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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April 26, 2016 Welcome, Come on in!

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

Mike: Although the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have different Merit Badge choices and requirements, learning about aviation does qualify for both groups. Boy Scouts can earn an Aviation Merit Badge, and Girl Scouts can earn badges in Science & Technology, and aviation certainly qualifies. 

We are enthusiastic about every invitation and every opportunity to present to these scouting groups, and others such as homeschoolers, American Heritage Girls, Awana, the many interesting aspects of aviation and aerospace. 

Recently a Scout from Midland, Georgia completed something special in pursuit of fulfilling requirements for his final Scout rank: a public service project to become an Eagle Scout. Young Jerad had been interested in aviation even before his troop received Young Eagles flights in 2011, but his first flight pretty much sealed the deal and soon he became a regular at Young Eagles rallies and local chapter meetings and events of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). 

Linda: Since the expensive, violative, and worthless TSA has threatened so many airport managers into thinking they must build fences around airports (no, there is no logic in that), many people now think that airports are off-limits, but the majority of the pilot population absolutely loves sharing their passion for aviation. The useless TSA has polluted our world with a “stay-out” attitude, completely contrary to the enthusiasm pilots have for the adventure of flight. 

15-year old Jerad wanted to help make his local airport more inviting despite government overreach and his idea was a perfect match for an Eagle Scout public service project. 

Back in the days when there was no such thing as TSA people could come to their community airport and sit at a picnic table or park bench and watch airplanes take off and land, talk with pilots, and maybe even catch a ride over town, just for the fun of it. At Jerad’s local airport the park benches were gone, replaced by ugly fences that screamed “Keep Out”. 

Thanks to Jerad and all his supporters though a new observation deck welcomes anyone to come and enjoy the spirit of their local airport. Now when younger children come for their first Young Eagles flight they will have a safe place to hang out and watch the planes come and go, as each pilot tries to grease on the perfect landing. 

The observation deck didn’t come easily. It was a lot of work, but it is Jerad’s way of giving back to the Young Eagles program that has helped him discover his interests. He developed building plans and earned permission from all the necessary stakeholders - the airport director, airport commission, the FBO manager, the FAA, and the Boy Scout Eagle Board - then became the project manager and chief promoter, winning volunteers and donations from the community and taking full responsibility for the project. 

In the end they received $4,500 from 37 donors, and 325 hours of labor from 30 volunteers, bringing Jerad’s plans to fruition. These were aviation and community supporters, including pro-aviation company 84 Lumber. 

Airports exist to serve communities and as part of the larger transportation network. We should be shouting “Welcome – come on in,” rather than trying to discourage people from enjoying their public assets. 

Next month the Thunder in the Valley Air Show will be at Jerad’s airport and he’s looking forward to seeing his deck serving the public good.

April 19, 2016 Before us, they were

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

The engine made a soothing humming sound as we sat seemingly motionless in the still and cool night air. As the glow from the distant city was becoming brighter the calm of our cocoon was rustled when the San Antonio Approach controller asked if we could see the airport yet.

No, still looking.

Then in the middle of some sporadically dispersed lights came a soft white flash. A moment later a muted green flash - the airport beacon. Yes, we have the airport in sight.

The controller terminated his radar watch over us so we could switch to the airport control tower.

Approaching San Antonio’s Stinson Municipal Airport, it is difficult to see the runway lights until you are close in. Then even with lights on their brightest setting, it feels like descending into a black hole. The municipal baseball park near the approach end helps illuminate trees near the runway as we coast in for landing. The gentle bump and the squeak of tires on pavement confirm we have settled onto terra firma. Stinson tower controller clears us to taxi to the terminal where we take a break before continuing our night time sojourn.

We love the old stone-faced art-deco style terminal building. Originally built as a Works Progress Administration project completed in 1936, it got some tender loving care for its 70th birthday when the city completely renovated and expanded it while retaining most of its original integrity. Old terminals, like old airplanes need to be spruced up from time to time but we should never change their timeless soul.

Inside the building the halls are decorated with photographs and memorabilia chronicling Stinson’s 100 year past. Here were a lot of aviation firsts.

Stinson Municipal Airport, which began life in 1915, is the second oldest continuously operated airport in the country, the oldest airport west of the Mississippi. Only College Park Airport in Maryland, build by the Wright Brothers in 1909 is older. Named after the three siblings who leased 500 acres from the city to create an airport, Marjorie, Katherine and Eddie Stinson made significant contributions to aviation.

