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, October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017 Aerial Firefighting

The Liberty Gazette
October 17, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Our college flying team gathered on the flight deck as the air tanker pilot spun tales of derring-do in aerial firefighting. He explained the little button on his control yoke, the airplane’s steering wheel. Behind him, the instrument panel was dark in comparison to the light shining through a virtual greenhouse of windows. Most airplane cockpits are too small to fit more than two or three people, even in big airliners. But the spacious cockpit of the C-119, a Korean War era plane nicknamed the Flying Boxcar, held our group of ten with room to spare.

The little button, which got more than a little attention, was a release button, like those used by bombardiers. This one opened doors on the belly of the airplane allowing up to eighteen hundred gallons of fire retardant to fall from a tank. That’s ten thousand pounds. The entire load could be dispersed in less than a second, or the drop could last up to ten seconds. One member of our group got a little too close to that button. The pilot quickly blocked her itchy fingers to prevent spilling expensive, gooey fire retardant and painting the entire ramp bright red.

Years ago, the airplanes dropped a yellow-green type of fire suppressant called Borate, which earned them the nickname, Borate Bombers. Borate was made from Borax mined from the California desert. It not only smothered the fire, it killed all the vegetation. The weight of impact was enough to cut off oxygen to the fire so the Department of Agriculture looked for something that could do the same, but wouldn’t be so harsh on plants. Phos-Chek is the suppressant used today. It’s usually dyed red with iron-sulfate so pilots can see where they have dropped their load. Once the fire has been put out, the sulfate and phosphate salts act as fertilizer to promote regrowth.

One of the airports where our flying team practiced precision landings was an air attack tanker base. Hemet Valley Flying Service operated a number of aircraft including several Flying Boxcars. The airplanes were old even then and have since been retired from service, replaced by DC-10s, 747s and others. The 747 “Supertanker” carries more than ten times the load the C-119 was capable of lifting.

While I marvel at their forms as they glide across lakes to scoop up water, and sweep down valleys with seeming grace to disperse their cargo, I do not forget the reason they exist. They are frontline weapons in a fight to save lives.

Dozens of helicopters and airplanes have been dispatched to help put out these fires that have devoured much of Napa Valley, California’s wine country. The two Canyon fires near Anaheim have claimed over 8,000 acres. The Palmer, Atlas, and Tubbs fires have burned more than 20,000 acres, and resources are stretched. This has been a tragic year of natural disasters. With each event, aviation has provided significant rescue and support.

ElyAirLines.blotspot.com

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

October 10, 2017 St. Exupery and the Palms

The Liberty Gazette
October 10, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Of the books written by Frenchman, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince” (1943) is probably best known among non-aviators. In the minds of prop heads and turbine cowboys, however, the writer-poet-aristocrat-aviator is to this day one of the most often quoted flyers, with relatable declarations like, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.”

Natural disasters and those brought about by the will of evil remind us that many of our everyday concerns are tyrannized by petty things. The antithesis to the oppression of wretchedness is born in people such as those who rush to the aid of people in need. We’ve seen a great deal of that during emergencies, and praise the heroes who put others first. Among many aviators who commit beyond the emergencies to the long term welfare of the less fortunate are Mark and Kirsten Palm, serving in the East Sepik province of Papua, New Guinea.

With only one hospital in the province to serve over 500,000 people spread out over millions of acres, medical care is either for those in luxury or luck. For most, the hospital is three to five days travel along the 700-mile Sepik River.

Mark founded Samaritan Aviation to use his sea plane to transport medical staff, patients, medicine, and supplies all over the country. Saint-Exupéry may have appreciated the association of his quote to the selflessness of the Palm family: “Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself.”

One of Mark’s favorite experiences in bartering life came when he was called to fly out to a remote part of Papua to pick up a pregnant lady whose water broke three days prior. Her husband presumed what he’d been told was true–the baby couldn’t still be alive–but he hoped someone would save his wife. Mark flew her to the hospital, while the husband paddled up the river for three days. When he arrived, he found not only his wife alive, but their newborn son as well, and named him Samaritan.

Mark and Kirsten want their three children see things that are bigger than themselves. We think Saint-Exupéry would agree.

Samaritan Aviation was born out of the impact of need when Mark went on a mission trip with a friend during college and considered what he could do to participate in life. From his vision are now two sea planes, three more pilots, a medical director, ministry and support staff, working to fill the medical void.

With Mark’s vision, it is easy to hear Saint-Exupéry saying, “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” (from “The Little Prince”)

Click here to see the interview with Mark and Kirsten.

But you can see so much more if you go directly to Samaritan Aviation’s website.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

October 3, 2017 Elder Travel

The Liberty Gazette
October 3, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Here we are into autumn, and soon we’ll be thinking about holiday travel–Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's. Now’s the time to consider a safe travel plan for our elderly loved ones, because preparation can make a substantial difference in a healthy trip.

On a recent airline flight, an elderly woman suddenly felt like she was about to pass out, and got the attention of another passenger, who pushed the call button. No doubt the flight attendants were relieved that a doctor was only two rows away and rushed to the side of the vacationer-turned-patient.

The elderly woman did pass out, her arm muscles spasmed, and her breathing was labored. As the doctor massaged her chest bone she came to. His diagnosis was dehydration, which brought quick action by the crew to get water for her. Unfortunately, the water didn’t stay down, and the scene was repeated four times. Pass out, wake up, drink water, throw up, pass out again… Not a great way to start a vacation.

After a few hours, the episodes subsided and the doctor returned to his seat next to his wife.

Unfortunately, this startling situation isn’t uncommon among the elderly. To learn more on flying at advanced age, we consulted the Journal of Travel Medicine, where Dr. Iain B. McIntosh, a Scottish physician who lectures on geriatric medicine, explains the physiological disadvantages of the older traveler, and what can be done in preparation for travel. If this applies to you or someone you know, you should read Dr. McIntosh’s article, and follow up with a physician.

As we advance in age, Dr. McIntosh explains that decreases in cardiopulmonary and renal function can affect us at altitude. An airplane’s cabin air pressure depends on the altitude flying, but can be as high as the equivalent of eight thousand feet.

With age and altitude, we are less able to handle hypoxia, and our body’s ability to regulate water, sodium, and body temperature is affected.

When we have trouble regulating temperature, including sweating, hyperthermia and dehydration become a greater concern, especially in higher temperatures. In lower temperatures, our body’s poor regulation can cause hypothermia and exposure. When Dr. McIntosh considered temperature extremes, he cautioned that the possibility of stroke increases, and stress in general can increase the risk of heart attack.

