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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Oct 20, 2015 Sometimes Wrong is Right

The Liberty Gazette
Oct 20, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Johnny Keown dons his cowboy hat enjoying the gorgeous fall weather as he shares stories about his airline days. We are sitting around a table under the hangar awning at Critters Lodge, a private grass strip in Centerville, Texas, as he chats about another of our friends, A. J. High, who passed away a couple of years ago. They both flew for Texas International Airlines before it became part of Continental Airlines.

One day, Johnny was co-piloting for A.J. on a Convair 600 turbo prop, which is what the airline was flying then, a few decades ago. This airplane is powered by two Rolls-Royce Dart engines, with two big four-bladed props. On this particular trip, en route from Mexico to the United States, as they flew north past Tampico a red light on their instrument panel illuminated. The light’s job was to relay an important message: an impending gearbox failure on one of the engines.

Impending failure. Let that settle in as you imagine the immediate attention and focus required of the flight crew, Johnny and A.J., as they prepared their minds, organized their thoughts, read through emergency checklists, and used their training and years of experience so that the loss of one of the two engines would be handled safely and professionally, without incident.

As the pair were trouble-shooting and discussing shutting down the bad engine, the flight attendant entered the flight deck, informing them that a passenger was having a heart attack.

Johnny and A.J. knew that if they stopped the engine then, their speed to the closest airport – Harlingen – would be greatly reduced and the passenger might not survive all the way to landing. However, if they did not shut down the engine it could, and likely would, fail during flight. The weather and visibility at Harlingen weren’t the best, which would make having the power of both engines that much more important.

Standard procedure dictates shutting down the inoperative engine and relying on the remaining engine for the remainder of the flight. But is standard procedure the best choice in every circumstance? In this circumstance?

Linda: A.J. pressed the radio mic, reported the medical emergency to the Harlingen control tower, and requested an ambulance. Then, he made the difficult decision to keep the faulty engine running. The two pilots hoped both engines would stay healthy and allow them to reach their unplanned diversion swiftly.

The seconds ticked by. The light still illuminated impending failure. But both engines were still running.

Crossing the border they were cleared for the approach and landed at Harlingen, with full operation of both engines.

An ambulance crew picked up the passenger and whisked him off to the hospital. The other passengers deplaned and were put up in a local hotel as repairs were made to the aircraft. The flight attendant took advantage of the maintenance downtime and dashed off to the hospital to check on the sick passenger, whose only hope may have been that choice that was made that went against standard procedure.

"Passengers judge flights and pilots by the landing, not what goes on behind closed cockpit doors. It was a tough decision to make at the time and looking back on it, sometimes what seems to be the wrong thing to do is the right decision," says Johnny. "We did the right thing."

Oct 13, 2015 More FAQs

The Liberty Gazette
Oct 13, 2015

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

This week we’ll continue with answering a few more frequently asked questions about flying. 

Question: How do you know when you can land at a non-towered (uncontrolled) airport? ​

Answer: No permission required, but for safety and common courtesy we let other pilots know where we are. 

We’ll use our Liberty airport as the example again. Think of a rectangle, with the runway being one of the long sides. That’s the "upwind" side of the rectangle. If we take off and want to stay in the airport traffic pattern, we will turn left to fly the "crosswind" leg about half a mile, then left again to the "downwind" leg, being parallel to the runway, then when we look out at the left wing and see we’re at a 45-degree angle to the end of the runway we’ll turn left again onto the "base" leg for a short distance until we make our last turn to "final", and land. 

During this time we would announce on the airport’s designated radio frequency, our airplane’s N-number and our location and intentions, like this: "Liberty traffic, Grumman 26958, Left Downwind, One-Six. Liberty." One-Six means we’ll be landing in the direction of 160 degrees. Anyone tuned in to the frequency would know where to look for us. We’d be at the expected traffic pattern altitude of 1,000 feet above the ground, flying northbound, about half a mile to the east of the runway. 

Question: Do pilots have to go through regular testing? 

Answer: Yes. Pilots must have a flight review with a certificated flight instructor every two years, or every year if they have a low experience level. 

They also must have regular medical examinations and maintain health standards set forth by the FAA. Airline and commercial charter pilots must train and take a check ride every six months. Pilots flying jets for corporations must train and pass a check every year in at least one of the jets they fly and every two years in all the jets they fly in order to keep flying them. Flight instructors must get re-qualified every two years in order to maintain their instructor qualifications. 

Question: How fast can you go? 

Answer: The speeds of planes range from the very slow, some not even as fast as a car, to military aircraft that fly supersonic. 

The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane flew from Los Angeles to New York in 68 minutes and 17 seconds, slowing down at least once to air-refuel. In 1976 the Blackbird flew at 2,193.2 mph over Edwards Air Force Base, more than three times the speed of sound. Our four-seat, single-engine, piston-powered Grumman Cheetah flies at about 140 mph when we’re not racing, just cruising. Airliners see speeds of 500-560 mph. 

Question: How high can you fly? 

Answer: Like speeds, altitude capabilities vary. Small, single-engine planes generally are able to climb to 12,000 to 16,000 feet. Some go higher because they have turbochargers on their engines. 

There are also turboprops, sometimes referred to as jet props and they can climb 25,000 feet to 35,000 feet. Some airliners can climb to 41,000 feet and some corporate jets fly as high as 51,000 feet. The U-2 Dragon Lady and SR-71 have altitudes that are classified but are believed to be above 100,000 feet. The SR-71 normally operated around 80,000 feet and the crew members donned spacesuits, as do U-2 pilots. 

