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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February 23, 2016 Lecture 473

The Liberty Gazette
February 23, 2016
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The buzz and clattering sound outside were unmistakable. Distant at first, moving ever closer. Billy knew that sound and rushed outside his Friendswood home. Overhead, a yellow Piper J-3 Cub circled, the head of its pilot visible as he looked down on his pal, hollering, “Let’s go!”

Billy Faught raced out to the airport and met the plane piloted by his good friend, Chuck Emmett and the two flew on to Galveston to the Emmett family’s second home, on the bay. Chuck would deftly land the Cub on the sandy road behind the beach house and the boys would hop into a speed boat and spend the day water skiing.

Those were simpler times, Billy says today. “My dad got the flying bug and learned to fly at Genoa Airport. Most times I came with him. For me, there was no Little League; I grew up up at the airport.”

Genoa Airport? Yes, indeed. There was a Genoa Airport in Houston, and it was owned and managed by Charles Emmett, Chuck’s father. He and those who frequented the airport were like Benny Rusk, Earl Atkins, and others here in the beginning days of the Liberty Municipal Airport.

Chuck made the local TV news when he soloed four or five airplanes on one day - his 16th birthday - before getting his driver’s license. He and Billy had the run of Genoa “International” Airport, as they called it.

“But, it was expected that we would help out, too,” Billy recalls. “We were treated not quite like adults, but less like kids. We could do a lot of things, like ride a motorcycle, or the Ford tractor, or drive the boat, as long as we handled them well, the way Charles would himself.”

The Cessna 190 that smelled of leather, oil, and cigar belonged to Charles, the strong fatherly type usually seen in khaki pants and button down shirts with the top two buttons undone, hair combed and a Roi Tan cigar clamped between his teeth. He’d lecture the boys when he wanted something done. Lecture 473 meant cut the grass. One day, Charles wanted the boys to lift a low, sunken rail separating the parking lot from the rest of the airport. Billy and Chuck worked hard with a floor jack to lift it and then shore it up with bricks.

“After that,” Billy remembers, “when Charles started in on another lecture we just sighed, ‘Here we go, raising the rail again’.”

At night along the banks of the pond out back the boys went frog hunting with an old lantern. “We’d see a possum sitting on a log, and then we’d spot Charlie the alligator. Charlie would sneak up to the bank and with a flick of his tail, knock the possum into the pond - and then he’d have him.”

Stearmans, Beech Staggerwings, and Cessnas frequented Genoa “International”, and all of it made for a good growing up. But to Billy, the most magical time was Christmas Eve, when people flew in to visit family members, filling the atmosphere with happiness.

Chuck and his dad, and the airport are now gone. Mrs. Emmett tried to keep it alive but when a hurricane caused a lot of damage she finally sold it, and the fabulous growing up place became a sand pit, and later a landfill.

Billy would rather have seen it become a housing addition than a dump, and can’t drive by without shedding a tear when he sees those old rusting hangars, but his memories as the airport kid help keep Genoa International alive.

February 16, 2016 The Flying Queens

The Liberty Gazette
February 16, 2016
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: I heard about another gal named Linda who grew up in Oklahoma in a one-room house without electricity or plumbing. The house had a pot-bellied wood stove and the family had only one bed. Girls weren’t generally encouraged in sports back then. One woman recalls being told that if she ran too fast her uterus would fall out.

Determined to rise above the conditions into which she was born, Linda held fast to something she heard about when she was only six or seven: that there was a way to go to college and play basketball. There was this team in Texas, and they didn’t ever lose. Maybe someday she could play for them – the greatest basketball team ever.

Mike: At first they were called the Lassies, and when the local Harvest Queen Mill became their sponsor the team became the Harvest Queens. But when the mill’s sponsorship term ended Wayland Baptist College in Plainview needed support so they turned to a community leader and graduate of Wayland, Claude Hutcherson, owner of Hutcherson Air Service.

Claude had helped the team by providing transportation to far-away games, but his support would increase dramatically and for the next few decades the Hutcherson Flying Queens would earn a 712-106 record, including an astounding collegiate record of 131 consecutive victories, 10 AAU national championships and 10 second-place finishes.

Hutcherson got his start selling and servicing airplanes in Plainview, founding Hutcherson Air Service in 1948. This successful local businessman made a lasting and unique impression in women’s basketball history, but more importantly, he helped many young ladies reach goals.

Not only did he purchase uniforms and spiffy travel outfits, but he furnished four Beechcraft Bonanza airplanes to transport the team and coaches to games, piloting one of the planes himself.

Truly caring about the team he was adamant about safety. By one report, when he refused to fly in bad weather it caused him to miss his daughter's wedding when the team became stranded in Kansas City, Missouri.

Today, Hutcherson Center is the physical education center on the Wayland campus, home of both men’s and women’s basketball teams, and athletic department offices.

Many women have said they could not have gone to college had it not been for Claude. He not only helped provide for college, and basketball, uniforms and transportation, but even a winter coat if needed. He spent millions to help them, and in an interview said he’d do it all over again.

Linda: Claude’s widow published a book about the interesting life of her late husband so that their grandchildren and great grandchildren would know who he was. It may be hard to get your hands on a copy of "Reaching Goals: The life of Claude Hutcherson" because copies were printed mainly for the family, but there is also a documentary in the works. It’s called "The Flying Queens: A Basketball Dynasty" (

After graduation from Wayland, Linda the basketball star gave her time to special needs children and advocated for improvements in mental health. She became the Administrator of the Harris County Psychiatric Center, and eventually held executive positions within MHMRA and the University of Health Science Center-Houston. The girl who grew up in a one room house without plumbing or electricity became one of Houston City Magazine’s "Most Powerful Women in Houston". While some of the credit goes to determination and great coaching, in this story aviation played an important part.