Katherine, often referred to as the Flying Schoolgirl, had an ulterior motive when she joined her brother and sister in the airport project and flight school: music. She’d seen an article about barnstormers and aerial exhibition performers making $1,000 per show - a way for her to earn money to pay for her piano education in Europe. But in 1912, preparing to build Stinson Airport, she became the fourth woman in the United States to earn her pilot license. She eventually went to Europe, Japan and China, but as a pilot, not a pianist, and is credited as the first woman ever to perform the loop-the-loop maneuver as well as setting endurance and distance records. She also raised two million dollars for the American Red Cross.

Marjorie and Eddie taught at their Stinson School of Flying, teaching civilians and Canadian Air Force pilots until World War I began and the facilities were taken over by the U.S. government. By that time, Marjorie, known as the Flying Schoolmarm, had already trained more than 80 pilots for service.

All was quiet that night as we tore ourselves away from this great part of American history. The Elyminator beckoned and as we climbed aboard our sleek steed and headed skyward into the night, we thought about all those pilots who came before us, right there in that same air space.

April 12, 2016 Air Force One - Connie makes a comeback

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

Nothing sounds quite like the throaty roar of a big 2,500-horsepower radial engine. If you make it a quartet the music is thusly amplified. When blue smoke belches from exhaust stacks and dust and gravel are flung into a sandstorm behind the four big 19’ diameter propellers of the beast you might get a notion of the calamity and commotion such a sight could generate.

Amidst this chaos a big bird from one of the most romantic eras of aviation history emerges. At the beginning of its takeoff roll it seems to stand still as the engines wind up franticly. The airplane starts trundling along. As it passes a crowd of well-wishers and cheering fans the sound of those supercharge radial engines becomes a symphony to their ears. Gaining speed it breaks ground, slowly climbing into the desert sky. Its been a long time since the majestic aircraft has experienced flight.

Our July 1, 2014 piece chronicled the efforts of a group in Arizona to restore the first Air Force One, President Eisenhower’s Lockheed Constellation ("Connie") named Columbine II. It is our pleasure to announce they are succeeding.

Recapping what we presented in the previous installment, Eisenhower had three airplanes. Each was named Columbine after the state flower of Colorado where his wife was born. Columbine II was the first designated as Air Force One so there would be no confusion with air traffic control as to the importance of the aircraft. It was later parked in the Air Force’s boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson and eventually sold to an aerial spraying operator. After service with that company it was parked at an airport just north of Tucson. There it sat waiting for either the scrapper’s torch or to one day fly again. We finished by stating the then owners were looking for a museum interested in restoring the aircraft for display.

Last year, Dynamic Aviation, a multi-facetted aviation company headquartered in Bridgewater, Virginia bought the airplane, thus, continuing the journey restoring it to flight status. Karl Stoltzfus, Dynamic Aviation’s CEO says they plan to restore it to just as it was when President Eisenhower was using it.

Expertise provided for the project came from Texas’ own Mid-America Flight Museum in Mt. Pleasant that volunteered the work to get the "Connie" back into the air, the first step to returning it to show quality and hopefully flown about the country retelling the story of how the most recognizable aircraft call-sign in the world came to be.

On March 21, Captain Lockie Christler, son of the former owner, Mel Christler, slowly advanced the throttles as the plane’s flight engineer monitored the engine gages. Captain Christler released the brakes and the "Connie" began rolling. A post on the Mid America Flight Museum’s Facebook page reads "At 12:28 – after over a year of preparation, Columbine II once again took to the sky. Tears of joy are watering the desert."

On its journey eastward, the Constellation was flanked by a Boeing B-25 - a medium-size WW II bomber, and a Beechcraft King Air, making their first stop Mt. Pleasant, Texas. Two days later amidst creaks and groans from its 70-year-old airframe, the first Air Force One landed at its new home in Virginia. With a new lease on life she will inspire and educate a whole new generation.

April 5, 2016 There's no rush like it

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

Linda: Following a lay-off from her auto cad drafting job, Doreen Yost was looking for work when a friend suggested she help him train race horses. Living close to Churchill Downs has its benefits. She was 23, hadn’t been around horses, but was a perfect size: extra small.

Winter’s ground was cold when Doreen began as an exercise rider ‘walking the shed row’ indoors for the horses that didn’t go to Florida.

"To exercise them in the off-season they put a rider on for the weight and feel. I found out that balancing is really hard. I was in pretty good shape, but not for that. You have to hold your heels down and stay in the stirrups."

She’d bought the helmet and all the gear. After walking shed row for a couple weeks, one nice day they said, "Take this horse out." It was her chance to see if she could be a jockey.

At the training center was a three-horse gate. She mounted an experienced horse, and, "The first time I broke out of a gate was awesome! We were going 35-40 mph in like two jumps! They told me I ‘Woo-hoo’d’ all the way down the stretch," she laughs.

There’s no real training for that moment, so she just did everything she'd been taught. "I never thought there was any rush like that - until, the first time I landed an airplane."

