The Liberty Gazette
July 7, 2015Ely 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.