Lots of walking and carrying luggage can put an unusual amount of stress on muscles, including the heart, while sitting for long periods brings concern of venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean our older family members should stop flying. The doctor’s advice is to get a health check before travel, stay on schedule with medications, and consider extra insurance and/or the availability of medical care on the trip. Our recommendation is to read his article: Iain B. Mclntosh. Health Hazards and the Elderly Traveler. Journal of Travel Medicine. Volume 5, Issue 1, Version of Record online: 28 JUL 2006.

Wishing you healthy holiday planning.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September 26, 2017 The People of Liberty, Texas v. Hurricane Harvey

The Liberty Gazette
September 26, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

We had planned to bring you wonderful stories from Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, but unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey’s deluge ruined that. Ten days of Vacation Croatia turned into four days of Vacation Rodeway Inn, Humble. Trapped on our way to the airport shortly before it closed, thinking we’d get out just in the nick of time, there was no place to go but the next hotel parking lot. We have nothing to complain about. While so many lost so much in the floods, our house was untouched. That fact is due to the superheroes who saved Liberty from becoming part of an enlarged San Jacinto river bottom.

Breaking from the world of aviation, we want to thank those we know of who spent days saving the levee around Travis Park, and ultimately the city.

These are the people to whom we are grateful that we had a house to come home to when we could finally escape Humble:

Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) #5 members, James Poitevent, Skeet Raggio, and James Leonard. James Poitevent was at the levee from Sunday morning on through the week. He oversaw the entire operation like Mel Gibson in the middle of the firefight in “We Were Soldiers”. With his contacts in construction and the oilfield, he raised up a mighty army to face down Harvey’s attack.

The other two WCID members, Walt Patterson and Victor Lemelle, held the fort in Ames, watching over ditches affecting Ames and the Liberty Municipal Airport.

Alton Fregia, of Daisetta, brought five tractors and numerous men who worked twelve-hour shifts. They made a formidable team.

We were in trouble, folks. Serious trouble. Had it not been for the community coming together, bringing equipment and manpower, most of the city would likely have been under water.

Arnold Smart, of Smart Oilfield Service, brought pumps, as did Curtis Hudnall of Curtis & Son Vacuum Service. Dwight Lumpkins, of Clay Mound Sporting Center, brought two pumps. Dwayne Johnson, of Johnson’s Trucking brought a track hoe and himself. John Hebert, lifetime superhero, supplied fuel for all these vehicles.

Oscar Cooper, of Cooper Electric, was there from Sunday morning on, trying to keep an ailing pump running, one of two owned by the city and the WCID.

David Chandler, of Oilfield Welding and Fabrication in Daisetta, brought his expertise and equipment, and we’d have been bad off if he hadn’t. David used a plasma cutter to cut steel plating to cover a grated hole so the water wouldn’t blow up through a drain.

Tim Killion, of Texas Armory, flew drone reconnaissance for an aerial view of water levels.
City Manager, Gary Broz and City Engineer, Tom Warner were just as dedicated to the safety of Liberty and stayed on the scene during the critical time.

Surely there are others unnamed here, but no less heroic. Thanks are inadequate for what our neighbors did to save our city.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

Friday, September 22, 2017

September 19, 2017 How the Coast Guard Watered Their Roots

The Liberty Gazette
September 19, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The United States Coast Guard began as part of the Treasury Department and was tasked with stopping rum runners and moonshiners during the prohibition era of the 1920’s and ‘30’s. I know of a Coast Guard pilot who flew back then. Once while searching for illegal stills in the hills of Kentucky, he let his airplane get too low. The corn whiskey makers shot him down. He climbed out of the wreck and spent two weeks on the run and finally escaped the area. Had he been caught by the mountain dew peddlers, nobody would have known what happened to him.

The Coast Guard was created out of two other entities: The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, and the U.S. Life-Savings Service, which helped shipwrecked sailors. The origins of these groups date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively. In 1878 the U.S. government took over and merged them in 1915 to form the U.S. Coast Guard.

While the USCG focus is on the water, its aviation roots reach back to the beginning of powered flight. Four members of the Life-Saving Service were on the team that helped Orville and Wilbur Wright move their Wright Flyer to the top of Kill Devil Hill during each of their historic flights in 1903. They couldn’t have known the extent to which their group would be involved in important aviation efforts in the future.

Cementing their reputation as training some of the finest pilots and sailors was the famous rescue on New Year’s Day, 1933. Lieutenant Commander Carl Christian von Paulsen, head of the Miami base, received notice that a severe storm near Cape Canaveral had caught a boy in its clutches and swept him and his skiff out to sea. Paulsen gathered his crew and took off in the amphibious aircraft named Arcturus to save the boy.

Even with strong headwinds, heavy rain affecting visibility, and twelve to fifteen-foot swells, Paulsen and his crew found the boy over thirty miles from shore. As they landed on the tumultuous waters the Arcturus’ wings sustained damage, rendering the aircraft un-flyable, but they pulled the boy aboard to safety. Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen taxied through the raging ocean with amazing skill and determination. What was left of the wings ripped away from the aircraft, leaving only the boat-like fuselage when they beached. All survived, and the dramatic heroism set the course for the future of the Coast Guard, and the critical role of aviation in search and rescue missions. Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen received the Gold Life-Saving Medal.

My cousin, retired USN Rear Admiral Jack Trum, graduated from Annapolis in 1940, survived World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, while serving thirty-two years in the Navy. He held people like Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen in the highest regard, proclaiming, “The Coast Guard, now those are the real sailors. When everyone else is heading to port, they are putting out to sea. They save people’s lives.”

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

September 5, 2017 Get it Write

The Liberty Gazette
September 5, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: When advising writers, Mike’s favorite topic is how badly Hollywood gets things wrong when portraying anything aviation. There’s no shortage of examples.

Mike: When it comes to credible airplane scenes, one of the most egregious transgressions is Die Hard 2. The fails in that movie are many, like when one of the bad guys takes over air traffic control. We’re supposed to believe that by refusing to clear them to land he can hold planes hostage in the air until they run out of fuel. That’s ridiculous. In reality they would fly to another airport.

Linda: In preparation for a presentation to writers on writing believable aviation scenes, we welcomed questions in advance. One of our guest writers was concerned about the plausibility of aviation scenes in her story. She had some interesting questions, some fueled by incidents that happened earlier this year. That is, can airlines remove a passenger due to overbooking?

Yes, and here’s why. As an airline customer, you are only buying a journey from here to there. Not a seat, not a flight. Carriers spell this out in the contract of carriage to which you are bound when you buy your ticket.

Most airlines overbook by five to fifteen percent, depending on several factors which are decided upon with very serious statistical analysis to serve the profit goals.

This, of course, begs the follow-on question, what rights do bumped passengers have? In a word, compensation.

The more complete answer is if an airline overbooks, they must first ask for volunteers to give up seats before yanking paying passengers off the plane. If they don’t get enough volunteers, they will offer money or free tickets. If they reach the maximum they’re willing to tender and there still aren’t enough volunteers, they can remove people from the flight.

