formerly "The View From Up Here"

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

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August 4, 2015 A dirigible, by any other name

Liberty Gazette
August 4, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike:  We were flying circuits around the traffic pattern on the north side of Long Beach Daugherty Field. My student, Paul, was learning to land his wife’s Piper Cherokee from the right seat; he wasn’t a licensed pilot, but wanted to know how, just in case he might have to land it someday. Suddenly the controller in the tower called out traffic to us, telling us to watch out for two Goodyear blimps. I’d been treated to sightings of a Goodyear blimp in both day and nighttime views, and have childhood memories of it’s moving lights displaying advertisements overhead in the night sky, when I’d listen to whirring, humming engines, such a distinct sound that I knew what it was before I stepped outside and looked up. But now, blimp formation flying, that wasn’t something I’d seen before. This was something special for the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Three Goodyear blimps share the appearance duties throughout North America; one based in Florida, one in California and one at the company’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio – that’s the one that used to be kept in Spring, Texas – covering sporting events and serving as a billboard adrift.

The ground crew doesn’t have much difficulty keeping up with its 50 mph progress. One blimp pilot who was flying cross-county happened upon a Little League game in a small town 1,000 feet below. The pilot stopped the engines right overhead and shouted down at the players asking them the score.

Linda: In my hometown, the rumble of the blimp’s Lycoming engines signaled the coming of auto racing, all month long, at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I, too, knew even before spying it in the sky that it had come to be part of the tradition and heartbeat of Indy in May. Upon moving to this part of the country I felt a little bit of the familiar had been waiting here to greet me when I first saw that blimp tethered at its base along I-45.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has been sailing blimps since 1928, and from the beginning, until 1987 each one has been named after America’s Cup champion yachts. Since then, the company has polled the public for names on new models, the latest of which has been dubbed Wingfoot One. With a top speed of 70 mph it’s a real hot rod.

Mike: During the launch ground crew members wrestle with the ship, pulling it from its mooring mast and turning it into the wind. Then they hoist the pudgy thing shoulder high and slam it back onto the ground. The single over-sized and over-inflated tire works like one of those bouncy balls we hopped along on as kids, springing it back into the air. The pilot pours the coals to its engines and pitches the nose up so high you think it will slide back onto its tail, but gravity is overcome, although ascent seems painfully slow.

Blimps belong to a category of aircraft called Airships, characterized by lighter-than-air gas that keeps them aloft. Some airships have a ridged frame, as did the Hindenburg. Those are called dirigibles. The old blimps of our growing years did not have a framework in them, but the new ones have semi-ridged frames, so technically they are not really blimps. However, it appears Goodyear still wants to call it a blimp, and that’s understandable. Saying "Goodyear Dirigible" sounds like a tire going over small, rattling speed bumps.

July 28, 2015 Who's Minding the Store?

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

Linda: You may remember news reports a few months ago when Houston businessman Edd Hendee made a successful emergency landing in the grass alongside U.S. 59 near Diboll, after taking off from the Angelina County Airport. He had to land suddenly because both engines of his piston twin engine Cessna 421B had quit. Cause of engine failure: jet fuel instead of AvGas, or 100 Low Lead, was pumped into his tanks. Piston engines don’t run on jet fuel.

While Edd had injury to his vertebrae, from the reports it sounds as though he is going to be fine. This brings up a whole host of topics very important to the City of Liberty, owner of airport property and fuel tanks, and seller of fuel here. Two critical items are sumping the fuel tanks daily to test and rid them of contaminants and water (danger), and prohibiting the sale of AvGas for other than aircraft (hefty federal fines).

Mike: Fuel quality is a serious concern for aviators. Hydrocarbon fuels deteriorate over time, but to get the most life out of them frequent tank and fuel inspections are necessary. Fuel tanks are vented and with expansion and contraction air moves in and out of the tank. During our humid days vapors enter the tank, condensing in the evening and settling into the fuel. Since water is heavier than the fuel, it pools at the bottom of the tank.

Whether in a large airport tank or smaller airplane tank, the physics are the same. Pre-flight inspections include sampling fuel from the aircraft. Low points in airplane fuel tanks, called sumps, collect the water which we remove through drains. If not drained regularly water and sludge build up, get into the engine, and eventually cause it to seize. Likewise, if airport fuel tanks are not drained regularly – recommended daily – the same outcome can be expected, and then the seller of that fuel is flirting with disastrous liability for negligence by selling contaminated fuel, which can cause a life threatening situation.