February 9, 2016 The place that wasn't there

The Liberty Gazette
February 9, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Scanning the dimly lit instrument panel as we cruise along in the wee hours of the morning, the radio is mostly silent and all that can be heard is the hissing and rumbling of air moving past our airplane traveling at eighty percent of the speed of sound. The lights of Las Vegas have recently drifted by the starboard side of the aircraft and we’ve been at 35,000’ for over half an hour on our regular Phoenix-Reno route. In the goopy black cloaked landscape below, small clusters of lights are sparsely scattered about. There’s one set of lights here, off to our right side, which I happen to know fascinates a peculiar group of people.

My co-pilot is busy filling out the aircraft maintenance log so I turn behind him and address our jump-seater.

"You see the lights out there?"


"No you don’t. They doesn’t exist."

On the aeronautical charts (maps) for this area is depicted a dry lake, about 76 miles north of Las Vegas in the middle of restricted airspace; it’s Groom Lake, also known as Area 51 - "where they store dead aliens," according to some.

These days when I’m conducting a training scenario that requires a long runway I ask pilots the trivia question: where is the longest paved runway in North America? They usually answer with Cape Kennedy or Edwards Air Force Base. True, Edwards has a very long dry lakebed runway covering almost six and a half miles, but it’s not paved. Denver International’s 16,000’ Runway 34L is the longest at a commercial airport.

The concrete at Groom Lake, however, stretches continuously over 29,000 feet. It isn’t really a single runway, but four of them laid end-to-end. Supposedly, when one portion was opened others were closed. Satellite imagery shows the long runway is marked with X’s its entire length, meaning it is no longer in use. They’ve built yet another 11,000’ runway next to it.

I don’t know what spooky things happen there, but they say that while one test program is being conducted the people involved in others must remain underground or indoors with the shades drawn.

Legend has it that one day a Cessna pilot got lost while flying over the desert and wandered over the top-secret base, not depicted on his chart. Low on fuel and seeing this long runway, he took a chance and landed. Upon landing his plane was surrounded by high security types. With M-16s pointed at him, they hauled him away for interrogation that lasted three days. Finally deciding he was telling the truth about being lost, they fueled his plane, pointed him in the direction of Las Vegas and said, "Don’t come back."

A week later the same Cessna landed there again. As the enforcers surrounded the plane the pilot shouted, "Do whatever you want with me, but please tell my wife where I was for those three days!"

As I look at that "Classified" cluster of lights, the legend of the poor Cessna pilot makes me chuckle. How could they oblige, when this place "doesn’t exist"?

February 2, 2016 Sibongile the Lioness

The Liberty Gazette
February 2, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: As a child, Sibongile Sambo gazed longingly skyward at planes that trekked aloft, imagining what it would be like to fly. Over her house they soared, and captured little Sibongile’s heart and mind. But careers for black women in South Africa didn’t typically include aviation, much less being the owner of a company, so she began to carve out a successful career in human resources.

Because she is bright and is gifted with ingenuity, Sibongile began building her reputation in the HR industry, but that all changed in 2003 when the South African government passed legislation designed to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to step into the world of entrepreneurship. That’s when she saw an opportunity to jump into the world of airplanes, where she had always felt she belonged.

Lacking both collateral and experience didn’t deter this determined woman; there’s one thing this pioneer knew she had that had great value: her passion for airplanes.

In 2004 when she founded her company, SRS Aviation, in Johannesburg, Sibongile Sambo became the first black woman to own, 100%, an aviation start-up. They call her a Lioness of Africa. Helicopter tours and VIP chartered trips were among the first services offered. Her company now also offers aircraft maintenance, sales, and fleet management, and flies parts and components to others in the industry.

Learning aviation language offered her an exciting challenge. Profit margins have, too. But she’s up for the challenges and took that first step armed with nothing more than her passion.

She also credits the investment others made in her life for helping her be where she is today, and has already begun to give back by providing for three of her employees to obtain their private pilot licenses. She’s a trailblazer, leading the way for other black South African women to start aviation businesses, earning respect and admiration of people from all over the world.

Last year the Women in Aviation International conference was held in Dallas, and many women came from South Africa to learn and network. On the first day of the conference we woke to a significant snow fall, and all the African women, dressed in traditional colorful clothes, enjoyed snapping photos of the snow. One small group even came up to me and asked if they could have their picture taken with a white woman. These gals have more support than their mothers ever did, and they’re taking hold of the opportunities and making something for themselves. I have a suspicion that Sibongile had something to do with the group of women who came to Dallas last year. In spite of her busy schedule, somehow she finds the time to mentor others and devote time to motivational speaking engagements.

Her story inspires people of all ages and backgrounds, but she’s not one to rest on her laurels. She has plans to expand her business across Africa, where she sees growth in aviation, and has determined that not even the sky can limit her.

January 26, 2016 Small airports give life

The Liberty Gazette
January 26, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The Red Barn restaurant had something to do with it - the peppermint ice cream, too; both are inviting to a young boy. Add the intrigue of activity at a grass airfield and the comfort of family Sunday afternoons and the result just may turn out to be the proper recipe for a future pilot.

For as long as he can remember Jason Talley wanted to fly. A smart kid, his grades won him scholarships, and within a couple of years of high school graduation he’d built and sold his first tech company. Four years and three more tech companies later, Mathematics degree in hand, it was time to take a hiatus, and learn to fly.

What would be next for Jason? Greater credentials to back up his experience building successful companies made law school a fitting choice. Besides, if he ever needed a fall-back occupation, he could always practice law.

After passing the State Bar in his home state of Missouri, he passed the Kansas and California Bars. Delightful west coast weather convinced Jason to move his family to California as he continued as a serial entrepreneur, all the while adding to his pilot certificate and ratings, finally earning the highest level pilot license and instructor certificates. Then he bought a jet.

When I asked what he’d want most for people to know about aviation he didn’t hesitate: "That a lot of general aviation pilots have a passion for not only flying, but doing things for others also."

Jason puts his passion to work, and makes a great example. With Veteran’s Air Lift he can get Vets to airports that don’t serve airlines and are closer to where they live.

"Our military veterans have given us the best years of their lives, and general aviation provides a mechanism where we can say ‘Thank you’."