Here’s what you’ll want to know if this happens to you. They’ll have to provide a written statement of why you were bumped. They must also re-book you, and if you will be significantly delayed, you’re entitled to payment up to $1,350. You don’t have to accept a voucher. They must cut you a check if you request it.

These rights won’t apply if you relinquish your seat voluntarily. They also aren’t valid unless the removal is due to overbooking. Any other reason, such as a change in planes, problems with weight and balance calculations to ensure a safe flight, or a delayed or cancelled flight, does not come with promises or reimbursements.

If you’d like to know more about your rights as an airline passenger you can go to
https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/flights-and-rights.

Mike: One more thing. If you buy a business class ticket you will not be removed due to overbooking. You might not get to sit in business class, but you’ll get a seat. The ticket price buys this benefit, and you don’t have to be a celebrity to receive this special treatment. But you might not want to watch Die Hard 2 on your flight.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

August 29, 2017 Safety in Racing from Aviation

The Liberty Gazette
August 29, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: World War I Ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, was a pilot and race driver. He was president of Eastern Airlines, owned Rickenbacker Motor Company, and raced in the Indianapolis 500 the first four years it existed as such. He even owned the Speedway for a time. But when he went to war he was, like all other pilots, denied a parachute.

Commanding officers refused to allow American fighter pilots to wear parachutes, thinking they’d be less aggressive and bail at the first sign of trouble. Concerning the deaths of two friends, Captain Eddie wrote in his journal, “Cannot help but feel, that it was criminal negligence on the part of those higher up for not having exercised sufficient forethought and seeing that we were equipped with parachutes for just such emergencies.”

Those higher-ups finally realized pilots were more important than airplanes, but it was too late for some.

For decades people talked about what a great idea it would be if not just pilots, but airplanes too had parachutes. Last week we mentioned Boris Popov’s airplane parachute that has resulted in hundreds of successful floating landings when engine trouble prompted pilots to pull the chute.

Many safety enhancements have come from the aviation and auto industries, and speaking of pop-offs, that’s what they call the pressure relief valve that was one of the mandatory changes on Indy race cars in 1974, following the previous year’s horrific fiery crashes. Major changes to Indy car fuel systems also required fuel tank capacity reduction, from seventy-five gallons to forty, and the breakaway gas tank.

Breakaway tank technology wasn’t new, but made its way to Indy because the crashes in ‘73 might have been survivable.

Engineers with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor, had worked with engineers from Bell Helicopter and Goodyear, testing their research on military helicopters. Choppers were dropped, data analyzed, refinements made, and in 1970, after a decade of work, the Crash-Resistant Fuel System was added to Army helicopters used in the Vietnam War.

The technology would be applied next to civilian aircraft, and eventually to automobiles. But after that devastating year at Indy, and the realization that the lives of race drivers Art Pollard and Swede Savage might have been spared, officials mandated changes to fuel systems.

The race was on to adopt aviation innovation. They’d make tanks from different materials, re-position them to be less susceptible to rupture, and install fittings that would break away on impact. This had become an emergency. No one wanted the hell fires of 1973.

It’s a time I still remember with chills. The year after these changes, fan favorite and math-teacher-turned-race-driver Tom Sneva flipped and smashed into the wall in turn two. He climbed out of the broken car, dazed, but okay, the blazing parts yards away. For Mr. Sneva, it meant he’d return to be the first to break two hundred miles an hour at Indy, and today he can play as much golf and gin rummy as he wishes.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22, 2017 But Seriously, Folks

The Liberty Gazette
August 22, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: If you say “cirrus” in the right crowd, any member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, any weather worshiper, will know you’re talking about a non-threatening cloud. Cirrus clouds are those thin wisps you see way up high, but not as high as stars, or even satellites. If we didn’t think Siriusly about it, we might think it sounds like our weather is going to the dogs–like our astronomical humor–but when it comes to cirrus, it’s a good day to be outside.

When strong winds in the troposphere sweep the carefree cirrus, we see long, delicate streamers. Cirrus is a Latin word, meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair. That’s a pretty good description of their appearance from afar, but these fair weather friends are actually made of ice crystals, formed when precipitation falls through colder air, and freezes. To further cloud the issue, although these “mares tails” pose no threat, they sometimes indicate a change in weather is on the horizon.

But what’s in a name? Would that which we call a cirrus, by any other name still draw lines like chalk dust spread by angel wings, or decorate with dainty sky feathers?

What fogs the picture these days is an aircraft company that makes both piston and jet airplanes. The company, Cirrus Aircraft, came up in an internet search ahead of the cloud type when I entered “cirrus.” To say I was blown away is a dramatization of an understatement.

Cirrus Aircraft builds airplanes with ballistic parachutes. These chutes aren’t the kind pilots strap on their backs. These are manufactured into the airplane. While the parachute was engineered into the Cirrus design to meet certain FAA requirements, the marketing opportunity turned out to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Cirrus couldn’t pass FAA tests requiring an airplane to be able to recover from a one-turn spin, so they integrated a parachute and asked the feds to accept it in place of a spin recoverable design.

Orders rained down on happy Cirrus sales representatives when non-pilot spouses agreed to strap the family budget with the perception that their favorite pilot would be safer in an airplane with a parachute.

But cirrusly, folks, it’s true. For almost a century people talked about the whole-airplane parachute idea. But not until 1975 did someone finally do something about it. It was a guy whose hang glider collapsed, who was angry over feeling helpless while in a four hundred-foot plunge. In those falling moments Boris knew, if he’d had a parachute, his odds of surviving would be better. Fortunately, he did survive and what he did in response to that anger was build a product that saves lives.

We’ll have more next week on safety initiatives. I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys the irony that Ballistic Recovery Systems was founded by a man with the last name of Popov.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017 Wins and Fails

The Liberty Gazette
August 15, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Another Indy Air Race is in the books – seventh annual – and once again we celebrated. Not just air racing, but the annual airport open house and benefit.

The fastest airplane, a Glasair, completed the one hundred thirty-three mile course at two hundred fifty-six miles an hour. The slowest airplane in the field, competing in a smaller horsepower class against similar airplanes was a vintage 1946 Stinson 108 which flew one hundred and nine miles an hour.

While racing feeds the competitive appetite, the best part of the Indy Air Race is joining in support of Down Syndrome Indiana. In the festive atmosphere families run from bounce house to face painting to candy and games with super heroes and island princesses. Of course, guests are drawn to the uniqueness of airplanes on the ramp, and race pilots happy to talk with them about flying. Every year, this is a winning day for everyone.

It also brings another chance for us to visit with family: Mom, sister, niece and nephew, and our brother-in-law, Mike Lyons, the cyclist.

