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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September 22, 2015 Airport Camp-Outs

The Liberty Gazette
September 22, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We’ve collected ideas over the years that would make Liberty’s airport stand out "on the charts" for pilots seeking unique places to fly and things to do, and have shared those ideas with the city. Mike, the artist in the family, made several pictures of what Google Earth(R) images of our airport might look like in years to come if the recommendations were followed. Some of those ideas have begun to take shape, while others are waiting in the wings. One of them is an airport campground; camping is popular both in and out of the aviation community.

Mike: I did a lot of camping as a kid. When I started flying I found airports that allowed camping, such as Kern Valley Airport in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains and Payson Municipal in Arizona’s Zane Grey country under the Mogollon Rim, both of which still have their much loved, much used campgrounds.

Linda: Some smart folks in Arcadia, Florida had a similar idea and have been working to bring it to fruition. To attract more pilots and planes to their little airport, which is about the same size as ours here in Liberty, as a destination in itself rather than just a fuel stop, the Friends of Arcadia Airport have formed a 501(c)(3) corporation and both the city and county have agreed to their plans to develop a three-acre campsite on airport property.

Mike: Grass and weeds are being cleared, places that haven’t been mown in years are receiving a manicure, and the new building permit is making way for a 31’x20’ shade building under which picnic tables will welcome visitors. Trees around the site provide a perfect setting for pitching tents and enjoying the outdoors. The large community fire pit draws guests together for fellowship before retiring to for the evening.

Friends of Arcadia Airport hosted pancake breakfasts and held other fundraising activities. With the help of the local rodeo organization, which has supported them all long, enough money has been raised to get the project started. Each year at rodeo time a big camp-out brings people to the airport, and with shuttle service to the rodeo grounds the entire community benefits. Attendance each of the past three years has increased by 100 percent.

We love a win-win-win. Our thought has always been that campgrounds at the Liberty Airport would be a great draw more for more pilots to not just stop and buy fuel, but come into town and support local businesses. With TVE and Jubilee as attractions, something similar to Arcadia’s success could be accomplished right here in Liberty. The vision is an easy one to see: the city invites guests to land, taxi to a camping spot, and join in the community for a spell. Who knows, with the additional contributions to the local economy we may even see new record auction prices at TVE.

The Friends of Arcadia Airport is willing to share their model plan. With plenty of aviators within reasonable flying distance to support this same idea here, one would have to fumble badly to make it fail. Just ask the people who arrive in the 600 or so airplanes visiting Reklaw in October every year, or those who fly in and camp out at Critters Lodge near Centerville, and you’ll discover this family-friendly activity to be quite popular among aviators.

September 15, 2015 Riding the Thermals

The Liberty Gazette
September 15, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Turning the motor-less plane slowly we searched the rugged desert terrain below, looking for something sometimes difficult to detect by human eye alone. An instrument on the panel helps indicate when we’ve found it – air rising from a sun-baked spot on the ground. We call it a thermal. As we enter this column of air our gradual descent now is transformed to a climb.

Strong thermals are easier to spot as they tend to vacuum up dust, dirt and debris and send it up into the air. During late spring through fall in the southwestern United States these dust devils can extend skyward several hundred feet looking like dust tornadoes. They are signposts for gliders saying, "Here is lift, come and get it." But sometimes they are almost imperceptible and the pilot relies on experience and training to find suitable locations for thermals that will generate enough lift to stay aloft.

On this day nearly twenty years ago I was in the front seat and Jason Stephens, my instructor, rode in the rear seat. Flying professionally, pilots will often seek new challenges in the form of different types of flying to hone their skills and keep fresh perspectives. Soaring in gliders is one way of increasing awareness of energy management and developing a keener sense of meteorology, which we use in our everyday work life. And, it is just plain fun.

