The scribbles read, "Flying stuff." With a slight smile and a heavy sigh he gently breaks the dry brittle tape and opens the container to a host of memories, of flying with Dad.

There, scattered about the top of some papers brown with age, is a stack of photographs, some of them withered with decaying edges. Some are old Polaroids, but time has distorted the colors making them reminiscent of the metal plate type photographs he has seen of the Old West. He can barely make out the subjects. Others are only mildly yellowed, faded, or cracked, and offer images that bring comfort.

There’s the one of him standing by Dad’s old Stinson 108, taken when he was just barely taller than the wheel on the airplane. With more interest he digs further in the stack of pictures and retrieves one of him and a friend under the wing of a Cessna, each holding a fishing pole. Between them a line displays their fresh catch. He remembers that trip well. Their dads were surprised and proud of their sons’ angling prowess. Memories of other flying adventures flood his heart.

Laying the photograph back in the box he spies the corner of a book. The cover is worn, with a tear or two, and the binding is broken down a bit. As tired as it is this book has marvelous value – to him alone.

He carefully opens the cover to another era. There is his father’s name, inked. And here are places. He remembers some of the destinations handwritten in the rows of his dad’s pilot logbook. And the milestones: first log entry, the year 1948; an instructor’s sign-off to fly solo that same year. The paperclip that leaves rust spots and an indentation keeps Dad’s first aviation medical certificate safely attached, along with his temporary pilot license, his first real license to fly airplanes.

The names of different types of airplanes fill the "Aircraft" sections, while "From" and "To" make the pages come alive, augmented by "Comments" on each exploit. He weighs the book in his hands, grasps it firmly and smiles, looking up as though there was no ceiling, to say thank you for a wonderful childhood. Dad’s flying life unveiled in the block sections of this uplifting little book would be his most prized inheritance, bolstering memories rich and yesterdays full of wonder.

February 24, 2015 How to test any aircraft for certification

The Liberty Gazette
February 24, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: We have not shared any real favorable opinions about drones in this space in the past editions, and we’re not about to start now. With the new proposed rules from the FAA on the commercial use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) moving forward, while some in the pilot community reportedly have a "positive response", drones are still a threat to pilots. Yes, this latest version proposed appears to tighten the rules some, but if rules affecting the use of drones are not enforced properly, the results will be more than just the annoyance of a toy buzzing around near an airplane, it will be downright dangerous.

Let’s put it in perspective. When testing aircraft for certification against bird strikes, the FAA regulations require a bird, or pseudo bird, be fired out of a cannon at an aircraft’s windshield.

Yes, really.

Birds are hurled at increasing velocities until the designed speed of the aircraft is reached without damage to the windshield, or, the FAA will limit the speed at which the aircraft may fly at lower altitudes in areas where they are likely to encounter birds because, after all, we can’t outlaw bird flight.

Here’s a little more detail: the test bird must be thawed, and it weighs only four pounds.

Four pounds.

All this time and money would not be spent on testing bird strikes with four-pound test objects if there was no significant threat to safety of flight at low levels, near birds.

The proposed regulation will allow drones up to 55 pounds to fly in line of the operator’s sight, as high as 500 feet from the ground, outside of controlled airspace. That includes the Liberty Municipal Airport, which is in Class G airspace up to 700 feet above the ground. If one of these were to be encountered by an aircraft landing here, it would do a lot more damage than a soft, feathery, four-pound bird.

Remember the tense moments endured by the crew and passengers of the America West A320 that landed in the Hudson River, under the expert control of Captain Sullenburger? Those birds each weighed far less than 55 pounds, and their little bodies had plenty more give than the parts of a drone.

Linda: We’re barely touching the surface here. Who is going to fly these drones? The FAA will require drone operators to be licensed, but let’s be realistic. As is the case with ultra-light aircraft, anyone can buy a drone and start flying it. If someone buys one, how much self-control will they have to keep from flying it until they are legally qualified? How much professionalism will they exercise in its operation?