A few days before the air race there came a dark and stormy night. Mike Lyons had a group ride and when he returned he summed it up with this:

“Wins & Fails from this evening’s ride:
Win: Meeting up with friends for another ride, led by Doug.
Win: Going for it amidst questionable skies.
Fail: Murphy the dog chases us down the road.
Win: Doug turns around to lead him back to owner. 
Fail: Starts to sprinkle.
Win: Because of Murphy, we aren’t far out.
Win: Doug wisely calls off ride, all get back to the church mostly dry.
Fail: I decide to keep riding.
Win: I dodge the obvious ominous storm clouds.
Fail: For ten minutes.
Win: During the monsoon-like torrent my bike gets clean.
Fail: The front drops the temperature to 62.
Win: In an effort to stay warm I bike 20-26 miles an hour.
Fail: At 26 miles an hour, I start to hydroplane, nearly crashing.
Fail: Pretty sure I wet myself.
Win: Rain rinses me clean.
Fail: Lightning strikes extremely close.
Win: I’m not struck.
Win: It jars a ball of wax loose from left ear, I can hear better.
Fail: With wax build-up gone, another close strike leaves ears ringing.
Win: I’m not struck.
Fail: Wet myself again.
Win: Keeps raining and rinsing off.
Fail: Return to truck cold and wet.
Win: Return to truck.
Fail: Phone got wet.
Win: Dried out and works.
Win: Got in 25 miles.
Win: Should smell like a toddler after four sippy cups, but don’t thanks to riding in a hard rain. Takeaway: Despite the Wins, when everyone turns back...I should, too.”

Mike: I admire our brother-in-law’s determination to finish the ride, and to challenge a thunderstorm like a super hero with a light sabre, but we opted to stay clear of those airplane-eaters on our flight back to Texas.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

August 8, 2017 Hanging In, Hanging Out

The Liberty Gazette
August 8, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I’d climbed to seventy-five hundred feet, and would cruise at this altitude over the cliffs below me, all around. This is Cajon Pass, where adventurers are drawn to hang glide through the saddle between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. The pass offers ideal lift and wind to carry a motor-less hang glider to a vantage point above the sculpted earth, alone with the whoosh of the air. From my altitude, they appear suspended, like mud-daubers; like wings with pods dangling beneath them. I call them adventuresome partly because these intrepid souls soaring through the pass initiate their flight by stepping off a cliff, trusting their wings.

On the cliff, they strap into their contraptions, hoist their bulky load and run downhill until the air blows across their wing to create enough lift. At first, the wind catches and holds them aloft and their legs drop momentarily like an eagle’s talons ready to snatch its prey. But the force quickly pushes their bodies horizontal, streamlined with the craft, as they shift their weight to steer.

In this pass, sometimes they swoop down low along the slope, rolling from side to side, twenty feet off the ground. If updrafts are present, they stay in the air longer, soaring along the rising terrain. Once they land, in a field or a parking lot, the flyers free themselves from their people-lifting kites, satisfied by the exuberance of human flight.

When I’m in a sailplane I also use thermals – columns of rising air that develop from unevenly heated ground – to stay up in the sky. But the way a sailplane starts its adventure is different from hang gliders. My sailplane is towed into the atmosphere by an airplane. But a hang glider cannot be towed by a powerful airplane because its speed far exceeds what a hang-glider can handle; tow planes cannot fly slowly enough for them. For hang gliders the launch pad is a hill, the launcher, human legs. This has limited the sport of hang gliding to hilly areas. That is, until the Dragonfly.

The Dragonfly started life in 1990 as an ultralight airplane to meet demand. Designer Bob Bailey had one purpose in mind, tow hang-gliders where there are no hills from which to leap. Since that time with the help of these airplanes, people in flat country have been able to enjoy the thrill of soaring flight.

One of the most popular places to get a towed flight is in Florida. Most of the state is flat as a pancake, the highest point being 345 feet, at Britton Hill, near the Alabama line. With a fleet of Dragonflys, Wallaby Ranch near Lakeland, Florida has towed hang gliders nearly every day since 1992, amassing tens of thousands of flights.

Geography and geology no longer limit the hang gliding experience, thanks to the Dragonfly, a classic American success story of finding a need, filling it, and hanging in there.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August 1, 2017 A Calling

The Liberty Gazette
August 1, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Since at least third grade Al has been fascinated by airplanes and flying. There were no home flight simulators then, but his imagination could take him places no simulator can match. He could stretch his nine or ten year old arms straight out and they’d become wings to carry him far above the green grass beneath his feet. The desire to soar would grow, but a 1950’s film captured his heart like nothing else could. In the pivotal scene, a veterinarian resuscitated a horse and as the horse ran off to a field Al felt the satisfaction of healing to his core. This was his calling.

With family members who were doctors there was plenty of support for Al to enter medicine. When he was twelve, the uncle who was a thoracic surgeon let Al watch an operation removing a lung. By way of Baylor, he came to Methodist Hospital, where his neurosurgical practice has been helping people for thirty-seven years.

When he’s not performing brain surgery Dr. Alfonso Aldama can be found at the Soaring Club of Houston, and you’ll get no argument if you claim he’s the hardest worker in the club.

Dr. Aldama was introduced to soaring in the 1980’s by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Vern Frye, who flew F-105s in Vietnam and was in Chuck Yeager’s squadron in Germany. After riding with the colonel in a Schweitzer 233, Dr. Aldama learned about the Soaring Club of Houston and signed right up. He flew for several years after earning his glider license but took a hiatus to raise a family. Now that the children are grown, he splits his time between two activities he loves.

“I love to fly, and it’s very similar to neurosurgery,” he told me. “My flying helps my operating and my operating helps my flying. Both require precision and attention to detail. You have to develop obsessive-compulsive behavior because one tenth of a millimeter can change the outcome of surgery. One mistake in flying can be fatal.”

He’s logged 1200 flights, but not all were perfect. Once while doing spins in a Blanik the canopy opened, ripping off the front hinge. He didn’t want it to hit the tail so he grabbed it with his right hand and radioed Oran Nicks, the club instructor on duty. Nicks had been the director of the wind tunnel lab and designed the space shuttle and “was calm as a cucumber,” saying, “it’ll just create some drag.” Holding tight to the canopy, he juggled the flaps with his left hand, controlled the stick with his knees, and the rudders with his feet, letting go of the canopy when he landed safely.

Another time, the rain cloud he thought was far enough away reached the runway before he did. “It was as though my windshield was covered by a blanket. I peered through a two-inch opening on the side to see the grass runway and hoped I was at the right angle to land.”

He graciously credits more experienced pilots for sharing their passion and expertise. While healing is his lifework that feeds his soul, soaring is the vitamins that enrich.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

July 25, 2017 Royal Flying

The Liberty Gazette
July 25, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: My sister the genealogist – every family needs one – informed me last month of the birthday of Edward VIII, King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire, and Emperor of India. His real name was Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David. I imagine his parents were either indecisive or grateful to many people. Actually, about half the name honors went to relatives and the other half to patron saints. He lived from June 23, 1894 to May 28, 1972 and was in Houston briefly for Dr. Michael DeBakey to operate on him.

