formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

June 28, 2016 Feeling at home in Jerome

The Liberty Gazette
June 28, 2016
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Retiring from the Las Vegas police force, Garth made his home in beautiful Twin Falls, Idaho. We’ve flown over it and we’ve stopped there for fuel, crossing the Snake River, made infamous in my childhood by Evil Knievel. One advantage of making the aerial crossing of this river in our Cheetah versus an airliner is that we can fly much lower, affording a significantly better view from above of the gorgeous design from the flowing river flanked by mountains not too distant. We can meander, like the river, choosing to circle overhead, follow it one way and then another, sightseeing from the best seats. No wonder Garth would want to retire here.

We didn’t meet him, however, in Twin Falls; we met when we stopped where the fuel was less expensive, in nearby Jerome, Idaho, where ag planes go to refuel and the winds can be howling down the runway, which is certainly better than cursing crosswinds.

Jerome is a small but healthy town just a few miles from Twin Falls. What makes it healthy is that when the newly retired police officer, who also happens to be a pilot, visited the place they asked him if he could manage their airport, the previous manager having recently passed away. Not one to shy away from opportunity, and seeing how he could help the community, Garth first lowered prices, attracting airplanes crossing the country in need of a fuel stop. Next, he began to personally welcome every visitor to his airport. This is what savvy airport managers do – it’s what Jose and Debbie did here in Liberty – walk out to greet folks and offer to help. The fuel here is self-serve, but there’s something about climbing out of an airplane and seeing a big smile, fuel hose in hands that are stuffed into work gloves, and a hearty, “Hi there! Welcome to Jerome! Can I help you with some fuel?” And in our case, through an understanding grin, “I know that look – it’s time to get out and stretch your legs!”

Mike: Airborne for just over three hours, our fannies were ready for a break. We’d risen with the sun to depart Cheyenne early and cross the Northern Rockies in cooler temps that are better for engine performance. I’d been searching the peaks of high boney-back ridges for meandering hiking trails while Linda flew, until finally the land opened into the broad Snake River Valley of Southern Idaho, a land that alternates between irrigation fed circle farms and lava fields.

The heat of the day had not yet exploded as we approached Jerome; the breeze not as much as we would find it the next evening returning to spend the night. Air flows across those mountains, forming swirls and eddies like water flowing over rocks in a river, the faster the flow, the rougher the air. Our arrival was bumpy, but manageable.

For such a small airport it seemed busy. Within the twenty minutes we were there six planes taxied in to take advantage the low fuel price.

Linda: Garth understands that low prices bring customers in, and service keeps them coming back. On our return trip the next evening he loaned us the airport courtesy car and made hotel recommendations for much needed rest before ten more hours flying home.

Don’t let anybody tell you an airport manager can’t make a difference for a town. An airport is a city’s front door, and its manager the face from whom visitors derive their impression of the town. Jerome, Idaho is a must-stop place now, thanks to Garth.

www.ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

June 21, 2016 Eat at Podunk Junction

The Liberty Gazette
June 21, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Chirp! Chirp! Squeal! As the Cessna’s tires kiss the runway local airport characters gather about a coffee pot telling big-fish stories. Picture some Bob Jamison types among them.

The Cessna taxies up to the fuel pump and the prop comes to a stop. Two young pilots step from the plane and look around, then mosey over to the old office building that serves as a terminal. A sign above the door reads “Welcome to Podunk Junction Municipal Airport”. As they step inside a man echo’s the sign’s greetings from behind a glass counter display case full of maps and books and a bunch of aviation trinkets, “Howdy! Welcome to Podunk Junction. Where you come from? You want fuel?”

“Yes sir, we only need a little bit though. We’re from Maynard Farmer International. We heard there’s a place to eat here.”

“The place to eat is about a hundred yards down the road. You can’t miss it. It might look a little rundown on the outside but it’s a nice place and there are always lots of cars there. It’s good food, too.”

Airport cafés have been around for a long time. Though I don’t know first-hand, I can tell by observation that the café business in general isn’t easy to maintain. The failure rate of eateries is pretty high. When I was a new pilot one of the most popular activities was flying to a neighboring airport for a burger and fries.

An airport café isn’t always on the airport itself but within an easy walk, and some are quite unique. Some have names like Southern Flyer Diner, Flying Lady, Nut Tree, Apple Valley Inn, 94th Aero Squadron, Anzio’s Landing, The Red Baron. Others are simply known as the airport café. Pilots look for places to spread their wings and fill their tummies, even taking on less fuel so their planes can get off the ground after they eat.

If you’ve been to the Brenham airport you’ve probably enjoyed an ice cream soda at the Southern Flyer Diner served by girls in poodle skirts.