How safe will the skies be when they unleash these deadly weapons into the National Airspace? What will be the penalty for slamming a drone into an aircraft, causing injury, or worse – death?

July 8 last year we wrote about Dangerous Drones, and shared a few quotes from military (supposedly experts) drone operators. One of those was from Maj. Richard Wageman, commenting on the crash of a Predator drone at Kandahar Air Base in 2008: "As the plane was going down, all I saw were tents and I was afraid that I had killed someone. I felt numb…"

The truth is that even a highly qualified, licensed pilot does not have their own skin hundreds of feet in the air at the moment his drone impacts an airplane, while the pilot inside the aircraft suddenly looses control because the guy on the ground had an "oops" moment. There are too many critical uncertainties.

While we appreciate the benefits possible in finding missing people hard to locate in densely forested areas, having experienced a close call with an illegally flown drone, we strongly oppose the commercial use of drones.

February 17, 2015 Banner History

The Liberty Gazette
February 17, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Eighty-five years ago Lloyd Stearman, the guy whose company built the infamous Stearman biplane used for training pilots for WWII, was convinced that by 1980 we would have airplanes shaped like rockets and would be flying them around the earth above the atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour. If we could do that we could complete one full circuit around the earth in just one hour. That’s still futuristic, but Lloyd was a visionary.

To get a perspective on this, the time in history when Stearman made this prediction was about the same time the idea of banner towing was new, an experiment by a German WWI flying ace named Ernst Udet, the most famous stunt pilot of his day. The year was 1930, and Udet, practically a household name, awed spectators with the most daring feats of aviation acrobatics.

Sadly, his life wasn’t all rosy. Smart executives know that an employee’s strengths in one area may not necessarily translate to strength in another, and the results could be undesirable. Not all sales people make good managers. Unfortunately for Udet, due to his superior flying skills he was given a promotion, but the new job didn’t include flying. The new position was political and he just wasn’t that kind of person. Which is to say, he was above politics, as there is barely any way to be beneath politics. But the weasels pushed him past his limits and after a time, under extreme pressure, he took his own life.

But before the sad ending, there was Ernst, a right smart German fellow who could fly circles around most other pilots, and he had an idea that would scare most everyone else at that time. Between the two world wars, from out of Berlin burst the news that Udet had succeeded in using an iron bar with a hook at one end to pick up a piece of cloth while flying at full speed. People were amazed. Aviation was still fairly new and his exploits were all the buzz – think of the commercial possibilities!

Mike: Today’s banner-towing pilots such as Coda Riley of Baytown are still considered a nervy bunch. It takes skill and confidence to tow a heavy banner behind a small, single engine airplane. The aerodynamic drag and the weight of the banner combined with the slow speed that must be flown to keep the banner properly unfurled require top skill. And although the Stearman biplane has been around just shy of a century, it is still a model often used for banner towing.

Above beaches, over stadiums, looking down on busy freeways, every day banner towing pilots chug along just on the edge of aerodynamic stall, their airplanes straining against the wind, to help businesses spread their messages. Last weekend we watched a pilot swoop down to hook a banner on the end of his plane to carry a very special message: "Sarah, will you marry me?"

The next time you see a banner floating along behind an airplane, and especially if you know of a business that uses aerial signs in their advertising strategy, think of Ace Ernst Udet demonstrating his skills and wowing the crowd.

February 10, 2015 Argentine Bumblebee

The Liberty Gazette
February 10, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: After seven years there was much work still to be done on the Vari-Eze, an airplane Richard was rebuilding so he’d have something to fly while he built the Cozy. These airplanes are from a distinctive family of aircraft called "Canards" that look as though they may fly backwards because the propeller is at the back. As a mechanical engineer he had an edge on understanding how to build, and this fed his need to tinker and create; but as an already licensed pilot he was eager to fly – and, he had just received an inheritance from Grandpa. With both projects lingering, he wanted to buy another airplane ready to fly – "just until I finish the Vari-Eze." He thought Frank, who he knew was not flying for medical reasons, might be interested in a partnership with his plane, a Long Ez. The next day Richard brought up the subject to his wife, Lisa, but she was not as excited.