We entered a shallow turn, keeping our sailplane as much in the middle of this thermal as possible. We are always on the lookout for other gliders because the lift one discovers may be all there is for miles around and if it is strong, everybody wants some. This day, there were not that many other gliders riding the air waves there in Maricopa, Arizona, but that did not mean we wouldn’t have company. Ours came in the form of a red-tailed hawk that decided not only to share our lift but liked the shady spot it found under our much larger and longer wing. Normally, I find myself dodging birds, not flying formation with them.

A magnificent hawk, with broad round wings and short, wide tail, flying alongside us, not ten feet away. As I banked in for a turn to keep circling in the updraft, the hawk’s wings deflected and changed shape, the feathers around it’s trailing claws fluttering in the air disturbed by our passing through it. The awesome bird stayed almost precisely the same distance from our wing at all times. I wish Go-Pro cameras existed then, but the vivid image is burned into my memory.

After a few minutes of this Jason suggested that we gently turn away from the thermal, warning, "It would be bad karma to hit a hawk." So as carefully as possible I raised the wing away from the magnificent bird and for a moment it followed, then broke in the other direction back toward the lift to resume its post over the wide, open terrain.

No words were uttered as we returned to the airport. The sound of air swirling about the canopy and fuselage afforded us space, insulation from human noise, as we marveled in reverent awe having soared in formation with this mighty bird of prey, as though it had welcomed us as comrades.

I picked my touchdown spot and placed the single tire right on it, making one of my best landings in a glider to date.

September 8, 2015 Tweeting 1903

The Liberty Gazette
September 8, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Imagine if there was social media on December 17, 1903.

Anchor: Breaking news this morning from the Outer Banks, an attempt at flying a machine has been successful. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all exploding with the news. Orville Wright, the man who made this first flight has tweeted, "First flight 20 ft up, 120 ft across ground, 12 secs!" We take you now to the scene where reporter Erin Kelly of WVBT has the story. Erin, this is the hottest topic on social media, first flight in an aeroplane, and it’s been accomplished by two bicycle repairmen from Ohio. Can you fill us in on what’s happening there in the sand dunes near Kitty Hawk?

Erin: Good morning. It’s been an exciting day so far, with the first engine-powered manned flight already in the history books. We’re here at Big Kill Devil Hill, just south of Kitty Hawk.

I’m actually surprised at the small crowd here, because this is big news. Now, they definitely had some problems with this first flight, but I did hear them talking just before we went on the air, they’re going to make some repairs and try again… hold on, I think we can get Orville over here for an interview –

Orville, congratulations on this first powered flight! Tell us about it, how did it feel? Was it great sport?

Orville: The exhilaration of flying is too keen, the pleasure too great, for it to be neglected as a sport. This is something my brother and I have been focused on for several years now, this isn’t just a whim, you know. This is a great feeling. We chose the right place and we have ideal conditions today with this wind – it’s perfect!

Erin: You said that the conditions are ideal today, tell us about that, the wind. Is that what makes the aeroplane stay up in the air?

Orville: The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall. No, in all seriousness, the wind is blowing about 20, 25 miles an hour. Soon as we slipped the rope the flying machine started moving, probably seven or eight miles an hour, then it just lifted from the track at about the fourth rail. We laid these rails here in the sand dunes so we’d have something firm to guide us along the ground.

Erin: Was it what you thought it would be?

Orville: I had a hard time controlling the front rudder. I think it’s balanced too near the center, so the machine turned and I tried to correct for it but it darted for the ground. We have some repairs to make and then Will is going to take the next flight. I think I was up there about 12 seconds, a little longer, actually, but they didn’t start the watch right away. Hey, I’ve got to go – thanks!

Erin: Well, you heard it, straight from the first man to fly an aircraft with engine power. There’s going to be some amazing news in the days to come, and who knows where this discovery may take us?

