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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July 26, 2016 Beyond Flying: Influencing Art

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

Linda: Usually this space is filled with purely aviation stories, but every once in awhile we reach beyond for an interesting connection to aviation. The arts is one area rich with aviation references, in song, poetry, and story, in movies, stage, radio, and television, in games, and in dance. Often the characters featured are the most well-known, such as Charles Lindbergh and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

The opera, Amelia, is one of many projects inspired by the famed aviatrix. The official synopsis from the website of Daron Hagen, the opera’s writer, says, “A first time mother-to-be, whose psyche has been scarred by the loss of her pilot-father in Vietnam, must break free from anxiety to embrace healing and renewal for the sake of her husband and child in this original story unfolding over a 30-year period beginning in 1966. Amelia interweaves one woman's emotional journey, the American experience in Vietnam, and elements of the Daedalus and Icarus myth to explore man's fascination with flight and the dilemmas that arise when vehicles of flight are used for exploration, adventure, and war. With an intensely personal libretto by American poet Gardner McFall, whose father was a Navy pilot lost during Vietnam, this new American opera moves from loss to recuperation, paralysis to flight, as the protagonist, Amelia, ultimately embraces her life and the creative force of love and family.”

It’s a fabulous, precious opera, even for non-opera fans. We saw it nearly five years ago and were honored to meet Mr. Hagen and Ms. McFall in a pre-performance meet and greet, which made the show that much more enjoyable. I’d recommend seeing it - it’s empowering and touching.

Then just a few days ago I received a promotional email from another pair - an acrobatic ballerina and her publicist.

Cryzta Bobbe, stage name Crystalle, is an aerial dancer - a gifted gymnast and ballerina who literally ran off to join the circus at her German parents’ dismay.  They equated circus life with beggars, but somehow, something about an early female pilot has touched Crystalle so deeply that she was moved to create a very acrobatic dance performance as a tribute to her. She performs Adagio for Amelia donning vintage helmet and goggles, as well as a flowing dance called Winged. And yes, she dances on a high wire, too.

Now I have these burning questions: what is it about aviation that draws an elegant, gifted dancer to create such an inspiring, beautiful performance? What is it about flying that she loves?

At the same time I am reminded of the story of Rosie the Riveter. The daughter of the real Rosie lives in Conroe and is a pilot and good friend of mine. The likeness of a later Rosie shows up in newer posters, but that lady was actually a pianist and wanted nothing to do with continued riveting in the factory, because of the risk to her fingers, and her career. My friend’s mother, whose name really was Rose, and who really did make B-24s in the Willow Run bomber factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, wasn't too concerned with piano, but had a riveting career nonetheless.

One last musing about aviation and the arts. Gearing up for the next race I decided to get gussied up a little more than usual. I had my fingernails painted to match the dominant red on the Elyminator, and my toenails in black and white checkered flag motif to match the design on our tail and wingtips. Maybe it’ll help us win.

July 19, 2016 Sweet Rewards

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

Linda: Dave Phillips was an engineer at the University of California and like all engineers, he put his pencil to work, calculated all the angles and when he found the best one he began building his plan.

Seventeen years ago the Healthy Choice food company decided on a new strategy to promote their products. They would offer non-cash rewards in exchange for proof of purchase of anything made by Healthy Choice that would come in the form of frequent flyer miles on any one of four airlines of the customer’s choice. Each bar code would be worth 100 miles. Prices varied on their products, but the reward was the same.

Today the company offers 89 different products within the frozen foods, soups, yogurts, and frozen treats categories. They sold many of those products back in 1999, too, when Dave began buying cans of soup and frozen meals, quickly figuring that the lower priced products would net him the best deal.

Then he happened into a grocery outlet store and stumbled upon a Healthy Choice product he hadn’t seen before: pudding - trial-sized chocolate pudding cups. They were priced at 25 cents, and yes, he did exactly what you think he did. He bought the entire display full of tiny chocolate pudding cups.

Approaching the cashier, he realized he’d better think of a response to the question he would surely be asked - why are you buying all these?

Being 1999, the most fitting response was simply, “Y2K.” With the rumors of catastrophe that the year 2000 would have on everyone because computers were not programmed to understand a change in Century, and the hysteria those rumors caused, no one would expect further explanation. Y2K, it turned out, was the perfect alibi as Dave tried to beat the promotion’s deadline, spending his quarters at every grocery outlet within 200 miles, and morphing into The Pudding Guy.

Investing about 100 hours of his time and a little over $3,000, Dave’s garage eventually housed 12,150 25-cent pudding cups, worth 1.2 million air miles - determination, for the win!

Now you might think that 100 hours of work and $3,000 is a pretty sweet deal for several family trips around the world over a ten year period, but wait - there’s more. Remember there was a deadline for this promotion? That deadline meant he had to remove all those labels with bar codes off of every single pudding cup and send them in. Besides, who was going to eat all this pudding?

After several calls to area food banks, someone at the local Salvation Army agreed to accept the donation and offered volunteer labor to remove all those labels. And the little gold nugget here - Dave even claimed the $3,000 donation on his taxes that year. His proof? It was in the pudding.

If you’re inclined to be mad at Dave for his tax write-off, first of all, it was a long time ago, so get over it; but second, you gotta hand it to the guy. He’s the only person who had the tenacity to follow through and claim his prizes to travel the world for free for a decade.