The Flying Lady was on a golf course and had an overhead track that snaked its way around the eating area. Hanging from this track were over 200 model aircraft with numbers corresponding to numbers on place mats where we read the history of the aircraft.

Nut Tree Airport offered rides in their little amusement park style train, to the restaurant just off the airport.

Apple Valley Inn was once Roy Rogers’ and Dale Evan’s home and also served as Sky King’s Flying Crown Ranch in the 1950’s TV series.

The chain of 94th Aero Squadrons sport a WWI motif inside and out, complete with camouflage netting on the outer walls and turrets.

Some, like Flo’s in Chino, California, are just greasy spoon places that have been there forever.

The best airport cafes are part of the community the airport serves, where car clubs and motorcycle groups and families and citizens who don’t fly feel welcome to join in aviation camaraderie. 

Meanwhile, back at Podunk Junction, as the two young Cessna crew head for the cafe the coffee crowd offers menu suggestions to fill their hungry bellies.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

June 14, 2016 Brits in Texas

The Liberty Gazette
June 14, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Welcome to Terrell, Texas, where the city’s new Major William F. Long Terminal Building at the Terrell Municipal Airport was designed to look much like the original air traffic control tower and operations building built here decades ago. Inside, the shape of the Great State of Texas spreads out across the floor, and depicted within its boundaries, drawn to scale, are all the British Isles.

75 years ago the skies above Terrell and north Texas came alive with war machines. Their engines droned, burped, coughed, wheezed and roared as they were flung and plunged through the air with ever increasing levels of skill. New military aviators were being born - and not all of them were Americans.

Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor the United States maintained the appearance of neutrality, but behind the scenes, not so much. U.S. citizens traveled to Canada, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and continued on to Europe to join the fight against the evil of the day. Some joined Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) which placed them into the Eagle Squadrons - made up entirely of our boys - while others joined the ranks of the French Air Force. In China, they joined the famed Flying Tigers to fight against Japan, and later this volunteer war pilot contingent morphed into the American Volunteer Group (AVG). Altogether, these volunteer pilots shot down many enemy aircraft even before we officially declared war.

Conversely, British soldiers were discretely sent to Canada, decommissioned and stripped of all insignia. Handed new Canadian passports, they boarded trains for destinations within the United States to learn to fly. Six training facilities were established, the first and largest of course being in Texas - specifically, Terrell. And so we welcome you to Terrell, the airport built for training British pilots.

The 1st British Flying Training School (1st BFTS) wasn’t widely known, at least not prior to the United States’ entry into the war, but in 1939 plans were already set in motion to create training bases in Britain’s overseas commonwealth nations and in the United States. The Chambers of Commerce of Terrell and Kaufman helped the efforts to select the site for the school. Then two auxiliary airstrips were constructed nearby to relieve air traffic congestion.

The citizens of Terrell welcomed the cadets, whose motto was, “The seas divide but the skies unite.” The community and the young soldiers benefited from each other’s cultural influences so that even 71 years after the war ended, ties remain.

Through the mill, civilian instructors gave classes of cadets 20 weeks of ground and flight training in basic airmanship, navigation, meteorology and flying on instruments. In all, the 1st BFTS minted about 2,200 British pilots, and another 130 U.S. pilots as well.

This unique history of the people and the school is preserved and open to the public at the 1st British Flying Training School Museum at Terrell Municipal Airport. Major Long of Dallas ran the school and so the new terminal building bears his name. The design on the floor quotes one of the British flyers when he began flight training at Terrell: “This place is bigger than all of England.” He was partly right - it’s a lot bigger.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

June 7, 2016 To the Point, its for the Points

The Liberty Gazette
June 7, 2016
Ely Air Lines 
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda:
When we first joined the Sport Air Racing League, after much coercing by Patricia Purcell, Air Race Queen, it was because I had competed in the all-women’s Air Race Classic a few times and while I loved the competition, the opportunity to live the racing life with Mike made the League so much more appealing. Sure, I loved that he was always at the finish line of every Air Race Classic race, open arms, tied with my mom as my biggest fan. But then there was Pat, calling and emailing every so often, dangling the preverbal carrot: “Your plane will be the fastest in its class - you’ll have a good shot at winning every race - and you won’t have to leave Mike behind.”

I love winning. I love Mike, too.

We joined the League in 2011 and spent the season learning how it all works, making our way to races that were not too far away, those we could get to, race, and be home the same day.

That season we learned. We learned how to win, we learned how to race cross-country air races. We entered the 2012 season with nothing but Season Championship Gold Trophy on our minds.

There would be a lot of traveling, and for what that cost we could have just bought all those trophies - but it wouldn’t have been the same.

It was a good year, 2012, the first of four consecutive Championships won by our “Elyminator”, which later won the title, “Fastest Cheetah in the Known Universe”.