Anchor: Thanks, Erin. Exciting times. We’ve got a picture up now from Instagram, from a JT Daniels and folks, you can see it right there, this flying ship is above the ground. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and we’ll have more for you as this story develops. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

September 1, 2015 You don't have to be a pilot to find adventure

The Liberty Gazette
September 1, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Flying affords a perspective of the world like nothing else, from understanding gained by learning to fly as well as from each time one defies gravity. This is why our story bank is always full, and the adventures keep coming.

Last week in this space we told you a bit about Air Journey, an outfit that offers exciting excursion packages for pilots. But we’d like to be all-inclusive and let you know about an inspiring new company based in Austin called The Avid Traveler. You don’t have to be a pilot to find adventure.

Linda: The concept is unique and the service will exceed expectations, something I know because I know the company founder.

My dear friend Michael Rose, an aerospace engineer and the kind of guy you would want to claim as part of your own family, has traveled the world and now uses his expertise along with that of his business partner, Collin Nace, to make dream vacations happen.

Michael’s enthusiasm for this new venture comes from the combination of his love for travel, for helping people, and for personal growth. He believes wholeheartedly that the main reason so many people haven’t traveled much is due to: 1) the mistaken idea that a dream trip is probably too expensive, and 2) the greed that infects the travel industry confirming that idea.

He knows that feeling, being afraid he couldn’t afford to visit all the places he wanted to – until he began working at finding ways to make it happen (and without buying the cheapest seats on the worst airlines and sleeping in low budget motels).

He doesn’t want his new business to be mistaken for a travel agency. What sets The Avid Traveler apart: passion, experience, affordability, relationship, and trips that are tailored to each individual client’s interests and goals.

The company promises to turn impossible dreams into savory memories relished for years to come.

Knowing Michael, he finds success because he has such class and style that every customer feels as though they are his sole client. Having worked closely with him for a couple of years, I know he is about more than customer service; his passion fosters his commitment to customers, one that finds its motivation from the heart of The Avid Traveler.

"It’s not about a vacation packaged the same for everyone, we’re here to help people push their boundaries, to get out there and see, taste, live their dream experience. It’s in our name."

Michael’s first travel destination on his own, as an adult, changed his life. "It was in Italy that I realized that the world is more than Austin, more than Texas, more than the U.S., that people are different, and that experiencing other cultures and mindsets and ways of life affects me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Travel grows us. No one is the same when returning from their first big adventure." He encourages people to challenge their own comfort level, to not live an idle life in a world that consistently offers so many excuses to do the opposite.

What’s been holding you back? If you think you can’t get more out of life, start a conversation with Michael and let him show you what’s possible.

Bring your ideas and requirements to The Avid Traveler, whether a limited budget, a timeline, or, "I've got 15 days and I want to see Europe!" Michael’s team will make it happen.

No more excuses – I dare you to dream big – with help from The Avid Traveler.

August 25, 2015 Story Generator

The Liberty Gazette
August 25, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Why we fly – ask any pilot and you’ll hear "freedom", "independence", and "challenge". Flying affords a perspective of the world like nothing else, from understanding gained by learning to fly as well as from each moment we defy gravity. This is why the story bank is always full, and the good adventures keep coming.

Among the quests we haven’t shared in this space before are those organized by Air Journey, a company that has for over 15 years created exciting trips for those who fly themselves.

Offering group voyages to every continent, Air Journey’s calendar is full of choices for every pilot traveler. Coming up in November is their annual Bahamas Treasure Hunt, a popular package they’ve offered for years. They ask the aviator to release the inner pirate for a nine-day pursuit through the Out Islands of the Bahamas, to search for clues and enjoy the sun, sea, and relaxing beaches. Activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and kayaking are included, for well-rounded interests while the airplane is parked. The flying will take pilots and their passengers island hopping a total of 890 nautical miles to Green Turtle Cay, Harbour Island, Eleuthera Islands, Staniel Cay, Crooked Island, and Cat Island.