Microbes live in just about all fuels; they love jet fuel. These bugs are attracted to the water at the bottom of the tank where they reproduce incredibly fast. Unchecked, they can quickly damage the filtration system, plug filters, and eat the walls of the tank – even steel airport storage tanks. Fuel additives for airplanes combat microbial growth but those responsible for fuel sold at an airport must practice proper handling of the fuel at delivery, drain and test storage tanks daily to insure tainted fuel does not enter aircraft fuel tanks. Testing begins after water and contaminants settle, and no aircraft should be fueled until testing is done. This is something a professional airport manager knows, and something Jose Doblado performed daily at the Liberty Municipal Airport.

Linda: There are also federal regulations regarding the sale, purchase, and use of AvGas in vehicles other than aircraft. Both the EPA and taxing authorities care who buys AvGas, and where that fuel goes, putting some responsibility on the seller. The EPA is interested because AvGas contains lead; and if purchased in place of auto gas then the highway department is out that tax money.

Penalties for selling, purchasing, or using AvGas in other than an aircraft engine can be as much as $25,000 for every day of violation, plus the amount of economic benefit or savings resulting from the violation. Failing to furnish information or conduct required tests can bring penalties on the same scale.

We hope that even without Jose looking out for our airport’s best interest, that the city has assigned the daily fuel sumping and testing task to someone, and that AvGas isn’t being sold illegally.

July 21, 2015 BD

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

Mike: It’s that time of year again: AirVenture, the world’s largest fly-in, and the world’s largest convention of any kind. Thousands of aircraft are descending on the small city of Oshkosh this week, making the air traffic control tower in the little central Wisconsin town the busiest control tower in the world – for one week.

We didn’t have time to make the trip this year, but there will be other planes similar to ours, the Grumman Cheetah, and its kin. There will be small home-built airplanes and helicopters, timeless warbirds, the Flying Hospital and military and airline planes, and balloons and ultralights, and fast planes and slow planes. There will be the ones that race the AirVenture Cup in excess of 325 mph, and the Piper Cubs with no doors and no radios yet just as at home in the sky as any airplane ever conceived; as at home in the blue yonder as the clouds that dot the canvas.

Every year at AirVenture the Bede Aircraft Company has planes on display, and plans for sale so you can build your own. The little jet that looks like a toy is their most famous model, the BD-5J, one of the stars of a James Bond movie.

Remember a 007 film where a little jet landing on a road takes the next exit and coasts to a gas station?

Corkey Fornof, noted Hollywood action pilot, built and flew the BD-5J in that movie. We met Corkey several years ago, and heard the rest of the story of that 007 scene. Unreal as it seems, the events that took place in the Bond film were written into the script when Corkey shared his own real life adventures with the producers.

Like the lead character, Fornof had faced an emergency landing, the only safe place to land being a highway right below him. He touched down on the road, veered off an exit ramp and coasted right up to a gas station pump.

Linda: Fornof has been a spokesperson for Bede Aircraft and for LoPresti, a company that makes speed modifications, some of which are installed on The Elyiminator. When I ran into Corkey again at AirVenture a couple of years ago I thanked him for painting “Yippee!” across the bottom of his bright yellow Lo Presti Fury, because it had inspired me to convince Mike to paint “STUCK IN TRAFFIC?” across the bottom of our plane, and for that, Corkey kissed my hand.

But there’s much to say about the engineer who designed the celebrity jet. Jim Bede’s designs became the popular airplanes of the Grumman and American Aircraft companies, starting with the Yankee, his original BD-1. They were fast, affordable planes that any private pilot could fly. A few generations of Grumman models later, the Cheetah took over the spotlight. And although Jim Bede wasn’t directly involved in creating the Cheetah, it bears the genealogy of its ancestor, the BD-1.

It’s that time of year again, AirVenture, the world’s largest fly-in, and the world’s largest convention of any kind. But this time Jim Bede isn’t be there. Jim passed away last week. He was 82.

As thousands of aircraft are descending on the small city of Oshkosh this week, Corkey’s famous little jet is up for sale. I think the new buyers should celebrate by landing on a highway (closed to traffic, of course), rolling down an exit ramp, and coasting to a gas station, just for the thrill of it, with a nod to Jim and Corkey.

July 14, 2015 The Key to a Good Landing

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

Mike: I called up Key Tower for landing clearance. After three hours of flying from Greenwood, South Carolina this airport in Meridian, Mississippi would be a good fuel stop. The FBO’s air conditioning is a welcoming relief from the sweltering heat. We guzzled some complimentary bottled water and re-energized with complimentary fresh fruit before continuing our journey home. Key Field lives up to its reputation.

In 1935, as the Great Depression continued, Meridian Municipal Airport faced possible extinction at the hands of city officials who did not recognize its value. But brothers Al and Fred Key relocated their flying business there and began a publicity campaign to bring wide-spread recognition to the community and its airport.