After the 2012 season, though, we realized that we didn’t have to make every race to win the championship, so we relaxed our schedule a bit and missed some more distant races, like the ones around the breathtakingly scenic Pacific Northwest.

Now we’re in our sixth year in the Sport Air Racing League, and this year there’s a newcomer, the fella who was our guest columnist last week: William E. Dubois.

Mr. Dubois flies an Ercoupe so he competes in a different class, but he wins points toward the season championship, and that is where we compete against him.

William is a writer - a real one, as in, that’s his actual profession and he’s quite good at it. I think we kind of feel the same way about each other. He’s a nice enough guy, but for the first time since we joined the League someone is gunning for the championship trophy, and he’s made us his target.

We’ll have to make every race to have any hope of retaining our title. Otherwise, there will be an upset of upsetting proportions. The thought of the Elyminator standing second to an Ercoupe, in official, saved-forever records, with end-of-year photos, and us holding a second-place trophy is motivating me to change a lot of plans this year. Meanwhile, William is chronicling the entire season’s competition, along with his dream to swipe that First Place trophy, for everyone to read in the aviation newspapers.

As it is, William holds a world speed record set in his Ercoupe, and now, he’s really into cross-country air racing. He blogs his personal flying adventures at www.PlaneTales.net.

If ever there were a time to Elyminate, it is now. Game on.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

May 31, 2016 Flights to nowhere

The Liberty Gazette
May 31, 2016
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda:
We have a special treat for you this week. We’re honored to welcome William Dubois. He’s penned some thoughts for you on flying.

All you need to know this week is that he’s a commercial pilot and ground instructor, has a degree in aviation and is a professional aviation writer whose work has appeared in AOPA Pilot, EAA Sport Aviation, General Aviation News, FAA Safety Briefing, Flight Training, Flying Magazine, and Smithsonian Air & Space; and that he flies a 1947 Ercoupe, a two-seat airplane weighing only 750 pounds, including it’s 85 horsepower engine.

While the Ercoupe is not a speed demon, we know you’ll enjoy his humor and his appearance here will become clear next week.

Flights to nowhere
By William E. Dubois

I have a confession. I hate flying places.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love to fly. Just not as a form of transportation. I find that flying to somewhere specific, generally called a cross-country flight, is the most boring kind of flying in the world. It’s like driving a bus. Well, more like driving a bus and cramming for a mid-term exam at the same time.

A cross-country flight of any distance at all requires all sorts of planning. You need to study your route. Figure out where to buy fuel. Read half a dozen weather reports. Look at the charts to see where the restricted airspace is. Study airport diagrams and rules. Jot down frequencies.

And once you’re in the air, you need to stick to the plan. If you see some sort of interesting distraction you want to investigate, you just threw your fuel management plan out the window. And of course you also need to fly more precisely. You need to stay on course.

Frankly, it’s altogether tedious, and if I really want to go somewhere it’s easier to just hop in the car. Faster, too, sometimes. Just the other day, thanks to a headwind, I was barely able to travel over the ground at 70 miles per hour. And of course, once you get somewhere by airplane, you’re stuck at an airport, often with no way to get to the nearest town.

The flying I love is to just get up in the air and explore my greater back yard within a 45-mile radius of my home field. I like to see the play of light off the ground. Watch eagles ride thermals off my wingtips. Fly up some canyon I’ve never visited or check on my favorite lake to see if the island in the middle is smaller from the recent rains. Other times I ignore the ground and fly just for the feel of it. The wind in my hair. The tug of gravity in a steep turn. The endorphin high of defying gravity.

This kind of seat-of-the pants flying doesn’t require much, if any, planning. You can wake up in the morning and say to yourself: I think I’ll go see the surface of the globe from above today.

A flight to somewhere will only take you from point A to point B, and in a rather boring fashion, at that. But a flight to nowhere is a flight for the soul. It doesn’t take you to a specific place; it transports you to a state of mind. A beautiful state of mind.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 24, 2016 A Picture of Courage

The Liberty Gazette
May 17, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Two weeks ago I met Chris Sullivan as a fellow air racer. It was his first race and he was admittedly nervous.

“I’d always wanted to learn to fly. When I discovered Able Flight I submitted my application for scholarship and was selected to come to Purdue University.”

Chris’ first flight was in May, 2014, as he began Able Flight’s intensive training in an aircraft equipped with adaptive rudder controls, a Sky Arrow, nine years after being hit by sniper fire.

They were doing their job, just as they’d been trained. Nobody else was hit. Sgt. Sullivan lay on the ground bleeding from his neck. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. His vocal cords burned but he felt no pain; the sniper’s bullet had severed his spine. His squad franticly laid down suppression fire and attempted to evacuate him.