If you have a question, feel free to email us at

Oct 6, 2015 Ask Away

The Liberty Gazette
Oct 6, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

We thought we’d share our answers to questions we’re often asked about flying, so for the next couple of weeks we’ll pick a few of the most common ones. If you have a question, feel free to email us at

Question 1: Do you need permission to land? This question is usually accompanied by do you have to pay to land?

In the United States an aircraft can legally land anywhere it needs to in the event of an emergency, but there are some rules about non-emergency landing. Of the approximately 30,000 designated landing facilities in this country, only about 5,000 are publicly owned. Many privately owned airports are provided by their owners for public use. For most aircraft, most public use airports are fair game for landing. Reagan National in Washington D.C. requires extra-special permission, and only since 9/11. Military airstrips are, for the most part, off limits to civilian pilots. At other larger airports with control towers such as Bush Intercontinental, Hobby, Ellington and Conroe’s Lone Star Executive, a pilot must radio the tower and receive a clearance to land from the controller. Unless there is a really good reason not to, such as a power outage at the tower (think Chicago last year), a stranded aircraft on the runway, or some other hazard, landing is not going to be denied. If the runway is private-use only, the pilot needs permission from the property owner, just as would be needed before entering your own private property.

The above is only part of the answer however. Non-towered airports such as ours here in Liberty are called "uncontrolled". Technically, landing here does not require even a radio announcement on the local airport frequency. However, it is customary, safe, and best practice to use the radio to announce position and intentions when near an uncontrolled airport.

Fees for landing vary from one airport to another. Large airports and airports in more liberal cities and states tend to be heavier on government-imposed fees. No surprise there. The more business-friendly conservative areas tend to have fewer or no fees attached to landings, however, we do pay excise taxes on fuel. Those tax dollars received are required to be kept separate and used only for airports. Overnight fees are sometimes charged at the biggest airports if an airplane remains more than a few days or a week. For smaller venues though, there is no reason to charge fees, as this would have a negative effect on the business brought in by the utility of an airport. That business just goes elsewhere.

Question 2: What’s that big witch’s hat thing on top of the parking garage at Hobby Airport?

The mysterious and colossal white cone-shaped object that looks like a witch’s hat is a navigation beacon called a Very high frequency – Omni-directional – Radio beacon, or in pilot lingo – VOR. Sometimes co-located with a VOR is a military beacon called a TACAN. Then the acronyms are combined, making VORTAC. You may have noticed the one atop the parking garage at Hobby, but there is another in a field just north of Daisetta. These beacons pepper the landscape and were the primary means of navigation before GPS. They are still a vital part of the national airspace system, providing a backup in the event GPS signals are blocked or turned off.

We’ll have a few more for you next week. Till then, blue skies.

September 28, 2015 Look Better, Live Longer - Buy Our Products

The Liberty Gazette
September 29, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: In the days of the old Wild West, when only birds, bats, insects, and tempers flew, advertising was accomplished by means of handbills, posters, and dramatic presentations. When shady ad agents learned how easy the money came, honesty and trust were not their motivators, as the nation’s spending on advertising went from $3.5 million during the Civil War era to $75 million by the turn of the century.

But because all dark motives come to light, the trust that was lacking in those early days finally came out clean when the agency for Pear’s soap began creating ads that sold trust, more so than soap. The popular Reverend Henry Ward Beecher spoke on the virtues of Pear’s, and sales really bubbled. A few decades later Woodbury’s soap jumped in with a new idea: imply that customers would be sexier and live better lives when bathing with their product.

Printing, though, gave advertising a big boost; print was a life-changer. Before printing, people would buy from local shopkeepers who lived in their communities. With printing came opportunities to advertise and sell longer distances. With these opportunities came the problems of inventory, shipping, and other challenges, not the least of which was literacy.

By the early 20th century General Mills made a desperate attempt to save one of its products from extinction when, on Christmas Eve, 1926, on a radio station in Minneapolis, the first ad with song was aired. Sales of their cereal, Wheaties, skyrocketed, and so did the use of jingles.

The history of advertising has some notables, such as the nephew of Dr. Sigmund Freud, and "the father of spin", Ed Bernays, who convinced women to light their "torches of freedom" (and later claimed he did not know that smoking was dangerous); and Michael Levine, among whose 1,500-plus jingles was the longest-running ever - for Kit-Kat candy. He wrote that one while going up in an elevator just two floors.

When Werner Von Bron and Walt Disney teamed up to promote space exploration, consumer goods found new life by associating with NASA and soon we all drank to be like astronauts and ate Trix cereal promoted by an astro-bunny.

Mike: By the time aviation was ready for advertising, the trend was on focusing on consumer experience rather than the product itself. Airlines began promoting comfort, exotic destinations and speed. In the 1930s Braniff International Airlines advertised its Lockheed Vegas in New York as "The fastest way to the Gulf Coast, only one day." Braniff stayed with this theme as they were the only U.S. carrier to offer trips on the Concorde, albeit for a short time. Airlines advertised heavily on TV with all those sweeping shots of winged steel tubes cruising effortlessly into sunsets. Those advertisements were filmed from a specially outfitted Learjet.

When I was a kid, my cousin would drive me to Santa Ana airport to look at the airplanes on "the lot" where I would dream of one day walking up and buying one. They even had some in a showroom. Brochures for Piper Aircraft showed smiling people waiving at friends as they landed at airports in the Bahamas. 

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s current campaign, "You Can Fly" has sponsored television shows and documentaries. One of the most successful General Aviation airplane ad campaigns has been that of Cirrus Aircraft, whose message to nervous middle-aged non-pilot wives builds trust in safety via their ballistic parachute. The plane with a chute, "just in case," has certainly done more for sales than convincing buyers they'll look good in a Cirrus.