My sister was the scholar in our family, and she obviously assumed I paid attention in some class that may have covered European royalty, as she wrote, “He’s the one who abdicated the throne to marry his lady love.”

Sure. I totally remember that. I really haven’t studied royalty much but she thought I should be interested. “Why am I telling you? Because he was the first monarch to be a qualified pilot! And he's our seventeenth cousin once removed. Raise a toast to cousin Edward!”

Not only did cousin Edward earn a private pilot license, he became the first monarch of the British Empire to fly in an aircraft when after his father’s death he flew from Sandringham to London for his Accession Council. He also created The King's Flight in 1936 to provide air transport for the Royal family's official duties.

Incidentally, his father, Edward VII, was known as Prince Albert before being crowned king. Tobacco king R. J. Reynolds personally named one of his products after Edward VII. The portrait of him as Prince Albert that graced the side of the tobacco tin was based on one Reynolds acquired at a tea party with Mark Twain. The favorite joke of kids in the 1930’s and 1940’s was to call a drug store and ask, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” When the person replied yes, the pranksters laughed, “Well you’d better let him out!”

My sis comes up with amazing finds in the history of our chromosomes, and had the former King Edward VIII actually been a decent fellow I’d be more impressed. It turns out, unfortunately, that his family accused him of being a Nazi sympathizer, and had a plethora of other complaints against him.

By contrast, Dutch King Willem-Alexander, who has been an airline pilot for twenty-one years, flying for KLM’s commuter, Cityhopper, and also for Martinair, is someone with whom I’d rather share DNA, were the choice up to me. To him, flying is relaxing because he knows he must leave his concerns on the ground. Unlike cousin Edward, King Willem-Alexander seems to appreciate the opportunity to serve as a responsible person to fly an airplane full of people. I read he was training to fly a Boeing 737 so he should be qualified as a First Officer by now. If you buy a ticket on a Dutch airline flying 737s see if you can catch a glimpse of who’s flying. You just may be escorted by royalty.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

July 18, 2017 One Man Air Force

The Liberty Gazette
July 18, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Upon learning of our upcoming book, “10 Years of Ely Air Lines” and our new company, Paper Airplane Publishing, my friend Katie asked, “What else will you be publishing, do-it-yourself flight instruction? Lt. Foulois learned to fly by mail. From Wilbur or Orville. Did you know that? I think he was at Ft. Sam Houston.”

Some of the best conversations I have are with Katie, and after brushing up on U.S. Army Major General Benjamin Foulois (pronounced foo-loy) I thought of you, who might also enjoy landing on a page of lesser known history. I’ve learned that when I hear an interesting tidbit there’s always more to the story, and Benny Foulois does not disappoint.

The Signal Corps played a significant role in the development of military aviation. In 1906 the young lieutenant went to Army Signal School and that’s where he became interested in flying. His final thesis, “The Tactical and Strategical Value of Dirigible Balloons and Aerodynamical Flying Machines” included:

“In all future warfare, we can expect to see engagements in the air between hostile aerial
fleets. The struggle for supremacy in the air will undoubtedly take place while the
opposing armies are maneuvering for position.”

A visionary, he forecast a hundred and nine years ago that airplanes would replace horses in reconnaissance, and even imagined wireless air-to-ground communication, including transmitting photographs. His ambition and smarts won him a seat on the new aeronautical board that would accept aircraft for testing, which led to him being the first military crewman.

He flew and crashed a few times in those early airplanes and flew once with Orville Wright. But when the Wright brothers were too busy to teach him to fly, they mailed instructions. Katie was right, he learned to fly by mail, or at least as a supplement to the school of hard knocking crashes.

The Army sent him to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, telling him to teach himself to fly. At 9:30 a.m. on March 2, 1910, he did just that. From the Arthur MacArthur parade field in “S.C. No. 1”, also sometimes called “Military Aircraft No. 1”, he logged his first solo takeoff, first solo landing, and his first solo crash, and established the Army Air Force.

Later he flew reconnaissance for General Pershing, searching for Pancho Villa, and led the first American aerial dogfights against the Germans during World War I.

He wrote in his memoir, “From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts” that he wanted to be remembered for “establishing the ‘can-do’ spirit that has become traditional among our American airmen.” In 1963 on the television quiz show I've Got a Secret, his secret was that he had once been the entire U.S. Air Force. His memoir was republished in 2010 as “Foulois: One-Man Air Force”.

While I did not discover any personal connection to the arts, there is a school in Maryland named for him, the Benjamin D. Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy, which embraces his spirit in their motto, “Opportunities Abound...Possibilities are Endless”.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

July 11, 2017 Airplanes, Adventure, and All That Grabein Jazz

The Liberty Gazette
July 11, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Swinging to the tunes of the Charlie Gray Band always made my heart smile. Made me think of my dad. Charlie Grabein played in a different band this Fourth of July. Our world is better for the time he spent here, yet has lost some its color and jazz now that he has moved on. Charlie lived a life of service to others with a tremendous sense of adventure, early on as a Naval photographer and later as a civilian pilot and high school music teacher. In memory, we’d like to recall some of our chats with a great American, and wonderful friend.

Mike: Three Aldine area schools near Greenspoint Mall hide any trace of the small airfield that once graced the open countryside beyond Houston’s city limits. An airplane for sale there beckoned to Charles and his cousin. The motor ran, the prop turned, but otherwise the little airplane was rather ragged, worth every penny of the one hundred fifty dollars they paid to take it home to Conroe where they would breathe new life into it.

“Fabric was tearing off the wings as I flew it back. The wind was blowing and the rain coming down hard. After I landed the engine quit. It wouldn’t start again so we towed it and worked on it.” The high school boys patched their new airplane and flew it until they graduated and sold it.

Linda: Charlie went to college, married and joined the Navy. When doing aerial photography work, the Navy pilots showed him how to fly their planes once the assignment was completed. Standing in a doorway on the flight deck of a carrier, Charlie was taking shots of incoming aircraft when one came straight at him. Focusing his thirty-five millimeter movie camera, he took some fast steps back, spellbound, and filmed the Corsair’s landing breaking off the arresting hook and crashing into the wall right where Charlie had been standing. The crew rushed to the damaged aircraft and pulled the pilot out to safety.

Honorably discharged after fourteen years of service (1951-1963), with the assistance of the G.I. Bill, Charlie continued to fly, earning his civilian private pilot license.

Charlie was flying often from the Liberty Airport in the 1970’s, along with the Jamison brothers, Bob and Bill, and Johnny Meese, mechanic and airport manager. He flew until he was about seventy years old and when the time came to hang up his wings, he directed his energy to re-building a Jeep. There soon emerged a beautifully restored 1943 Willy appearing often in parades and on display.

