The Liberty Gazette
May 19, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Stealth as she tried to be, she couldn’t escape my keen eye. We’d tucked our Grumman Cheetah in for the evening, the sun was casting long shadows, but the would-be ninja probably didn’t care. She had somewhere to be and I am certain she thought nothing would stop her. Never mind that the little reptile’s sojourn was taking her between two sets of hangar bays that housed powerful man-made ships that could turn her into turtle soup. Vietnam-era intimidators A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantom, T-33, Huey helicopter, F-100 Super Saber, and the WWII German fighter ME-262 hiding behind metal doors didn’t faze her. If anyone approached she’d just stop taxiing, retract her gear, and rely on her armor. But we saw the bigger danger picture and felt responsible for saving her from ending up a single-use speed bump. So Mike picked her up and carried her away to safety, to the grass beyond the fence where she could lay her eggs, and raise her young.
Turtles don’t usually have crossing guards to help them during mating season, but when they navigate airport property they tend to get attention, how much more so when they traverse an active runway – New York’s Kennedy Airport for instance. And while we shell-less bipods are often irritated by airline delays, whether from mechanical problems, pilot shortage, weather, or the TSA, the diamondback terrapins of Jamaica Bay draw passenger sympathy and seem to encourage that cooperative spirit in us as they parade across Runway 4 Left at JFK Airport, the hallway between their living room and bedroom.
Mike: Critters on a runway make a pilot take notice. During my days at Fort Lauderdale International I recall at least one instance when airliners were waived off from landing as an eight-foot alligator crossed the runway. And then there were the little red crabs – thousands of them. Like the terrapins they creep ashore to lay eggs, effecting a coup like those by the caterpillars we experienced here in South Liberty County a couple of months ago.
When crabs clamber onto a runway it looks as though the whole surface is moving. My first encounter with one of these crustaceans wasn’t in a runway incursion; it came during my walk-around pre-flight inspection of a Learjet, which suddenly disturbed the substantial, meaty, clawed creature in the grass behind the plane. It stood up tall on all eight legs and spread its pinchers wide and open. Our meeting wouldn’t have been so startling if I hadn’t been kneeling under the fuselage looking into a hatch in the airplane with my head only a couple feet from ol’ Snappy, who apparently had some anxiety about my presence. We respectfully gave each other generous personal space.
Years earlier, upon landing at Long Beach, California, reflection from our landing lights revealed a sea of pink eyes looking back at us. Turns out, the inhabitants of the grassy areas of the airport include a large population of rabbits that are "controlled" by a family of kit foxes. Thankfully, unlike deer, the rabbits scattered and we were able to land without cooking some rabbit’s goose.