The Liberty Gazette
February 10, 2015Ely 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.