Likewise, with Angel Flights, Jason helps bring people of all ages where they need to be for medical treatment. These special passengers don’t necessarily live far from a major airport served by airlines, but for many riding on an airliner poses a threat to their health, so private flying is a critical solution.

Donating time, fuel, money, and aircraft to fly someone who needs help is near to Jason’s heart, and has given him immense appreciation for small airports. "This outreach ceases to be possible when community airports don’t receive public support."

As a member of the Angel Flights Board of Directors, Jason especially appreciates the annual awards dinners.

"Its so neat to see our volunteer pilots at these dinners, where at each table there is also seated someone who has benefitted from an Angel Flight. When they share their story with the group, you know you gave something of immeasurable value to someone, to their family. Maybe it was a little more time, maybe it was another chance."

Giving someone something they may not have otherwise had, a chance for survival, or more time with their family, is as good for the volunteering pilots as it is for the patients and their loved ones.

As a businessman, Jason couldn’t do what he does with any efficiency if he had to rely on airlines. By flying himself he gets home to his wife and their young sons on his own schedule.

"That’s important," says the boy who loved Sunday afternoon family dinners at the Red Barn restaurant beside the grass strip where small planes took off and landed and the peppermint ice cream was the best in the world.

January 19, 2016 Amy and Tracey

The Liberty Gazette
January 19, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: When you visit the Wings Over Houston airshow you hear the announcer talk about vintage aircraft and military re-enactments helping to keep history alive. In addition to the critical roles that flying machines have held in times of strife and war, they’ve also ignited something deep inside many a pioneer, those with curiosity about the world in which we live. Today, these are the people who aren’t satisfied sitting at home watching television, but obey an inner appeal to discover, and to venture out, to unfamiliar places.

Alan Cobham flew across Africa in his Imperial Airways de Havilland DH 50J biplane in 1925 on just such a mission. Two years later the famed Charles Lindbergh piloted the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, and five years after that a similar flight was achieved by Amelia Earhart as the first female to navigate the airways across that ocean.

But in between these trans-Atlantic crossings by Lindbergh and Earhart was an admirable feat by Amy Johnson, who in 1930 had none of the modern electronic helps and gadgets we have today. Piloting an open cockpit biplane equipped with nothing more than basic period flight instruments - a compass to tell her direction, an airspeed indicator, and fuel gauges - she flew without autopilot, manually handling the airplane by stick and rudder.

Earlier this month fellow aviatrix Tracey Curtis-Taylor completed an intercontinental flight in a Boeing Stearman, an open cockpit biplane, following closely the path taken by Amy Johnson 85 years ago. Flying this short range airplane on a long range excursion meant frequent stops in some of the most remote parts of the world.

For three months Tracey relived Amy’s story of "dramatic adventure, reckless bravery and one of the greatest solo achievements in history."

The documentary that will come from Tracey’s ambitious tribute to Amy Johnson and many other courageous aviators of the early days will also provide today’s youth - the gaming generations - with living examples of real adventure: 13,000 miles across Europe and the Mediterranean, to Jordan and over the Arabian Desert, across the Gulf of Oman to Pakistan and over India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, crossing the Timor Sea to Australia. This is the spirit that paved the way for the air travel we know today.

To feed your own curiosity, I recommend her website,, which is packed full of wonderful stories and photos that have come from this Canadian-born adventurist. From her first flight lesson at age 16 to today at age 53, Tracey has always found something worth flying for to complement the sheer joy of aviating. Actively giving her time and talents to a variety of population segments, she’s created a structured outreach program to lend her voice to aviation history, military families, youth education, help for the disabled, women in aviation, and one of her other passions, environmental conservation.

Tusk Trust, a UK charity that participates in wildlife conservation, communities, and education in Africa, gained her attention as an avid gemology and geography student with the unique ability to appreciate the natural world from the air, at low level.

One of the most treasured things about living in the world of aviation is the amazing people we meet. Most are incredibly humble and just strive to do what they can to make the world a better place - a good thing for all of us, where ever we may be.

January 12, 2016 Modaero - for the Next Generation

The Liberty Gazette
January 12, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The "Golden Age" of aviation: the years when youngsters such as Dayton’s beloved Bob Jamison yearned for a taste of the adventure that airplanes promised, and brought new and exciting technology to eager young minds. Those in the freshness of their youth, the Clyde Cessnas, the Eddie and Katherine Stinsons, the Lloyd Stearmans and Glenn Curtisses, had been innovating and even the sky wasn’t their limit - it was their playground. And on the playgrounds across America’s golden plains, blue ridge valleys, deserts and coastal towns, the next generation was watching, and dreaming. Dreaming of flying. Dreaming how far they could go and the freedom that awaited them.

Aviation had another major surge lasting from the 1950s through 1970s credited in part to the introduction of jet engines, and the fact that after the fighting in Korea ceased lots of military pilots discharged from the service went to work for existing airlines or bought aircraft and started new businesses. Many of those small businesses morphed into major airlines.

Mike: By then there were plenty of people who got to liking airplanes a whole bunch and they started learning to fly themselves. Then they were buying airplanes and finding ways to make money doing what they loved.

Today, we find ourselves on the cusp of another opportunity for the next generation to take hold of the world of air travel and aerospace technology and disrupt the industry as the Wright Brothers did in their time.

We’re on the brink of exciting times, with space travel and inventions even Elon Musk hasn’t thought of yet.

That’s why "MODAERO" is an important project, reaching the next generation right where they are, and like many great projects, this one is getting its start in the Great State of Texas.

During Spring Break, March 16-19 the "MODAERO" event will be held at the Convention Center and airport in Conroe - the place to be for the Millennial generation and young families. A school ID will get the students in for free. But, you don’t have to be young to join in the fun - its a fly-in, too, with plenty of networking, happy hours, and General Aviation presentations as well.

Several bands representing a variety of musical tastes will be playing each evening. Helicopter and airplane demo flights will be offered. And there will be indoor drone racing in the arena across from the airport - an event so new this will be the first organized drone race of its kind in the U.S.A. - and its all starting here in Texas.