Mike: Those who register for the event will meet in North Palm Beach, Florida for a safety briefing to cover weather, details of the treasure hunt and how to collect clues.

During the trip the group will have the opportunity to explore secret coves of 17th century Caribbean pirates or visit "quaint 18th century fishing villages first settled during the Revolutionary War by Loyalists who fled to Abaco and the other Islands of The Bahamas." A visit to the historic settlement of New Plymouth offers the experience of a quiet 18th century village by the sea, its museums, sculpture garden, shops, restaurants and gingerbread homes "that remind one of a turn-of-the-century village of the New England coast." And that only covers the first two days. Plenty more choices of activity or leisure are available the entire trip, including feeding swimming pigs and seeing flamingos.

Reading the itinerary, the one sentence that is repeated at the close of each day is: "We’ll meet for a game of cards before dinner." I suspect these nightly card games will hold some clues for the treasure hunt. The trip culminates with a costume party and farewell barbeque dinner – pirate style. Someday, I’d like to take that trip.

Linda: The folks at Air Journey offer several different escorted excursions with this goal in mind: to expand the pilot-aircraft owner’s horizons, providing self-flying group travel experiences to over 100 countries, and even an around-the-world trip. Among their other scheduled journeys over the next year are a Caribbean golf-flying tour in March, and one that is intriguing to me, the Journey to Africa, August through October next year. The Africa trip will depart Quebec City, travel through Europe, then on to Africa. The jaunt includes a safari and 17 countries to visit while traveling 18,655 nautical miles. Guests will, they promise, collect thousands of memories, and to me that means thousands more stories.

If you know someone who flies, do them a favor and suggest a trip with Air Journey, or – what a priceless gift idea. In addition to escorted, pre-planned journeys, the company offers concierge journeys – customized trips they’ll help you create, "Your destinations, your dates, your budget."

If you like this idea but you’re not a pilot, we’ll have a suggestion for you next week.

August 18, 2015 Beyond the Zenith

The Liberty Gazette
August 18, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: If you read this space last week you’ll recall my pondering the irony of the question of the future of aviation considered by our young teenage aviation students, in juxtapose to two high ranking Naval officers publicly debating the same question in 1928. How could either have imagined such a world where that was even a question? One group looking back, one group looking forward, and in the middle came the Golden Age of Aviation.

It was the magazine, The Forum, which gave print to the debate. After British Royal Navy Chief, Captain Alfred Dewar finally saved his pen from further scribbles forecasting that airplanes could never contend with ships and trains, offering an important role in transport; next up was United States Navy Admiral Richard Byrd.

The admirable Admiral Byrd was ready for the dog fight and met Dewar head on, quill to quill, saying, "flying has a future as yet undreamed of".

Byrd knew this: We’re Americans, by golly, and we innovate! But he also acknowledged that flying had to become safer before it could be a serious contender in the transportation ring. By 1910, he observed, "automobile races were a public scandal in the deaths they caused," but by 1928, "the motor car is accepted as a safe conveyance for women and children as well as racing drivers." This "safety" argument against an industry in its infancy was the same faulty logic, he disputed, which condemned the railway and horseless carriage, only to see a nation become dependent on them.

Imagine Tweeting these words in 1839, "The railway cannot succeed because of two San Diego definite shortcomings: first it cannot go uphill, and second, not enough people want to go somewhere in a hurry to make it pay." Byrd would have found them amusing, as he did also find early naysayers of the car in 1897: "The automobile cannot possibly succeed because of two inherent defects: first, its engine will always be so unreliable that the average citizen will not tolerate the delay and inconvenience sure to arise; and second, there will never be sufficient funds to build level roads permitting travel at high speed."

The crux of Byrd’s argument wasn’t with those who focused on physical limitations. The jet engine hadn’t yet been invented, so their ideas were still small. Instead, they would be financial. He patriotically pointed out the difference between our European counterparts where government subsidies are a way of life, and American ingenuity and capitalism. "This very point is a fine feather in the cap of the American businessman. He is of fighting stock that does not tolerate paternalism."

