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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March 22, 2016 Experience Alaska

The Liberty Gazette
March 22, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Imagine what it was like nearly a hundred years ago in places we think of today as picturesque vacation destinations. Towns so remotely located in vast wilderness it took weeks, or more, to reach by boat - places where no roads existed. Residents, be they fishermen or lumber jacks, would have limited contact with the outside world or even the nearest town. But they were used to that.

Now picture a fisherman in his boat repairing nets after a long day on icy waters when suddenly he hears a clattering commotion from above. What thoughts fly through his head as he watches a gangly-looking beast descend from nowhere to the choppy waters of the bay? The year is 1922 and Roy Jones just landed his plane named “Nightbird” in Ketchikan, Alaska, the first to use an airplane to really connect the community with the outside world. For hearty souls willing to take on the challenges posed by “The Last Frontier”, great potential existed here.

The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau teamed up with the aviation community of Southeast Alaska and a few others partners to produce six films that promote tourism. One of these, “Ketchikan: The Bush Pilots”, chronicles the important contributions aviation has made and continues to make in Southeastern Alaska. While I would love to say that airplanes are the focus of the 30-minute production, Alaska’s majestic scenery is the real star of this documentary which won three Emmy awards in 2014.

Opening scenes of the breathtaking wilderness as viewed from above leave viewers awestruck. Then a lone seaplane comes into view to lend an even more graphic picture of the vastness of this incredibly beautiful and rugged place.

In Southeast Alaska, seaplanes provide the most basic of necessities to many remotely located villages, lodges and logging camps, transporting groceries, mail, medical aid, even newspapers. For Alaskans, the airplane is an integral part of life today, and a special aviation culture exists where pilots comprise a greater percentage of the population than in the lower forty-eight states. For some destinations, air travel offers the only way to get there. Around Ketchikan, runways are few and far between. If you want to land, you’ve got to land on the water.

Not long after Roy Jones made that first flight to Ketchikan other aviation companies began setting up shop in Alaska. Bob Ellis started out working for one of these and eventually branched out on his own. Ellis Air Transport bought surplus Grumman Gooses (twin engine amphibious airplanes), and formed a strong regional airline in Ketchikan which connected the communities of Southeast Alaska in a way that they’d never been before.

Over the years the driving force behind the economy of Alaska has been its natural resources, the major industries being mining, forestry and fishing. As those industries have shrunk or been undercut by foreign interests, Southeast Alaskans began seeking an alternative economic base. Today that industry is tourism. Once again, Alaska natural resources are on display, and it’s the seaplane that makes the aerial view available to anyone who wants to see it first-hand.

Kudos to the Ketchikan Visitor’s Bureau for creating films that come as close as possible to capturing the magnificent grandeur they call home. Enjoy them for yourself at

March 15, 2016 "Two"

The Liberty Gazette 
March 15, 2016
Ely Air Lines 
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely 
Guest Contributor: Ryszard Zadow

A good wingman never says anything but "two” and “you’re on fire”.

Yesterday I flew an old warbird, hanging onto the wingtip of a T-28. For me, it was a place that was…perfect.

My second airplane ride was in a T-6 named Thunder Chicken. I was 15 years old. The T-6 was parked in the grass at Weiser airport in Cypress, Texas. We didn’t know it was Cypress, Texas back then; it was just an airport in the middle of nowhere. I took my first flying lesson there in a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 150. I was in awe of the T-6. It’s owners, Al Snyder and Pete Howard, were ten feet tall to me. One day Al Snyder was tinkering with Thunder Chicken. I sheepishly walked up and asked him if I could climb up and look inside. He said, “Ok…just don’t touch nuthin.”

It felt like climbing onto a skyscraper. I must’ve stood outside the front cockpit for 10 minutes, trying to absorb every detail. Wonder is the only emotion I felt. I finally climbed down and thanked Al. I got about 15 steps away when I heard him say “Hey kid!” I spun around and he said “You want to go for a ride?” I blurted out “Yes sir!”

Al strapped me in and for the next 45 minutes or so the only emotion I felt was awe. I was totally captivated by the sights, sounds, smells and feel of that grumbly old airplane. Once airborne he told me to try it. I flew around in a gentle 360 degree turn, then he said “Here, let’s try this…” Then the airplane started a nose dive; a pull up and there were forces pushing me into my seat I’d never felt before. In no time the world was upside down and it was much quieter. Then I’m looking over his head at nothing but the earth and those forces pushed me into my seat again. The old airplane groaned and rattled. Awed shifted to ecstacy! I’d confirmed this was my calling and could hardly contain myself.

I had to get home before my parents returned. I’d taken the car - I didn’t have a driver’s license. I kept thanking Mr. Snyder as I hurried away explaining to him why I was in a rush and he just laughed. It was a defining moment.

So yesterday I’m hanging on the wingtip of a T-28. It’s a sacred place for me. We all have our way of dealing with the world when it comes crashing in. For me, I drift back to the days when I was just a Lieutenant in a fighter squadron. When life was simple. When you earned your keep by how well you flew, how good a wingman you were, how well you could lead your buddies into combat, how well you landed on the boat. Life was measured in success and failures that simply let you live another day and you didn’t know any better to stress over it. Many days have passed since then but that doesn’t mean I can’t go back there in my mind. When you’re hangin onto the wingtip of a T-28 there are no problems in your life.

To the uninitiated it would appear all of your thoughts must be concentrated, focused on the fact you’re some mere feet from another airplane in flight, but truth be known, for those who once did that as a matter of course, it’s a relaxing place, a place to ponder. It’s a place to let your mind and heart bask in the wonderment of what God created. The sky, the land, the smoothness of the air. The noise, the smell, the vibration of the machine God gave man the skills to create. The Awe. The same I felt standing on the wing of Thunder Chicken. The humility of being human.