Employers will be on hand for a career fair and recruiting; highly acclaimed experts and peer group innovators will discuss today’s challenges and opportunities, and inspire our youth to consider the vast breadth and depth of everything that touches the aviation-aerospace industry, from flying and fixing planes to marketing, engineering, space travel, high-tech, entrepreneurship, and more.

Camping is also an option, so bring out the tent if that’s your thing. Check out MODAERO.NET on your computer or mobile device and make plans to discover the wide world above and beyond in this very social, high energy event.

Linda: And for those who would like to volunteer, just as with the annual AirVenture in Oshkosh, there are opportunities. Contact the group through the "MODAERO" website, Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram and get engaged.

January 5, 2016 See ya later, alligator

The Liberty Gazette
January 5, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: When traffic makes the map on my smart phone turn red I search for alternative routes home from Hobby Airport. It was on one such sojourn while driving down Genoa-Red Bluff Road shortly after crossing Highway 3 that I spied the rusting roof of a dilapidated hangar hidden among heavy brush and tall trees. They say the cure for boredom is curiosity; and there is no cure for curiosity - I had to investigate, because surely there would not be a building that was clearly once a hangar without there once having been an airport as its neighborhood.

Linda: To put some character to what Mike found, go back with us to the year 1892, when the world welcomed future aeronautical pioneers Bessie Coleman and Lawrence Sperry. One would grow up to be a world-famous aerobatic pilot, skydiver, and air show celebrity, and the first black female to earn a pilot license, and the other would invent the auto pilot, and a compact personal parachute that pilots could fit in a seat pack, and design retractable landing gear, among many other inventions.

The same year those two future inspirational aviators were born, J. H. Burnett was in south Texas establishing a very small town southeast of Houston. The climate reminded him of a place he knew of in Italy, so he made his new settlement its namesake - Genoa.

Not far from Genoa Dr. Willis King had already been busy promoting his community, which he named for his daughter, Almeda. The road connecting the two important railroad towns is still known as Almeda-Genoa Road. Genoa must have been an important enough place to reference, as Allen-Genoa and Genoa-Red Bluff roads came into existence.

The population grew in Genoa, Texas in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, and Charlie Emmett opened up for business with Emmett’s Flying Service at Genoa Airport.

It is Genoa-Red Bluff Road that one would travel to get from the Genoa Airport to the Red Bluff Army Auxiliary Airfield, one of three auxiliary airfields built near Ellington, supporting Army Air Corps flight training activities.

Mike’s discovery is what physically remains of Genoa Airport, which isn’t much. When evidence of past eras begins to be erased, when only a couple of original hangars and some old photos and maps exist, there will still be stories to remind us of intriguing people and fascinating adventures.

One lady whose family was close friends of the Emmett aviation family, recalls a pond on the property where the airport sat behind the family home. In that pond lived Charlie the six-foot alligator. Many children's birthday parties were held by the pond and Charlie received his share of hot dogs. However, she says, they wouldn’t have dreamed of trying to pet Charlie; they didn’t want him to come too close, and throwing their hot dogs kept him at a safe distance.

Mike: Opening for business not long after WWII, Genoa Airport had as many as three different runways at one time, and several hangars lining the south and west sides. It existed, even thrived for a time under the busy traffic pattern of Ellington Air Force Base.

With the drop-off in flying activity in the late 1980’s the airport property was sold to the City of South Houston. And though it’s but a phantom existence today, no runways and a couple of corroded old hangars, I’d rather like to think of the days when would-be pilots learned to fly there. I’m sure it lives on in their memories.

December 29, 2015 Long history takes pilot to short runway

The Liberty Gazette
December 29, 2015
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A few years into the Facebook craze I happened upon a couple who had been good friends of my father’s. We reconnected, nearly 40 years later, each of us with grandchildren and life stories to share to fill in that huge gap of time.

Jeff and Linda Bloom have always lived in Michigan, but I was hopeful I could see them again, soon. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Jeff, a professional race car driver, was still racing throughout the midwest, and still winning, as he always did, and still carrying the same race number - #26. He’s been a formidable competitor all his life, a hard-charging racer who has earned great respect from fellow drivers because he drives a clean race and wins on amazing skill. It’s like he wears the race cars he drives, or maybe even the tracks on which he makes them glide. So when Linda Bloom shared the Must See RacingTV race schedule where I could watch Jeff race on TV, I was eager to find an opportunity to watch him race again - but I’d prefer in person.

The opportunity came in the summer of 2012 when I’d flown to Indianapolis to see family. The Blooms would be just a quick flight to the south in Salem, Indiana at the Salem Speedway, a high-banked half-mile asphalt track I had been to dozens of times as a kid. The Salem Municipal Airport is right next to the speedway, so all I had to do was land, tie down, and walk over.

Landing offered the first challenge. Not that a 2,700’ runway should be that difficult for a Grumman Cheetah, but I was a bit out of practice on shorter runways. The Liberty Municipal Airport’s current length is 1,100’ longer than Salem’s.

After circling above the track to see some action from the air, I entered the traffic pattern but came in a little hot on final and used up most of the runway getting stopped without slamming on the brakes. No one was in sight so I just tied the airplane using the ropes in an open tie-down spot, and trudged across the weedy, rough ground between airport and speedway.

Race ticket prices have gone up in the last 40 years, but the money collected contributes to the purse so I didn’t mind. The pit pass I purchased allowed me to cross the track - literally - which gave me a chuckle as I reminisced walking across that track at that same spot so many years ago. A guy who stands at the guardrail-gate lets people cross when the cars are between practice sessions.

Making my way across the sloped track to pit row I searched for the older versions of a couple who had been very dear to me for most of my life. Soon I spotted Jeff, and then Linda, and the reunion was almost surreal, having been so long coming.

Jeff had mechanical problems that day, and my time there was much too brief as I had to return to Indy, but we made the most of what we had and I am so glad I made that flight down to southern Indiana that day.