May 21, 2005, the 256th Infantry Brigade, LA Army National Guard had been tasked with locating and disarming IEDs just outside Baghdad Airport. As the team worked carefully the enemy watched. Suddenly, bullets flew, one entering the back of Chris' neck and exiting his back.

Carried to safety behind the Humvee, Chris could hear the radio. Apache helicopters were needed to blanket the area with suppression fire for Blackhawk helicopters to swoop in for the rescue, but the Apaches were on other missions. He knew they were too far to reach him before he bled to death - but he wasn't afraid. He prayed, “Lord, if its time to bring me home, I’m okay with that, but I will fight it as long as I can because I have so much more to do.” Unable to speak well, he smiled, hoping it would calm his buddies as his blood spilled out.

Then, over the radio squelched the news: two Apaches were within three miles and on their way, hot and heavy – fully loaded with ammo!

God didn’t bring Chris home that day, and so began the long and painful road to recovery. Knowing his Company would return from deployment in three and a half months, he wanted to greet them so he asked the doctors for an aggressive rehab plan. That reunion State-side was a great motivator, but once back home in Mire, Louisiana, doubt and fear prowled around him as he fought against post-traumatic stress. What was his purpose, now that he was paralyzed?

Chris began helping veterans through the Veteran’s Administration, with empathy that only someone who has been there can have. Four years later he joined Louisiana State Rep. Rodney Alexander’s staff as a case worker for wounded warriors. He shared his story at fund raisers, learned to scuba dive, went skydiving, and became a National Veterans Wheelchair Games silver medalist in snow skiing, and on the second anniversary of being wounded, our hero began dating his future wife, later witnessing another miracle - the birth of their son.

Chris worked hard at Able Flight, in ground school several hours a day, flying twice daily. Then, the night before his Check Ride he fell ill with an infection that spread to his bones. Courageously he fought back for a month, returning to Purdue to earn his wings.

This May, Chris became a fellow air racer. It was his first race and he was admittedly nervous as he climbed out of his wheelchair and into the cockpit. On that hot day, friends helped drape ice-cold cloths on his neck because his body can’t regulate temperature.

Engines started, props turned, and airplanes taxied to the runway. There in the Sky Arrow, eleven years after facing death in war, Chris Sullivan taxied in line and looked down the row of race planes. A tear came as he took the starting line, throttled up and became: a race pilot. He won First Place.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 17, 2016 Spotlight on Careers: Air Traffic Control

The Liberty Gazette
May 17, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Faces glow with the reflection from large computer screens as they watch pulsating blips moving in different directions and speeds across the screen. One of the watchers calmly speaks through a microphone as she issues instructions to one of the blips. She is organizing them. The guy sitting beside her is pushing buttons and speaking to others controllers via special phone lines. The scene is repeated around the dimly lit room. This is an Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). 

Following a pivotal accident in 1956 where a United Airlines DC-7 and a TWA Super Constellation collided in the clouds over the Grand Canyon, the modern air traffic control system  came out of the ashes. The United States operates the largest and busiest air traffic control system in the world, handling tens of thousands of flights each day. 

There are 22 of these Centers in the United States. Houston Center near Bush Intercontinental is not the largest but it controls a 28,000 square mile area, extending into much of the Gulf of Mexico. 

Besides AARTCs, there are smaller facilities controlling local approaches and departures like the Houston Terminal Radar Control (TRACON) and the many Air Traffic Control Towers at airports around the country. 

In Virginia is the highly sophisticated FAA Command Center which looks like NASA’s control center, or the war room inside Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs that monitors missiles - ours and “theirs”. The FAA Command Center integrates and synchronizes air traffic across the country and into many other parts of the world. When weather causes delays, Command Center controllers work to keep traffic flowing. 

Many controllers are pilots but there are many who are not. It takes a special type of person to work this highly stressful job. Prospective controllers take aptitude tests. Going to a school that specializes in training controllers is one option. In Texas there are two schools that offer this training, Texas State Technical College in Waco and Le Tourneau University in Longview. After graduation accepted applicants enter into training at the FAA’s Academy in Oklahoma City - and must begin before their 31st birthday (yes, the federal government, who makes it illegal and will fine private companies for the doing so, does practice age discrimination). Mandatory retirement is age 57. 

After completion at the academy, on-the-job training begins. Controllers must be certified for every position they may occupy but they usually start out at an air traffic control tower. Having enjoyed the lofty view from Houston’s Intercontinental tower, I find it both a surreal and enlightening experience from a pilot’s perspective to watch controllers at work. 

With the upcoming introduction of the much touted NexGen air traffic control system these jobs will present many new challenges to the next generation of controllers.

Interested in air traffic control as a career, or know someone who is? The jobs are always posted on www.usajobs.gov. Openings come and go quickly, so check regularly. Or, you might discover something else that tickles your fancy in this fascinating world of aviation.