Mike: Charlie was a self-exciting magneto on a piston engine airplane. I treasure our hangar flying sessions, each one a thrill with wonderful tales of his lifelong love affair with flying. He was a breath of fresh air and a joy to listen to, on clarinet and saxophone, and in his storytelling. A good storyteller re-lives the story. A great one lets his audience live it too. Thank you, Charlie, for sharing your spirit.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4, 2017 Allan Chambers' Letters Home - Week 4/4

The Liberty Gazette
July 4, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Four weeks have flown by faster than a light-speed time machine to 1946. We’re wrapping up the final excerpts of Allan Chambers’ Letters Home. He had just quit flying the Hump the last week. Let’s see where he ended up after that.

May 5, 1946 Shanghai I just got back from Chungking. The next time I go out it’ll probably be for a couple of weeks.

May 31, 1946 Shanghai I haven’t flown for a week because everybody’s on strike. We quit flying the Hump about a month ago, I was high enough on the pilots list that I wasn’t sent down there. I got about a hundred trips over the Hump when I was there. The civil war is still going on in North China. Anything can be bought on the black market.

June 7, 1946 Shanghai The Chinese Air Force took over the airline. Now we have about 3 ships flying a day and the Chinese Air Force flies 3 or 4.

June 27, 1946 Shanghai There is supposed to be a truce on the civil war but I think both sides break it each day. People all over the world never had it so good as when the U.S. Army & Navy were there, or any Americans. I will probably go to Chungking or Hong Kong tomorrow.

July 12, 1946 Shanghai I think I’m going to Hong Kong tomorrow. We are about finished moving the government to Nanking. I should be getting a $200 a month increase in pay.

July 23, 1946 Shanghai We are getting men from the U.S. every month. We have about 75 planes now and supposed to get 6 new ones next month. I am going to Hong Kong tomorrow.

August 3, 1946 Shanghai It’s hot here, but not as hot as Calcutta. I’m supposed to go to Chungking tomorrow and be back the next day. The civil war is still going on.

August 16, 1946 Shanghai We are flying passengers now like a regular airline. I flew to Kuling the other day, that is where all the big shots spend the summer months in China.

Sept. 27, 1946 Shanghai I am flying C-46’s and C-47’s and am carrying passengers to Chungking, Canton, Hong Kong, Hankow, Nanking, Tsingtao and Peiping. Summer is over.

Oct. 16, 1946 Shanghai I have transportation on the S.S. Marine Lynx to leave tomorrow for San Francisco by way of Hong Kong and Manila. The shipping company said they had an extra ticket. I better take it because it is a lot of trouble to get out of China.

Allan Chambers arrived in San Francisco in November, 1946. His wife, Billie, met him there. They were together the next 50 years until his death in 1996. After his return from China he lived in Liberty the rest of his life in the house his grandfather built.

These letters are collector’s items, so you may want to cut out this space in your newspaper and stick in your Liberty Scrap Book. When next you see Tommy, thank him for sharing part of his family’s history.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

June 27, 2017 Allan Chambers' Letters Home - Week 3/4

The Liberty Gazette
June 27, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

This week we offer you part three of four of Allan Chambers’ Letters Home. We left you on the plane with Allan shuttling a hundred million dollars, so hop in the jump seat, keep calm and let’s fly on.

Oct. 18, 1945 Calcutta I am back in Calcutta today. I came all the way from Shanghai in one day.  It was 13 ½ hours flying time with stops in Kunming and Dinjan. The Hump flying may be over soon.

Oct. 25, 1945 Dinjan I have been flying nearly every day. Dinjan is in a valley surrounded by mountains that usually have clouds on them.

Nov. 8, 1945 Calcutta My new job is flight instructor. We have Chinese students and they don’t understand English.

Nov. 15, 1945 Calcutta We are about finished flying the Hump. On the way down here, we flew over Myitkyina, Burma. There was a big fight for the city during the war and now there are only 2 or 3 buildings left. 

Nov. 16, 1945 Calcutta I have 3 students that I fly in the mornings. It looks like they’re going to have a real civil war here in China. I sent Billie 20 yards of silk.

Dec. 2, 1945 Calcutta Not much flying lately, our airplanes have had engine trouble. I can’t find a rosary here. Thanksgiving was last Thursday, but it was just another day for me.

Dec. 19, 1945 Calcutta I will probably be going to Shanghai the first of the year. It’s cold up in China and the Japanese took all the heating systems out of the buildings.

Dec. 28, 1945 Calcutta I’m through instructing and will be going up into China soon. This is an R.A.F. airfield and will soon be abandoned. There are millions of dollars of airplanes that are being destroyed, but I guess that’s the only thing to do.

Jan. 24, 1946 Nanking, China I have been all over China since I wrote last. Over to Chungking, Peiping 4, Hankow and up to Tsingtao. I’m going to Chungking tomorrow, hauling gasoline and bringing people back. They crowd people in these planes like you would cattle in a box car! There are a lot of Japanese planes here that people are fixing up and flying.

Feb. 3, 1946 Nanking I have been flying all over the country. I left Chungking yesterday and flew to Peiping and back to Nanking today. General Marshall was at my hotel in Peiping the last time I was there.  4

March 17, 1946 Shanghai, China There is a world of business here in China. Since C.N.A.C. is a government organization they should to have the inside track.

March 23, 1946 Hankow, China The weather is bad, cold, rainy, muddy. I’m going on my way to Nanking.

April 28, 1946 Shanghai We have been moving equipment out of Kunming. We quit flying the Hump last week. My base pay is $800 a month and up to $400 extra for overtime.

One more week left. Do not miss the final installment of Allan Chambers’ Letters Home. Keep reading them aloud, and try to live it as you read it. See you next week.

4.     Now Beijing; formerly Peiping and Peking

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

June 20 Allan Chambers' Letters Home - Week 2/4

The Liberty Gazette
June 20, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

If you missed reading this space last week be sure to go back to Week 1. This is part two of four of Allan Chambers’ Letters Home, and we know you don’t want to miss even one dot or tittle.

August 29, 1945 Dinjan I’m still flying the Hump, but I heard I might be moving to Shanghai. If I do move into China I guess I’ll be out of India altogether. There has not been a lot of changes made since the war is over. I hear Hong Kong and Shanghai were nice before the war, so maybe they’ll be an improvement over Calcutta.

Sept. 6, 1945 Dinjan I have been flying out of Dinjan which is in the Assam Valley of northern India. We made trips to Kunming and Luhsien, which is near Chungking. We see mountains that are 17,000, 18,000 and 20,000 ft. along the way.

Sept. 7, 1945 Dinjan Even though the war is over there is still plenty of flying to be done.