July 12, 2016 Status: Hero

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

Mike: The metal airframe’s vibrations resonate as its twin propellers club the air. From behind the multi-paned windshield the pilots peer through clouds and dense smoke of burned fields, searching for a small village hung on a mountainside. Fighting to keep the heavily laden old transport plane flying, they remain clear of spire-like rock formations jutting up from thick foliage below. In the back, a man moves pallets of stacked bags and a crate with a pig inside closer to the open door. The crew struggles with the shifting cargo as the plane becomes tail-heavy.

Rounding a ridge they see their target. The pilot gives the signal to drop the load. With all his strength, the man in back begins shoving pallets out the back door, sometimes following them through it only to be slammed against the airplane as he dangles from his safety line. Clawing and crawling back inside, he finally dumps the pig. Some of the pallets have parachutes, others do not. Hopefully the pig has a nice leisurely ride.

As the pig flies so does the big silver bird. Rolling steeply away from the mountain it leaps skyward due to pounds shed, disappearing into the gloomy brown-grey pall, mission accomplished and heading for home.

At the end of WWII, from the remains of General Claire Chennault’s famed Flying Tigers, which defended China before we entered the war, emerged Air America.

Air America became the world’s largest private airline, but was eventually owned by the CIA, making it a public asset. The dedication of its crew members - who served without protections - guaranteed that U.S. service men and women were able to accomplish missions the military could not without political upheaval.

For our government, its plausible deniability. Yet, these crew members served alongside our armed forces, and many died in their service. Flying large transports and helicopters they provided lifelines of food and supplies to natives and allies, similar to what was done during the Berlin Airlift, except that there the rules of engagement were respected. Not so during the secret war in Laos as Air America rescued downed U.S. pilots who bailed out of aircraft damaged on raids over North Vietnam, often doing so under heavy fire.

My introduction came in 1985, through British writer Christopher Robbins’ book, “Air America”. It took me three months to fully digest the book’s contents covering a secret thirty-year history. Hollywood did a hatchet job with their 1990 movie. Though most of the flight scenes lauded were by the pilots, the plot was slanted and poorly developed, wholly failing to capture the essence of the airline or its people.

The airline’s motto was “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere, Professionally.” Air America brought supplies to dozens of mountain villages, transported civilian and military personnel throughout the war zones of Southeast Asia, and yes, dropped ammunition to guerrilla fighters. Known for being the first in and last out, one of the last iconic images taken during the Vietnam War shows an Air America Huey helicopter on a rooftop in Saigon picking up evacuees as the city fell to communist North Vietnam.

The Air America archives are stored at the McDermott Library at University of Texas-Dallas, including a plaque listing the 242 crew members who lost their lives in service. The remaining members still do battle, now to establish their status as Veterans. To deny them this honor is just wrong.

July 5, 2016 Flying the Sky Trails

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

Mike: Squinting, I can just make out a distant river meandering through broken canyons, like a large root with smaller branches disappearing into breaks in canyon walls. A plethora of color escapes the ground to meet my eyes, hues vary depending on the vegetation and rock formations through which this river has cut. How different this coursing flow of water that creates part of the border between Oklahoma and Texas looks from above than in the John Wayne movie, Red River. Everything looks different from above.

Linda: Our flight up to the Pacific Northwest that included a stop in Jerome, Idaho gave Mike plenty of opportunity to scan the dirt trails etched into the high rocky terrain below. He reveled in thoughts of hiking those rugged mountain trails. Formerly an avid wilderness traveler between jet-setting trips around the U.S. and the world, it’s something he misses here at sea level. A package deal would be so perfect, like the ones Adventure Pilot used to create in California – fly, bike, kayak, hike.

Meandering trails don’t have to be ground-bound. We recently discussed sky (or air) trails with Yasmina Platt, the Central Southwest Regional Manager for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Mike recalls one such trail that explores the natural wonders of the low-lying Anza Borrego desert near the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley, and another that follows the Oregon Trail from Missouri all the way to Oregon’s fertile Willamette River Valley.

Yas told us she was going to create some new air trails in her region and publish them for pilots who want to explore and learn. She’s created two so far, and is working on more that provide flexible routes and fascinating tidbits on the history and geology of the areas, activities to try, and places to stay. Her first sky trail is “Flying Oz,” the Ozarks Trail! published on AOPA’s blog (, targeting the half million U.S. licensed pilots, and especially the nearly 100,000 pilots who live in the region she serves.

Air trails have been around for decades and some have been hugely popular with significant backing by state parks or tourism departments. Self-guided, they are sort of a flying version of renting a recorded audio tour at a museum. Pilots study the trip beforehand, and print out the information or have it available electronically while flying the tour. With Yasmina’s Ozarks air trail pilots can start and stop the route at any airport and can rearrange the order in which to fly to listed points of interest.
Whether scenic serenity beckons, or you’re drawn to more physical activity, or, if you’d rather take in museums and shopping, its a pilot’s dream of a trip in the Ozarks, through Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Make it a weekend or longer, her air trails can be tailored to taste and style and are centered on flying, from community airports like Liberty’s to small dirt or grass strips out in the wilderness.

If you’re active on social media you can follow Yasmina on Twitter where she is @AOPACentralSW, and if you fly her Ozark air trail, she’d love to hear about it. Using #OzarksAirTrail in your Tweet will get her attention.

Mike: I think about the history of the towns like Coffeeville and Dodge City, Kansas as they slip beneath our wings. I see where rivers roam and envision history as it swept across the landscape before us. Yasmina’s air trails will inspire journeys that will become stories worth telling.