My manipulation of the flight controls are subconscious as I hold my position, mimicking the move of the lead plane. I think of my brother-in-law who just passed away. The day also marks one year ago that I lost another person close to me. It’s not always death that takes people from our lives, but often decisions. When someone you love passes on it’s so final. When you lose a relationship to life’s different paths it’s loss just the same.

So for that short time yesterday that I flew an old T-6, a peer to Thunder Chicken, I got to meditate in that sacred place, a few mere feet from the wingtip of a T-28. It was for me, perfect. And in my backseat, his first flight in a grumbly old T-6, was a 15 year old kid.

Ryszard Zadow is a Captain with Southwest Airlines
and former LCDR, US Navy

March 8, 2016 Birthday Flight

The Liberty Gazette
March 8, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Guest writers, Virginia Ford and Barbara Lyons

Virginia: Has a squirrel ever appeared at your door for a handout? Or a butterfly landed on your hat? How about a daughter and her husband landing their plane at your local airport after flying hundreds of miles, just to surprise you on your 83rd birthday? Do you laugh with joy? Or cry with joy? I did both.

Promising not to fly upside down, my favorite pilot-daughter offered a birthday flight over a couple of Indiana counties. So, two daughters and I boarded the plane to soar into the wild blue yonder.

What a beautiful day! Linda was piloting and Barbara and I were the excited passengers. Linda proposed that we follow I-465, the loop around Indianapolis. Afterward, we did a few passes over Barbara's house in the country. It was a wonderful view and fun to tell friends afterward that I went around I-465 at 130 mph ...when they gasped, I added, "at thirty-eight hundred feet!"

The day was perfect for our high adventure and when we returned, the landing was also absolutely perfect (of course). I had to wonder if Linda's late father was looking down and enjoying her prowess. His passions were flying and racing. Hmmmm...history repeats itself, doesn't it?

Barbara: Over the four days of birthday celebration we ate at some great restaurants. Then in the evenings we gathered around the table at our country house with a warm cup of coffee on cold Indiana nights and had fun conversation, laughed a lot, remembered a lot, and enjoyed ice-cream cake.

Then all too quickly it was time to get as many good-bye hugs and "I love you's" in as we could while at the little local airport, packing bags into the plane, checking weather conditions, taking family pictures, talking about future visits.

Virginia: This was my birthday blessing, and the time with two daughters, two sons-in-law, and a granddaughter, which ensued was more than memorable. Oh, I know you've heard folks moan and groan about growing old. But this provided an opportunity for me to experience the benefits of a long life.

A life in which there is more time to appreciate the overwhelming beauty of the earth with its seasons and surprises; time to respect a world which seems to be capable of continuing its trips around the sun no matter what we do; more chances to make choices and to learn from them; more laughter; more opportunities to say, "I love you".

The Creator gives the gift of life for a reason, so it is up to me to continue to learn more, give more, grow in understanding, forgive more, laugh more, and love more. This is how I thank a generous God, at any age.

March 1, 2016 The Little Trophy

The Liberty Gazette
March 1, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Enter the Danville Public Library from the parking lot in the back, pass the check-out counter and take the stairs to the left, past the table topped with tomato and strawberry boxes neatly filled with paperback books for sale, past racks of videos and books on tape and the usual library shelves to discover the Indiana Room, full of hidden gems of Indiana history, not the least of which is Steven Smith, historian, and man of many accomplishments. In a recent trip back to the Hoosier state, my niece’s homework brought us to meet Steve.

Growing up around auto racing, a smidgen south of Danville, in Mooresville, Indiana, young Steve wanted to enter the infamous Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. Before making the big time in Akron (the Indy of soap box derbies), Steve would first test his skills at Wilbur Shaw Hill in Indianapolis - named for the winner of the first Indy 500.

He bought wood from the lumber company a mile away and carried it home, on his back, then built his racer without power tools, in the living room, because they had no garage or shed. While most dads were building their kids’ cars for them, totally “hands-off” for the kids, when Steven’s dad came to check on his progress, the Do-Not-Touch rule was aimed at Dad, while Steven worked diligently on his first downhill racer.

“The brakes didn’t work, the steering wheel was too low, and about lunch time the tech inspectors asked if I wanted to go through inspection,” Steven recollects. “Because I had worked so hard for it, the two men stood patiently by until I finally finished at 11:30 pm, doing the best I could to rebuild and fix the car I had tried to design like the fast Indy cars of the day - low to the ground. Turns out, it wasn't very aerodynamic for a soap box racer.”

He didn’t win the derby, but the lessons learned building his racer made that little participation trophy mean so much more than the ones he has won for speech contests and acting, and more than all the accolades for his radio announcing and ad agency work. You betya, in that little trophy is a story of epic, life-impacting proportions.

While serving as a preacher at the Salem Church of Christ, and part time auto race photographer and announcer, Steve crossed the super high banks of Salem Speedway to the infield where he aimed to get the best action shots. Track officials open the gate between races and let folks walk to and from the infield and grandstands. When there are no mishaps there are no yellow flags, and no breaks in the action, meaning no crossing the track to get back out, which can make a preacher late for an evening service. 

Fortunately, Steve’s good friend Martin Kennedy started church for him, knowing he must be stuck in that infield. 

Martin may not have ever built a race car or competed in the Soap Box Derby, but his career as a dentist has afforded him the opportunity to build an airplane called a LongEZ, and with access to dental material create a lovely necklace with a gold medallion of the airplane as a gift for his wife. 

My mom tied it up neatly with a quip, “Building an airplane, like building a Soapbox Derby racer, can be a Long process and often isn’t EZ, but like winning souls for the Lord, it’s worth it.”