Sept. 11, 1945 Dinjan I got back up here to Dinjan on the 11th and I made a trip to Kunming yesterday and will probably make one today.

Sept. 16, 1945 Dinjan I have been flying the last few days and have been to Kunming two more times.  I started to go to Canton and Hong Kong but did not go on that trip. Today was like fall in Kunming, cool and clear.

Sept. 23, 1945 Dinjan From Kunming the other day I went up to a place called Hsichang, up in the mountains. One of our planes was stuck in the mud. That country is sure pretty when you are on the ground. The little airport is just a green field 5,000’ above sea level. On all sides there are 12-14,000 ft. mountains. They look straight up when you are down in this valley. The U.S. is sure putting a lot of money into China.

Sept. 27, 1945 Kunming, China I am here in Kunming and make about a trip a day over the Hump to Dinjan and back. The weather has been pretty good on the Hump.

Oct. 3, 1945 Kunming I am staying here in Kunming and flying to Dinjan. Two different government groups are fighting in town, there will probably be a lot of trouble in China before long. I might quit flying the Hump at the end of this month and move to Shanghai.

Oct. 8, 1945 Dinjan Yesterday we took a load of money to Luhsien. It was about $100 million. Now we are hauling gasoline, steel, some money and radio and medical supplies. While the war was on we hauled gasoline, shells, powder, dynamite, steel and bales of cotton. We fly C-46’s and C-47’s. The C-46 is a bigger plane.

That’s all the space we have this week, but see you next week for part three of four of Allan Chambers’ Letters Home.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

June 13 Allan Chambers' Letters Home - Week 1/4

The Liberty Gazette
June 13, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Allan Chambers was born in Liberty, Texas in 1920. He graduated from Liberty High School and then Schreiner Institute in Kerrville where he became a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in October, 1944 and then joined the China National Aviation Corp. He spent 18 months flying Douglas C-47’s and C-46’s in India and China – including almost 100 trips over the “Hump” – the air route over the eastern Himalaya Mountains, an unprecedented, difficult and dangerous way to supply China during and after WWII.

With gratitude to his son, Tommy Chambers, we have the honor of sharing the following excerpts from letters Allan sent to his mother in Liberty during his time in India and China. Allan Chambers’ Letters Home has been written as a four-part series, so be sure you don’t skip a beat. We expect you’ll relish these as much as we do. We recommend reading them out loud.

May 5, 1945 Karachi, India We left New York and went to Newfoundland, Azores, Casablanca, Tripoli, Cairo, Abadan and here, Karachi, India. I saw Will Partlow for a few minutes in Cairo.

May 6, 1945 Calcutta, India Arrived here in Calcutta. It is a big place, but very dirty and hot.  I received $100 pay in rupees, and it filled up my pockets. I went to church this morning.

May 8, 1945 Calcutta We heard Germany surrendered, so today was declared a holiday.

May 12, 1945 Calcutta You can sure see a lot of queer sights here. Everyone drives on the left side of the road and there are cars, horse carts, ox carts and hand carts. They use brahma cattle and water buffalo to do work.

June 11, 1945 Dinjan, India I have been flying with the Chinese fellow that brought Doolittle out of China.1

June 20, 1945 Dinjan That big shot in China came down here yesterday, I won’t attempt to spell his name but he’s the President and everything else.2

July 20, 1945 Dinjan I did quite a bit of flying this month. I put in 21 round trips. Some of the snow-capped mountains look like Colorado, except they are higher here. I am sorry to hear about Nolan and Glynn. That is too bad.3

July 22, 1945 Dinjan We have to fly on a different type of airplane than we have been flying…got a haircut in a regular barbershop in town, it had chairs and electric clippers.

August 1, 1945 Dinjan I am glad to hear the cattle are fat, and it seems like now would be a good time to sell some calves and all of the old cows. I am sorry for the Miles and the Picketts.

August 12, 1945 Calcutta I hear the Japs are about to quit the war.

August 15, 1945 Calcutta I just heard the war is over…since that new bomb came out, it must be a very powerful thing.

Time out for a week-long station break. These excerpts are too good to leave any entries out, so we’ll pick up here next week with more.

1. Moon Fun Chin – a Chinese pilot who flew Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle out of China after his aerial raid on Japan in 1942
2. Believed to be Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek
3. Nolan Pickett and Glynn Miles, both from Liberty, were killed in WWII

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Thursday, June 8, 2017

June 6, 2017 Dan Cooper's Smokin' Deal

The Liberty Gazette
June 6, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: How much above the ticket price would you pay if airlines offered to pack a parachute under the seat? One evening in November of 1971 a Northwest Orient Airlines passenger paid $20 cash for a one-way ticket and the airline actually provided him with not one, but four parachutes and rebated him $200,000.

I say that tongue-in-cheek because it’s the one act of air piracy the FBI has not been able to solve. A passenger, who called himself Dan Cooper, mistakenly identified by the press as D.B. Cooper, bought a last-minute ticket and boarded a Boeing 727 bound from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.

He took a seat in the rear of the cabin. Once airborne, he handed a note stating he had a bomb to one of the two flight attendants who was seated nearby. She dropped the note in her purse thinking it was his phone number, something that must have happened quite often. Moving closer he whispered for her to read it and gave her a glimpse of the explosive device inside his brief case. He didn’t look or behave like the typical hijacker of the day. Dressed neatly in a shirt, tie and black overcoat, he was polite and relaxed. He took his time and his plan appears to be mostly well thought out.

The flight attendant took his demands to the captain and they were forwarded by radio to the airline’s Seattle office. Then the plane circled for two hours as the sun set and the authorities gathered the dough from several local banks and parachutes from a local skydiving operation. When the airplane landed the hijacker ordered the crew to taxi to a remote and well lighted area of the airport. He commanded the pilot to turn off the cabin lights. This was to keep sharpshooters from being able to target him. The airline’s operations manager approached the airplane from the rear and the hijacker lowered the rear boarding ramp, a feature unique to the Boeing 727. One of the flight attendants collected the parachutes and the money.

Once the airplane was refueled and the parachutes and ransom money in negotiable American currency were on board, the hijacker let the passengers and one flight attendant leave. He instructed the crew to fly toward Mexico City, allowing for a fuel stop in Reno. He also wanted them to remain at ten thousand feet and keep the cabin unpressurized. Airborne, he directed the remaining flight attendant to join the three pilots in the cockpit. Following her obedience, he lowered the rear ramp, walked to the end and jumped off into the darkness.

Two Air Force fighter jets were following but because he wore dark clothing on a dark night, they didn’t see him exit the airplane. It is thought that he jumped someplace near Mount St. Helens.

There have been theories as to what became of him, but no answers. It isn’t known if he even survived the jump. The FBI closed their investigation after 45 years and 60 volumes of data and notes, yet the case has not been solved.