"Are you kidding me? We already have two unfinished airplanes and two boats we hardly sail!"

But the next morning Lisa woke refreshed and offered to Richard this truce, "Okay, I had my moment so let's talk about it."

Since Lisa was the couple’s money manager, she asked, "How much do you think you’ve saved for an airplane," to which Richard replied, "$35,000." Then he asked her how much she thought he had.

"More like $32,000."

Close enough for the pair to agree on calling Frank.

Richard had no idea what to expect in prices but as divine intervention would have it, that same afternoon Frank called asking for help selling the plane to cover medical expenses.

Mike: Frank Caldeiro was an expert in cryogenics and propulsion systems, and the first Argentinean to train for spaceflight. He served as the lead astronaut for several support missions, reviewing the design and manufacture of robotics, and systems incorporated in the space station’s life support systems. He’d been in charge of shuttle software testing and in-flight maintenance before becoming the director of the high-altitude atmospheric research experiment program carried onboard NASA's WB-57 aircraft, based at Ellington Field.

This talented engineer and pilot had also logged over 500 hours in the Long Ez he built from plans and raw materials.

Frank’s selling price, "Between $32,000 and $35,000," the exact numbers Richard and Lisa had settled on for a partial interest just five hours earlier; and the very shiny, very yellow spaceship-looking backwards airplane found a new home.

Why yellow when others are bright white? When Frank was building it a federal agent called asking if he owned an airplane "with the registration November Foxtrot Charlie".

When Frank answered yes the agent began, "We have your airplane here in Chicago, loaded with drugs."

"That's impossible, my airplane is in my garage. I haven't even completed building it yet."

A commonly used ploy of the Colombian drug cartels was to repaint a plane with an FAA aircraft registration number that belonged to another plane.

The seedy underworld of drugs could not have been further from Frank’s life. Never again to be mistaken as a participant, Frank painted his plane bright yellow, and affectionately named it "Bumblebee".

Sadly, at age 51 Frank lost his battle with brain cancer.

Now named "Queso 1" this airplane flies the Houston skies introducing others to the incredible experience of flight and honoring the memory of Astronaut Frank Caldeiro, a gifted man who left too soon.

February 3, 2015 Mirror and Shirt Launch

The Liberty Gazette
February 3, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Mike Brown is excited about the trip he is about to make in his organization’s Kodiak, a single engine airplane made for flying in "the bush".

"Today is one of those awesome days for MAF," says the pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship, which has since 1945 used God-given tools and talents to reach isolated people throughout the world. Mike and other MAF pilots share Christ's love "from dense jungles to rugged mountains to war-torn countries."

A new video released last week by MAF shows the Kodiak making the first landing at a just-completed airstrip in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia. The landing is historic for the little hamlet that has a name that sounds like "Mokandoma".

For Tim and Rebecca Ingles and Mike Wild of New Tribes Missions, who are living and serving in this little village, this brand new airstrip will help them reach their goal – enabling native believers like Liku to reach fellow members of the Wano tribe living further away.

The native tribespeople tried to build an airstrip on their own about 10-15 years ago, but without help they gave up. Then a couple of years ago some help came and now they have a landing field about a half-mile long.

Mike: They heard it overhead, the anticipation welling up in each person standing by the rugged mountain airstrip. Who would be the first to spot the airplane? They have worked hard and waited years for this moment and now the dream is becoming a reality, bringing hope and hard work to fruition. The airplane circles, and finally lands, surrounded by cheers and jumping for joy.

In the video the Wano people can be seen running up to the plane after it shut down, dancing around it in traditional tribal garb, spears, and grass skirts. Then Liku prepares to speak, but first, a fellow tribal member spreads mud on Liku's forehead so he can demonstrate what he's about to say.

He is shirtless, and begins, "You can see that my body is dirty. I didn't know that before. Then our missionaries, Tim and Mike came and it was like they gave us this mirror. After they gave it to me I could see. Ohhh! Look how dirty I am!"