One month after that quick visit Jeff was in a terrible, fiery racing accident that gave him broken bones and third-degree burns. Tough fighter that he is, and believer in prayer, Jeff recovered and was back racing seven months later, and inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, which is exactly where he belongs. My father knew that many years ago, when Jeff was a young 20-something. Dad used to say, "Now there’s a real race driver."

I miss my dad, so when the Blooms mailed a gift to me, it was extra-special, a symbol of relationships that last: the last Christmas card my dad had sent them before he passed away, which they had saved for 15 years.

How time flies.

December 22, 2015 Santa's helpers

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

Mike: Santa’s helpers don’t always dress in red velvety elfin-wear. Sometimes their attire is a more of a blueish-purple, or brown hue. It’s peak season for the elves of Federal Express and UPS; the latter now forecasting delivery of 430 million packages this Christmas.

What a busy and challenging time of year this is for all air freight operators and pilots. The work increases 60 percent over other times of the year so the companies hire seasonal labor to handle the volume of packages. About 50,000 people are working temporary jobs with UPS to help deliver or work in sort facilities such as Louisville, Kentucky and Rockford, Illinois. FedEx’s seasonal work means lots of jobs in Memphis, Tennessee.

Tonight their company jets will fly thousands of gifts from regional distribution and sort centers in major cities to hub cities, and then transfer all those presents to other cargo jets as "feeders" bound for smaller cities, and eventually drivers will haul them in trucks to their destinations underneath Christmas trees across the country.

Pilots on the feeder routes will fly a split morning and evening shift, making their way out from the regional hub with several stops along the way, arriving at the outstation by mid-morning. Then in the evening the crews will hopscotch back to the regional hub, arriving in time for the packages they’ve picked up to be put on bigger jets departing for the major sort centers.

During the three months leading up to Christmas Santa’s pilots get to log a lot of flight time to help move the excess volume. By the time Christmas Eve rolls around, some freight pilots have pretty much maxed out on the number of hours they can legally fly for hire during the year.

The freight carriers try hard to deliver all packages labeled "Christmas" by Christmas Eve. This year UPS says if a package gets in their next-day-air system by December 23rd, they’ll deliver it in time for present-opening.

One Christmas Eve, because all my fellow company pilots had reached their legal for-hire flying limit, we, the Learjet crew, ended up flying into smaller airports where jets don’t normally land.

At the airport in Payson, Arizona just as we finished unloading the boxes a local law man stuck his head in the door of the airplane and began his inquisition.

"Excuse me, but do you know how fast you were going when you landed?"

"We crossed the fence at 123 knots."

"Hmm, that’s what my radar gun said, too."

He’d been having coffee at the airport cafe, heard us announce our arrival on the airport’s radio frequency, and he and his friends dashed out to clock us with his radar gun on our approach and landing.

"Well seein’ as it’s Christmas and you being Santa’s helpers and all," he grinned, "I guess I’ll let it slide this time."

We ended up back at the Phoenix airport late at night on Christmas Eve, exhausted from several weeks of intense flying schedules, and after 15 years of this I can tell you that on Christmas Day Santa isn’t the only one settling down for a long winter’s nap. Most of Santa’s helpers do, too.

December 15, 2015 Historical surprises and other fun discoveries

The Liberty Gazette
December 15, 2015
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A funny thing happened on the way to Thanksgiving. First came a blessing. One of Mike’s customers, a company whose pilots look to him for their annual training to stay current and legal flying their company jet, was in a bit of a quandary. One of their pilots would be unavailable the week of Thanksgiving, meaning that if anyone in the company wanted to take a trip they would need another qualified pilot to be available.

Being a week normally filled with travel and family time, the company generously brought both Mike and I to Cincinnati so he would be available should they want to travel - all expenses paid and he only had to stay within a few hours’ drive in case they needed to call on him.

Since my daughter and her family who live in Cincinnati would be out of town for Thanksgiving, we opted to drive two hours west to Indy to visit my mom and sister. The week included lots of food, family, fun, and The Game of Things - try it sometime for good laughing spells. We would have the final day back in Cincinnati with my daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren.

Spending some unhurried time back in my home state allowed me to gaze once again at the architecture of homes and other buildings built in the early nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. Daydreaming of these lovely historic Hoosier homes, I landed on After joining the non-profit preservation organization I quickly ordered the beautiful coffee table book, "99 Historic Homes of Indiana".

I’m still making my way through amazing photos and inspiring stories of original homeowners and present-day caretakers of these landmarks, but I knew when I first opened the book that surely there would be at least one story that would make its way here, to this space in the Liberty Gazette.

In the small town of Peru, Indiana in 1913 there lived one of the most materially wealthy people in the country, James Omar Cole. His empire included California gold fields and West Virginia timber land. But in one of the most beautiful places he’d seen, he built a stunning Colonial Revival style home for his daughter, Kate. She and husband Sam Porter lived many years in the home called Westleigh.

Kate and Sam had only one child, and his focus on music caused the family great concern. Grandfather Cole is said to have admonished him for not having a real job. But when the young Cole Porter found success on Broadway the family was proud.

When Cole’s parents passed away he asked his cousin, James O. Cole to move in to the magnificent home, so the family of six left Washington, D.C. to call Westleigh home. One of the four children who grew up there, Joanne, married Major Sid Kubesch, who was stationed at nearby Bunker Hill Air Force Base. It was Sid as commander of his three-man crew who set the world speed record flying a B-58 "Hustler" named "Greased Lightning" (just like the one retired Liberty City Manager Norman Dykes had worked on) 8,028 miles from Tokyo to London in just eight hours and 35 minutes, an average of 938 mph, a record still standing today as the longest supersonic flight.

Mike: The company that brought us out there did not make any trips that week, giving us a relaxing vacation instead, one more thing for which we gave Thanks.

December 8, 2015 Please don't kill us

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

Mike: Imagine yourself aboard an airliner departing Bush Intercontinental or Hobby. You gaze out at the city through puffy clouds when something flashes past your window. You hear a thump and the captain announces that the airplane is returning to the airport.