Doreen tried being a race jockey for about 10 years. Because she is so light she works well with the babies; when they’re young they can take her weight, and she handled them better than she could the big horses, but realizing she would not be a jockey and felt like a failure.

Then she met Joe. They made their home as newlyweds close to Clark County Airport in Indiana.

The horse gig wasn’t getting it and those planes were flying over all the time. "I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing cad drawing. I needed something to focus on." She prayed about it and was still searching when Joe bought her a discovery flight.

Training began in a Cessna 152, a two-seat airplane that carried her through to her pilot’s license. "It was too little for everyone else but perfect for me - and it was always available."

Joining the 99s (women pilots group) she met Sue, who needed a race partner for the four-day all-women’s Air Race Classic. Amazed to discover there was such a thing, Doreen felt a bit intimidated at first but quickly became comfortable with the camaraderie of friendly competitors. Together they raced Sue’s Cessna 172, Race #42, across 2,530 miles, "With three goals: 1. Don't cause an accident 2. Don't kill ourselves 3. Don't finish last."

Sue made all the landings because Doreen can’t reach the pedals, even with pillows; Doreen mostly handled navigation and radio duty - she loves to talk on the radio.

Departing Doreen’s home airport, Stop 3 on the race, the alternator suddenly failed. "Our radios didn’t work so we turned back, hoping to get a new alternator quickly and stay in the race."

All the other racers had taken off, and by the time they had a new alternator the wind had shifted and a sweet tailwind carried Doreen and Sue up to Kalamazoo, giving them the second-fastest time on that leg.

As Sue’s Cessna 172 crossed the finish line much yelling, whooping and hollering occurred in the cockpit. Happy to have finished the race, 33rd out of 50, Doreen could finally answer her mom’s anxious texts and tell her she succeeded.

These days she says, "I kinda failed at being a jockey, but I’m a much better pilot."

March 29, 2016 Airline Genealogy

The Liberty Gazette
March 29, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Reflecting on topics we’ve covered in this space, from the well-known to the obscure, I realized we hadn’t touched much on airline acquisitions and mergers, be they deals proposed or deals closed. The negotiations are fascinating, but the paperwork can be oh so boring, so I wondered if we could discuss it here without putting you to sleep. Let’s take a stab at it – but set an alarm just in case.

Airline merger history has more partner-changing than a marathon square dance. In the last thirty years American picked up TWA, Eastern, and Air California. Pan Am and Continental were taken up by United. Delta consumed Northwest and Western after Northwest had acquired Republic, and Southwest Airlines snatched up Air Tran. United and US Airways courted, but the Justice Department (DOJ) objected because it would have resulted in increased fares, reduced competition, and fewer route choices. When US and Delta flirted Delta pilots and senior management, and some creditors, threw buckets of cold water on that affair.

Mergers are mainly motivated by alluring cost reductions and increased revenues (follow the money), but the DOJ must study how a merger would affect competition to determine the risk of antitrust.

Consider the merger that created the largest airline in history – American and US Airways, proposed as a stock swap while American was in bankruptcy court. Follow the money.

Analysts said it would cause a significant decrease in competitors serving the same cities if the merger was approved. Would potential benefit to consumers outweigh potential harm? Would one of the partners go belly up, losing its assets if they didn’t merge? The DOJ poured over financial information, ticket sales, operations, labor force, and schedules and interviewed experts for insight into how the airline industry and U.S. economy may be affected.

They also considered the "Southwest Effect". Southwest has served for years as a check on mergers because even with less competition, there’s always Southwest, and legacy airlines know that SWA has every intent of "Luving" all those passengers, so their presence can help keep ticket prices down.

But raising ticket prices or eliminating competition doesn’t drive businesses to merge; rather, its greater efficiency (purchasing, technology, and facilities) with more flexibility (a greater variety of aircraft to serve changing or seasonal capacity needs). Challenges come in integrating technology and in workforce blending - how to handle seniority, a major problem in a union-heavy industry.

And approval from DOJ and DOT are not the only prerequisites; they need economic authority from the Office of the Secretary, safety authority from the FAA, and approval of shareholders. And that’s where the rubber meets the runway. The real driver for airline mergers is the financial gain to shareholders – and let’s be honest, it’s only the big fat cheeses who gain.

When American and US Airways announced their engagement they put all their equity in a pile and counted it. $11 billion. They proposed shareholders of American Airlines would own 72 percent of the new company, and US Airways shareholders would have 28 percent: American had 879 airplanes and US had 336, a 72-28 split. With the new company, they could offer more seamless travel to more destinations, and that would trigger more ticket sales for a bigger piece of the pie.

Always follow the money. Aside from employees’ loss of pensions and $17M severance for the American CEO, what’s not to love? Care to dance?