Airplane manufacturers, he proclaimed, wouldn’t keep building products, and airlines wouldn’t keep providing services that weren’t profitable. Nope, no government money would be accepted by proud, hardworking Americans. "The greatest progress – and the development that will mean most to aviation – must come from banking support." Noting progress in this area, Byrd said confidently, "When American business joins hands with American aviation, the future of flying is assured."

Mike: That the American airline companies have indeed taken subsidies in the past is the fault of over-regulation and greedy litigation. Strip away those unnecessary evils and examine the real costs of operating an airplane and we see that Admirable Byrd’s assertions still hold true.

August 11, 2015 Slaves of the Weather

The Liberty Gazette
August 11, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda : Seven young girls sat in a row at the long table in one of the rooms of the historic 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport. Representing three different girls’ scouting groups, and one from OBAP (Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals), the 13-17 year olds had come to spend their Saturday at Future Female Aviators, hosted by the museum. Mike and I had prepared our presentations, an introduction and overview of aviation, and a section on reading aeronautical charts. These girls are amazing! Smart, talented, interesting, attentive, and fun, they were born in an era where the doubt, if there be any, as to the future of commercial aviation, is largely due to the pollution of lawyers, politicians, and the TSA. And drones. But they know nothing of the dark side yet.

How silly it might seem to them if they were to read the debate between British Royal Navy Chief, Captain Alfred Dewar, and United States Navy Admiral Richard Byrd that addressed the question of whether there was any future for aviation, and specifically for commercializing aviation. How could these girls even imagine such a world where that was the question?

When Isaac Leopold Rice founded The Forum in 1885, the magazine that would rank as one of the most popular rags of its 65-year run, competing against Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Magazine, he couldn’t have known that specific debate would be played out in his publication 43 years later. How could he even imagine such a world where that was the question?

Rice’s periodical gave space to social and political commentary, fluctuating over the years as the tides of consumer interest would change, with some leanings toward poetry and short fiction for a time. But this issue, August of 1928, came out the year after Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean in the "Spirit of St. Louis", making this debate a perfect fit for his journal.

The Brit, Captain Dewar, presented that the airplane could never deliver reliable, efficient transport and would always be, at it’s very best, "an auxiliary to sea transport." Consumers, he thought, wouldn’t go for the high price of air travel. He’d be blown away by consumers’ reactions to today’s electronic devices. But then again, he totally nailed the Apple crowd: "Every new instrument of man’s invention attracts around it a ring of ardent passionate enthusiasts who paint its future in roseate optimistic hues."

Dewar perceived the economic limitations equal to the limits of natural law, e.g., gravity. That planes must be able to lift their weight plus their load he said was a staggering handicap because ships and trains only had to rely on their engines for propulsion, whereas airplanes were "slaves of the weather" that would have some place in our lives, but not an important place. So the pioneering flights such as Lindbergh’s were, to Dewar, "merely a token of the stern limitations which beset them."

"There is no large and growing future for commercial aviation," he insisted, "because the future will never be much more than the present."

But consider this: Dewar’s own visionary limitations were his real issue. His own myopic handicap limited him to consider only 1,155 horsepower, capable of traveling two hundred miles with fourteen passengers and seven hundred pounds of freight: approximately three pounds of paying load to the horsepower. No wonder he believed air travel was inferior and would never be more than an emergency or supplementary means of movement. His opponents he labeled partisans and the airplane, he said, was well within sight of its zenith; it would carry mail and "those few passengers whom necessity impels to save time at the expense of comfort." Well, he got that last part right at least, when it comes to airlines.

And then there’s Admiral Byrd’s rebuttal. We’ll have that for you next week, but here’s a tease: "When American business joins hands with American aviation, the future of flying is assured." Til then, blue skies.