US Airways Flight 1549 was not able to return to the airport when such a thing happened, and landed in the Hudson River instead. Everyone escaped the aircraft and took flights on a different day. What took down Flight 1549? Birds - large Canada snow geese.

Birds instinctively dive away from aircraft when they see it coming, but I’ve taken a bird strike that left a big dent in the leading edge of the left wing on a Learjet. I’ve also experienced a direct hit on the windshield in the middle of the night. The impact was so loud my co-pilot was wide-eyed with shock.

Birds are relatively soft and light weight, but what about drones? What instinct, what self-preservation system do they have to avoid aircraft? None.

The FAA has been under pressure to create regulations for drones. Amazon, Google and Walmart are chomping at the bit to offer delivery services via drone and are discovering the FAA does nothing fast, frustrating those companies drooling over potential profit increases.

More than one million buzzing, bug-like drone craft will be sold as "Christmas presents" this year. What’s to keep someone from flying one into an airliner landing at Bush? A drone operator not trained properly or who is cavalier about their responsibility can cause real trouble, so now those who play with drones will be subject to regulations.

FAA: Flying a drone anywhere in U.S. airspace automatically makes the operator become part of the U.S. aviation system. Under the law, the drone is an aircraft, so while rules for drones may be different, drone operators carry responsibility for safe operation, the same as a Cessna or 747 pilot.

Linda: The FAA is still working on the new regulations but the agency is opening the door to commercial drone operations. What must be answered is how to certify the person operating the drone craft, and this next part is very important.

Last week the FAA authorized Kansas State University Polytechnic to train students and companies on flying unmanned aircraft, and created a mandatory registration process for drones.

Drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds it must be registered. The process is simple, and can be done through an app or online. An electronic certificate is immediately issued along with an identification number that must be marked on the drone prior to it being flown. The FAA then provides the new drone owner with information on where it is legal and not legal to fly their toy.

Federal guidelines for safe flight include no flying at night, no flying beyond line-of-sight, and no flying over populated areas. Operators must act responsibly. If an accident occurs the results can devastate entire families.

If you or someone you know is purchasing a drone this year, be sure you play it safe, play by the rules, and don’t risk lives: register your drone and fly it safely, avoiding incursions.

For more information, go to

December 1, 2015 Norman and the Fighters and Hustlers

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

There used to be this problem with the F-111 fighter jet where the engines were flaming out when they reached 30,000’ where the shock wave would block air flow, which is critical for jet engines. The test pilots had been trying to make it work, climbing to 30,000’, and when the engines would flame out they’d descend to get enough air to re-light them, and climb back up, but it would happen again.

The folks working on the problem near Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth were employees of General Dynamics, including young engineers such as Norman, who was in his first job since graduating from college with a degree in electrical engineering. Norman had received several job offers, and General Dynamics not only offered the best package, but they were also in the hometown of his bride, making that decision easy.

So on they went, testing the engines to find out the problem that needed to be solved. Building the F-111 had won General Dynamics a visit from a congressman and a big check. Now Norman and his fellow engineers put the engine on a test stand and started fiddling with things that would affect how the air traveled through it. They experimented with plates and spikes here and there, adding them to the engine to redirect air flow, to break it up, causing a turbulent flow into the engine. When they got the configuration right it would eventually keep the air moving through the engine when it reached high altitude, in spite of the shock wave.

Norman’s part in this effort was to work on the instrumentation of the plane, so he went to work connecting probes and manometers to test pressures, making adjustments and recording numbers. Two big block walls separated Norman and the others at the test stand from the workers in the engine monitoring room, yet the noise level was still quite high.

The work paid off, the solution was found, and Norman moved on to the next project, putting his efforts into the B-58 "Hustler", the world’s first super-sonic bomber.

On Norman’s last day with the company he was to report to the flight line at 7:00 am to test an antenna resistance. The antenna was built in to the skin of the airplane, behind the cockpit on the pilot’s side, so Norman gave his tool and equipment list to the union workers and climbed up the ladder. There in the cockpit were so many switches and levers and knobs and buttons that he was afraid to get in the seat in case he might accidentally move something, so straddling atop the plane, Norman got the job done.

"Even though I didn’t fly those things," he laughs, "I rode that baby - but on the ground. That’s probably the safest way."

You may remember Norman Dykes from when he was Liberty’s city manager, or you may see him still at the weekly Rotary meetings here. When you see him next, ask him to tell you what he knows about a Navy pilot dropping a message-clad rock on the family farm.

November 24, 2015 Fly-Hope-Dream

The Liberty Gazette
November 24, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Gareth Williams is a compassionate man. At midlife he discovered The Halftime Institute, a Christian-based organization in Dallas that helps people figure out what they want to do with their lives after successful careers but with still plenty of life left to live and means to give. They are "The University for Your Second Half."

Through The Halftime Institute, Gareth’s next steps became clear. He loved flying, and he wanted to help grieving people –specifically those grieving the loss of a child (or children), because these are the things Gareth knows best.

Out of the exercises at Halftime came his answer. He knew of a big problem, with which he had a personal connection. This helped him discover his mission and create a strategy to carry it out.

The big problem. "Outliving one’s child," says Gareth, "is profoundly catastrophic and disrupts the natural law and order of life. The loss is multi-layered and persistent: no graduation, no wedding, no grandchildren. For siblings, the trauma of losing a brother or sister often goes unrecognized and unaddressed. Many families need help making sense of it all."

His personal connection. After a long illness, Gareth’s youngest child, Timmy, passed away in 2008, at just 12 years old. Gareth describes him as an audacious, fun-loving dreamer, whose motto was "Dream BIG". Knowing what flying has done for him personally, how slipping the surly bonds of Earth offers a certain kind of freedom in dealing with loss, Gareth quickly saw the unique potential of open-cockpit flight for uplifting the grieving spirit. It was then that Fly-Hope-Dream was born – out of the legacy of a beautiful boy with a charming smile, from whose life, and in even the face of death, Gareth found encouragement and drew strength.