On June 4, 1935 the brothers took off in a Curtiss Robin monoplane named Ole Miss. The plane was modified for long duration flight; 27 days later Ole Miss’ wheels once again touched the pavement at Meridian Municipal. To break an endurance flight record they didn't have to fly very far, they just had to stay aloft, which they did, officially, for 653 hours and 34 minutes, consuming 6,000 gallons of fuel. How, in 1935, they succeeded without sophisticated technology is a testament to ingenuity and the daring aerial feats performed during their flight.

Al would climb the airplane really high, then shut down the engine completely, keeping the nose pitched up to slow the airplane enough to stop the propeller.

With the prop stopped he would gently point the nose back down - just a little bit - in order to let the airplane become a glider. As a glider, air was still moving over the wings, creating lift, so Al could still control it.

Via a catwalk on each side, Fred would then climb out of the cockpit, and up to the engine to change spark plugs and add oil and then refuel. Upon Fred's return to his seat Al would dive the airplane to get enough wind to flow through the propeller to cause it to turn again, reintroduce fuel, and start up the engine, resuming powered flight.

Back then a wing walker would hand five gallon gas cans from one plane to a wing walker on another, which was dangerous enough, but using funnels also made gasoline spill into the airstream. The invention of a flexible probe that automatically shut-off gas flow if it was pulled out of the gas tank made fuel transfers a little easier.

The Flying Keys’ stunt worked. It not only saved the airport but brought about increased public confidence in air travel. Shortly after their flight Meridian Municipal was renamed Key Field in their honor, and Ole Miss was put on permanent display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

In 1949 four intrepid souls flew an airplane they named "The City of Yuma" for 47 days without landing - and for the same reason: to save that city’s airport business. Later in 1959 a pilot remained aloft over Las Vegas for almost 65 days.

Key Field today is the major employer in Meridian. Piper Cubs, military training jets and Lockheed C-130 regularly use the 10,000 and 5,000 foot long runways. There is a wonderful FBO with really nice people who go out of their way to make pilots feel welcome. And they have pretty cheap fuel.

July 7, 2015 Must be Paris

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

Mike: Almost midnight, the clouds glow, illuminated by city lights hidden beneath them. The radio crackles as the air traffic controller issues instructions. His English is clear, though his accent attests that it is not his primary language. Turn right to this heading, then left to another, then right again. We are told to descend into the clouds and soon they envelope us.

Popping out underneath the overcast I behold the city for the first time. Straight ahead, brilliant lights strobe off the Eiffel Tower. The flashing billboard welcomes me to Paris even as I am still airborne.

On final approach I wonder whether Charles Lindberg, as tired as he was at the end of his trans-Atlantic flight, had a chance to tour the city as we are. The controller has us maneuver around the big international airline airport, Charles de Gaulle, and then clears us to land at historic Le Bourget Airport, the same airport at which Lindberg landed. This time however, there are not 300,000 Parisians in riotous celebration of our arrival. The only person meeting our aircraft as we park is our handling agent.

That was ten year ago. I’ve been to Paris a few times since and seen much of the city. I have even called Linda from the top of the Eiffel Tower. My last trip there was to teach at my company’s Paris location right at Le Bourget. Still on my to-do list: attend the Paris Air Show.

Established in 1909, the week-long Paris Air Show is the longest running air show in the world. It is held every other year with an attendance of over 350,000. Billion dollar deals are made at the airshow between aircraft manufactures, airlines, and military from around the world. Most airshows have performers flying aerial demonstration routines but few offer the variety this one does.

This year the airshow lineup included a flight demonstration in the Airbus 380 that showed what the airliner could do in capable hands. The giant airplane launched on takeoff into a near vertical climb, and then maneuvered presenting its graceful lines and agility. At a previous airshow the Boeing Company had shown off their equally new 787 Dreamliner, a demonstration that left Airbus officials red-faced. This was their year to flaunt their stuff. Of course, no passengers were on board any of these flights, only test pilots.

Eccentric flight routines were part of the predecessor to the Paris Air Show when Wilbur and Orville demonstrated their Wright Flyer to an astonished crowd of Frenchmen. They flew around a stadium making controlled turns for 11 minutes. Previous flights were straight line courses that lasted little more than 30 seconds. Spectators had expected to see the French pilots take top honors but instead stood cheering each time the Wright Flyer performed, its last flight there lasting nearly an hour.

Unconventional routines lived on when Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston brought airliners to the aerial stage, setting the standard in 1955. He performed a barrel roll with a Boeing 707 in front of a crowd of airline executives in Washington. The president of Boeing was stunned and fired Tex on the spot, but when purchase orders came in as a result of the demonstration he asked Tex to return. Though he never rolled the 707 again, the crowds at the Paris Air Show would have loved it.