Next, Liku brushes the now dried mud off his forehead and puts on a shirt. "I'm taking this shirt and I'm putting it on. And now the dirt that was on me, do you see any of it?" he asks. Around him you hear, "No, no, we don't see it!"

He agrees, "You don't see any dirt on me now," picks up a mirror and says, "This mirror represents God's Word that our missionaries taught us. I put my faith in that Word. I believe God placed me into Christ, like me putting on this shirt, I was sinful, but now I'm in Christ. So when God sees me, He doesn't see my sin anymore."

With that beautiful and simple expression of his faith, he affirms, "Our people made this airstrip for a reason. We want the story of this ‘mirror and shirt’ to go to our people in other places. The airplane will help us do that."

You can view this and other inspiring videos posted online by Mission Aviation Fellowship. We should soon hear the Wano tribe saying the same thing we do here: Give me a half-mile of road and I can go half a mile, but give me a half-mile of runway and I can go anywhere!

January 27, 2015 A Champ for the Weekends

The Liberty Gazette
January 27, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: It was the late 1960's and Roy Ion had just transferred to Beaumont for work. He was single, renting an apartment off 11th Street, and looking for some weekend fun.

Roy: I thought about renting a Cessna 152 to log time so maybe I could get a commercial license and be an airline pilot someday, but renting seemed an unnecessary expense. Then browsing ads in the paper one day this caught my eye: "1946 Aeronca 7 Champion AC for Sale. Low time since last annual. Call for price." I called.

"How much?"

"$800," he said. "And it's ready to go."

"Really? Does it fly?"

"Of course. Come over, I'll take you up."

My new lady friend, Linda, agreed to drive me there so off we went, west on Highway 90. It was a nice day for a ride in a convertible, and she really was cute. Neat curl on her lips when she smiled. The wind was blowing her brownish blond hair all over. Gee am I staring? I quickly looked out at the scenery – not much in this part of Texas.

In about 45 minutes we arrived at this nice little airport in Liberty. There was the Aeronca, freshly painted orange, waiting for its new owner to take it into the wild blue yonder.

A slightly chunky man appeared in grease-stained coveralls and chewing something. "Are you Roy?"

"Yeah, and this is the plane, right?"

"Yep, let’s take it up," he said. "You fly."

I gave it power and after a little sputter she lifted off, working hard with our 400 pounds on board.

"What did you say the horsepower was on this engine?"

"Sixty-five," he said with a funny expression.

"Sixty-five, I knew that."

After a quick trip around the pattern we landed, I paid him, and took off.

Linda beat my 65-horsepower back to Beaumont but that was okay, I wanted cheap flying time and I got it.

The week went by and I wanted to fly my new little plane but the weather looked iffy. No one was at the airport, and I figured the cloud cover could be 1,000 feet. However, upon reaching 800 feet I was in the clouds. That was scary. I dropped down to 600 and decided this wasn’t a good day to fly.

"Just one touch and go and I’ll call it quits," I told myself. Turning final I saw a guy standing on the runway waving his arms.

What’s he trying to tell me? Not to land? Is the FAA down there, knowing I was flying beyond my competency, and violating the rules? I’ve been caught. I’m screwed.

I looked down to my left, then my right, and, Oh no! No right wheel! Now what?

I have to land. I don't have a choice. I'll make a power-on wheel landing on the grass and hold it off the ground as long as possible. That’s it. Do it. Worst case…it can't be that bad, right?

OK… coming around... there’s a grassy landing spot next to the runway. Here we go…nice an’ easy... power on…but dropping ever so lightly...down...down...focus now...this is! bounce...nice...hold down...left rotate...keep the right wing up...keep it more lift...right wing’s hitting the grass...dragging now. That's it!

The little orange Aeronca slowly turned right on its wingtip, dug into the dirt, and stopped. It wasn’t a crash; it was a controlled landing, made by an inexperienced, dangerous, week-end pilot, but, with a happy ending.

I learned to be more thorough on pre-flight and, by the way, I did go on to get my Instrument Rating.