The mission. Gareth explains that those who've lost children often feel isolated and alone. I have felt that myself, after the fire that took my husband and two of my children. "And yet," says Gareth, "around 57,000 children under the age of 19 die in the United States every year. That’s over 150 new families affected every day." Therefore, it is the mission of Fly-Hope-Dream to connect these families through flight experiences and related educational programs with the theme: "You’re NOT alone!"

The strategy. Mike and I flew up to Terrell, Texas to meet Gareth. I qualified, he told me, for a flight in his 1942 Stearman, the open cockpit biplane that leaves one with "the Stearman smile" long after the flight is over. More importantly is the mission to inspire parents and siblings alike. "Flying in an open cockpit biplane 500 feet above the fields brings a fresh perspective from which new hope can spring."

And he wants his passengers to know they are not alone, and that in fact, God has more plans for them. Considering the achievements of well-known figures who have experienced similar tragedy, grieving family members can find motivation and transform personal tragedy into meaningful legacy, beginning a new journey.

Among those who have learned to live with the loss of a child are Neil Armstrong, Presidents Lincoln, George H W Bush and George W Bush, and author Ronald Dahl. In these people and others those new to grief may see their hope, and out of that hope can come a new life, a new dream.

For more information, go to Dream big, as Timmy Williams did, and transform those dreams into a lasting legacy of the child, or children, now gone on ahead of us.

November 17, 2015 One giant list

The Liberty Gazette
November 17, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: With one mile of highway you can go one mile; from one mile of runway can go anywhere. As Houston’s Ellington Field has become the 10th licensed commercial space port, harken back to pre-Apollo launch days when enthusiasm for lunar pioneering was growing, back to 1958, when Barron Hilton, then Vice President of Hilton Hotels, and himself a pilot, believed their hotel chain would be the first to offer commercial lodging for space travelers.

Eventually, Hilton proposed both Lunar Hilton and Orbital Hilton, the former to be built beneath the Moon’s surface, the latter being free in space. Ever the savvy promoter, Hilton printed reservation cards for their yet-to-be-built Lunar Hilton, and gave away future room keys.

And if the common man was going to make a hotel reservation on the Moon, the airlines would need to step up their game to be able to get them there.

TWA’s Moonliner attraction at Disneyland had given the public a glimpse at the possibilities of space exploration for the common man, so after Austrian journalist Gerhard Pistor paid Pan Am Airlines about $20 in August 1964 for a reservation as the first passenger for future flights to the Moon, Pan Am’s marketing team saw opportunity and began promoting their "First Moon Flights Club".

Mike: But it wasn’t immediately after. Pistor probably took Pan Am by surprise with his request and payment. It would be another four years until Pan Am founder Juan Trippe would seize the moment. Astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders were circling the Moon in Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve when, after their reading of the Creation Story from the book of Genesis, TV stations took a break and announced Trippe’s news that Pan Am would start taking reservations for commercial passenger flights to the Moon.

About 93,000 people called or wrote to Pan Am asking to be assigned a club member number and put on the waiting list. Pan Am expected the first flight to depart about the year 2000, although there were no promises as to date or cost. The company said it printed 100,000 numbered membership cards, but ceased taking reservations in 1971 amid financial woes.

According to Steven Mufson, who wrote in the Washington Post July 22, 1989, Pan Am was still planning to honor the club reservation cards: "One small step for man, one giant standby list for Pan Am."

This summer the National Air & Space Museum put out a call for donation of a Pan Am "First Moon Flights" Club card. Museum officials will choose one membership card from among those offered to be added to the label for Space Ship One, the first privately developed, piloted spacecraft. Both the reservation card and spaceship will be displayed in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall once renovations to the hall are completed next summer.

These club cards are not transferrable, and Pan Am went bankrupt in 1991, so the membership numbers assigned to people such as Ronald Reagan and Walter Cronkite will just be removed from the waiting list. If you have one, you have a great collector’s item.

November 10, 2015 Plane crazy passion

The Liberty Gazette
November 10, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: With Thanksgiving near, and grateful for plenty, this week’s episode of Ely Air Lines takes a peek beyond the usual missionary flying. While we are ecstatic about flying and love to share this bliss with others, as Christians, what is the most important thing in all of life is God.

We aviators are a passionate bunch. We’re plane crazy. I’m not sure whether aviation does that to us, or it just draws that type of person likely to be so in love with flying that it dominates nearly every thought. Regardless, for a Christian who is also a pilot, sometimes our faith isn’t given as much attention as our flying.

Bill Starrs is a pilot from Pennsylvania who prayed for God to help him put his priorities in order. Reverand Starrs recognized his severe dedication to aviation but he wanted to live a life that shows he loves the Lord more. Feeling the nudge to let God upgrade from the back seat, Starrs put his enthusiasm to work to create an association of like-minded people that would provide free public benefit flying and ground transportation. Serving in this manner would make use of flying, which dominated his life, to honor God’s calling. Pilots For Christ International (PFCI), affectionately called "Our Lord’s Airforce", was the result of this prayer. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21, Luke 12:34)

The concept started taking shape, planning began, and a new prayer was added when Bill asked God to send 100 new members to the organization in its first year. His cup overflowed when, on December 31 of that year – 1985 – the 200th application for membership came in the mail.

With chapters throughout the United States and several other countries, PFCI now provides charity flight services, ministering to thousands of people while offering a way for aviators to serve faithfully

One of the chapters in Florida has become Servant Air Ministries Incorporated (SAMI). This inter-denominational non-profit partners with Angel Flight, Mercy Flights, pastors and churches to fly people in need, and to advance the gospel in the United States, the Caribbean and Central America.

Affiliates of PFCI are Mercy Wings International, Transport for Christ, International (dedicated to reaching, supporting and encouraging truck drivers), and Compass Aviation, which provides access to food, medicine, mail, supplies, and technical support for overseas ministries.

Mike: Over the years life has been breathed into other aviation specialty ministries, too. Air Show Ministries, founded in 2009 by Cam Roberts, offers spiritual support to military and civilian air show performers, organizers and spectators through volunteer Chaplains and Ministry Partners onsite during shows. This group prays for each performer participating in an air show and posts prayer requests for their social media followers to join in (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

Air Show Ministries’ show-quality vehicles on display at air shows, car shows, air museums and other related events draw spectators in to learn about their mission. Perhaps you saw them at Wings Over Houston this year with the display car, "Angel9". On this fancy tribute car sporting the Blue Angels paint scheme you’ll find original art under the hood, navigational and directional lights, cockpit-style displays, mock ejection seats, and a custom audio and video system, but at the heart of it all you’ll find thankful people who want to share their joy and the Source.

November 3, 2015 A golfball and a Wink

The Liberty Gazette
November 3, 2015
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Monika Petrillo is the writer, producer, director, editor and everything else of the documentary, "Flyabout", a film about her adventures taking a flying trip with her father as they circumnavigated Australia. The story of self-discovery, relationships, travel, culture, and flying is available on DVD and I highly recommend it - very well done. What she captured pulls the audience in and keeps us glued.

Last week I mentioned my dad’s involvement in filmmaking, and in his later years working as an "extra" in several feature films. One of these films was "Tin Cup" (starring Kevin Costner), in which Dad appeared in scenes shot at the golf courses of three Kingwood country clubs. A few readers insisted I tell the funny story to which I alluded. To write with an aviation-Hollywood connection a call to Monika was in order; we hadn’t actually talked live-in-person in years and she’s a fascinating and cool person, making this a fun assignment.

When she filmed "Flyabout" Monika knew she wanted to fly and direct, but found she can focus on one passion at a time, so as of last year flying is on hold while she raises her children and pursues her career.

She began working in her home country of Germany and moved to Hollywood as a script supervisor. Right now, she’s working on HBO’s "Silicon Valley". During filming you’ll find Monika’s chair next to the Director’s chair; her work includes such important things as continuity, helping the actors with their lines, and making script notes for the editors. Continuity is critical because scenes are not shot sequentially to the story, rather, all location scenes are shot at one time. Editing puts them together in story sequence. You don’t want to go to a movie and pick out mistakes such as a cigarette getting longer as it’s smoked, or an actor wearing a blue sweater and then suddenly a green sweater.

Dad did some directing, too, mostly industrial films and commercials, in Chicago and Indianapolis. He directed Charlton Heston in a film once when they were both in Chicago in their early days. When we heard that Hollywood was coming to Kingwood to film scenes for a movie, Dad came to stay with us to join in the fun.

One day during shooting, as Kevin Costner was practicing his golf swing, he hit the ball hard. Out it went, not very high, but very fast, finding its way to the bullseye it sensed on Dad’s left kneecap. Dad fell to the ground, writhing, and Kevin ran over apologizing and yelling for medical help. Every time the phone rang at the Emergency Room at Kingwood Hospital every woman working in the area ran for the phone because Kevin was calling to check on Dad.

Fortunately, his kneecap wasn’t shattered and he hobbled out on crutches the same day. Kevin autographed a golf ball for Dad, said ball now being in my possession.

Some day, Monika will be back in the sky, an aviatrix and Hollywood director, and I look forward to great things to come from her. Meanwhile, to prove her directing talent, she’s finished filming and is now editing her short film, "Wink", a story about a lonely, bored housewife who befriends a goldfish. Expect to see "Wink" in film festivals and on YouTube soon.

October 27, 2015 Contributions of an old, dead Communist

The Liberty Gazette
October 27, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Ringing in the new year in 1892, the town of Atlanta, Texas welcomed Bessie Coleman, who would grow up to be a great pioneer of aviation, the first black pilot licensed in the United States. A woman of courage and perseverance, she learned to speak French so she could move to France for flight training since at that time in this country no one would accept her as a student, much less the prospect of her holding a license.

Mid-way through that same year, someone born a little earlier, but likewise a pioneer in aviation whose particular segment of society has also long suffered from bigotry, enslavement, and hatred, Jewish timber merchant David Schwarz designed the cigar-shaped airship made of aluminum, which he then sold to Count Zeppelin.

And while all that was going on, a young Theodore Dreiser was just beginning his writing career. The angry American-born Communist novelist whose bitterness toward his father made religion his target had taken his first job as a reporter with a Chicago newspaper.

Indeed, 1892 turned out to be an interesting year.

Despite the fact that Pilot Coleman and Airship Designer Schwarz made more valuable contributions to society than a man whose resentment ruled his life, I did find one quote of his worthy of mention.

Dreiser had moved to Hollywood, California marketing his stories for film, and had witnessed first-hand the life of the actor – generally speaking.

Now I will diverge a bit to say that Mike, although born in Hollywood, California (on October 26th – Happy Birthday Week, Honey!), thankfully put his talents to constructive use; and, although my dad did not grow up on the Left Coast, he did have considerable professional involvement in filmmaking, and in his later years enjoyed working as an "extra" in several feature films.

One of these films was "Tin Cup", in which Dad appeared in several scenes shot at the golf courses of three Kingwood country clubs. The movie starred Kevin Costner, and there’s a funny story to that which I might tell next week.

But back to Dreiser. Theodore uttered a different label for those who worked as background actors in Hollywood movies – the new term, he argued, should be "Atmospherians", because they were creating the atmosphere needed to pull off a believable storyline. They were not the big "stars" of the story, but were just as necessary to portray a public scene.

Ready for it? Here’s the connection to aviation (besides Bessie and David): Our Liberty Municipal Airport is not merely atmospheric; it is not to be ignorantly regarded as just an extra to the big "stars" of America’s infrastructure. The Liberty Municipal Airport is, in fact, a necessary and critical part of the national transportation system, relied upon since the 1950’s for providing the way for commerce, life-saving, and career training activities.

I bet you wondered where I was going with an old, dead Communist, didn’t you? That’s just it – old and dead are the ideas that only big airports serving commercial airlines make vital contributions. Thanks to Benny Rusk and Earl Atkins for having the vision, today our city hosts an important piece of our country’s transportation system; a runway that can take you via the atmosphere anywhere you want to go, and is anything but atmospherian.