Who was Dan Cooper? No one knows, or no one’s telling, but he got a smokin’ deal on that airfare.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 30, 2017 Remember Them With Pride

The Liberty Gazette
May 30, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: To continue honoring Memorial Day, we are sharing the lyrics to a special song written for Tom “Daddy” Ken Whitfield, the British Royal Air Force pilot we spotlighted last week. Whitfield’s best friend and fellow RAF pilot, Leo Harris, lost his life during WWII when his engine failed and his Spitfire took him down into the Mediterranean Sea. In memory of them, the ones who sacrificed all for a free world:

Remember Them With Pride – by Steve Goodchild

In peacetime calm between the storms in Stockton town there I was born
Between the wars, and took my father’s name,
But not his trade – no, not for me; my school days made it plain to see,
Once schooled, within the schoolroom I’d remain.
You grow up fast in troubled times – I learned they’d swarmed across the Rhine
And cut a westbound swathe towards Paris,
Ambition then I set aside – from call-to-arms I would not hide
And I signed-up to defend democracy

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea, their names we must remember – heroes
One and all - they stood to turn the tide,
They held the sky; they held us safe, and those who’d fall to no known grave
Nor resting place – Remember Them With Pride.

From Biggin Hill, to fields afar we flew through hardship to the stars
Gibraltar’s Straits; the convoys to defend’
They hit me once and took me down - I crashed and burned, but once aground
Survived, and found my way back home again.
When all was done in ’45, and thankful that I had survived,
I put it all behind me as you do,
A change of clothes; a change of name; pick up the threads and once again
The noble task of teaching to pursue.

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea …….

So down the intervening years of family fortunes, hopes and fears,
I soon forgot the gauntlet we had run,
And as each September came around; new faces lost all needing found
Thirty-eight years passed – my time was done.
That Spring in Nineteen eighty-eight, I paused outside Valetta’s Gate
And strained to screen my eyes against the light,
A name in bronze engraved in stone of marble wrought and brought from Rome,
Neath gilded eagle, proud and poised for flight.

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea …….

With eyes closed and a silent tear, I wandered, winding back the years
And there – he stands before me clear as day,
His flying helmet hanging there – in leather, much the worse for wear!
He said “I missed you Tommy when you flew away”.
Up there, in cockpit five miles high, our friendship forged in hostile skies
We’d parted in Gibraltar and moved on,
Along the strand that evening-tide I left my name in sand and smiled,
That his in marble-memory still lives on.

Chorus: Far over land and inland sea …….

They held the sky; they held us safe, and those who’d fall to no known grave
Nor resting place – Remember Them With Pride.

Mike: We do remember them, and they make us proud. Thanks to Steve Goodchild for permission to reprint his song. You can find the music of Steve Goodchild and Horizon Ridge here.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 23, 2017 No Known Grave

The Liberty Gazette
May 23, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Tom Kenneth Whitfield was a British Royal Air Force test pilot in the Spitfire Mark IX. On November 9, 1942, Whitfield and his 611 Squadron engaged some Germans flying Folke Wulfs over France. During the battle he was separated from the rest of his squadron. While checking the map to find his way back to Biggin Hill his airplane was hit by enemy fire. It was too damaged to make it far, so he made a crash landing at the Hawkinge Airfield in Kent. Doctors removed shrapnel from his left side and in six weeks Whitfield was back in the air.

Mike: Flight Officer Reginald (Leo) Harris was also in the British Royal Air Force during WWII, serving with Whitfield in Flight 611 Squadron. On August 23, 1943 he was flying his Spitfire as usual on a mission when the airplane’s engine failed. He’d been flying low looking for submarines which gave him no time to bail out. Officer Harris perished in the Mediterranean. His best friend, fellow Flight Officer Tom Whitfield, grieved his loss, and decades later while vacationing in Malta, Whitfield and his wife visited the Royal Air Force memorial.

Harris had been one of over 2,000 men lost over the Mediterranean, and when Whitfield found Harris’ name on the memorial he wrote a poem dedicated to his memory.

In this week before Memorial Day, in memory of Leo Harris, Tom Whitfield, and the many men who sacrificed all for the security of a free world, we’d like to share Officer Whitfield’s poem, which was published by his son, Aidan Whitfield, here.

And Have No Known Grave

In February, nineteen eighty-eight
I stood outside Valetta City Gate
And screwing my eyes up-sun against the light
Beheld a gilded eagle, poised for flight,
Crowning a capital, pinions outspread,
Into the tramuntana turns its tyrant head.

PER ARDUA AD ASTRA, plain to see,
And underneath at 1943, In mute memorial to our glorious dead
One and a half columns I had read
Before, in shock, I saw a name I know
HARRIS R.H.W. F/O.

I shut my stinging eyes and there he stands, Helmet and goggles dangling from his hands,
A fighter pilot to his very roots, From ardent eyes to well-worn flying boots.
He smiles and nods his head as if to say, 'I missed you, Tommy, when you flew away'.

Crouched in our cockpits up to five miles high, We forged our friendship in a hostile sky,
Then parted at Gibraltar; I moved on
But felt, alas, the golden days had gone.
My name I scratch in sand upon the shore;
His name in bronze lives on for evermore.

By T K Whitfield

Linda: Next week, the day following Memorial Day, you’ll be treated to the lyrics of a special song that was written by Steve Goodchild for Tom Whitfield, commemorating his dedication to freedom, and to his best friend, reflecting on that day when Harris died and Whitfield flew on. We heard Steve and his band Horizon Ridge perform this song in Houston and we can’t wait to share it with you. You can find out more about Horizon Ridge and their music here.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

May 16, 2017 Land on the Line

The Liberty Gazette
May 16, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Amid the backdrop of the snow-covered slopes of Pike’s Peak and the Rocky Mountains, a white and blue plane made a descending left turn. This was the final airplane in the last group of planes to take their turn in the spot landing segment of the competition. There would be plenty more action to come in the annual National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s Safety Conference. My peers and I, the spotters and judges, kept our eyes on it from our assigned positions several feet apart, on both sides of the runway.

I had done this before. A previous year I performed these same watchful tasks alongside a runway in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where, because of unexpected rain, everyone there sported stylish trash bags to serve as raincoats. This time I kept the collar of my jacket turned up, my wool cap pulled down snuggly, and my hands tucked into my pockets. Out there by the runway at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs the chilling winds cut right through all my layers.

As the plane made its final approach we anticipated its touchdown point would be somewhere within the 300-foot long box, each side of which the spotters stood. Each pilot would aim for the target line drawn 100 feet inside that box. Depending on where it actually touched ground, the closest spotter would mark the landing. I stayed focused in case it would land in front of me.

White stripes were painted on the tires so that we could tell the exact point the tires touched the pavement. The wheels would begin to roll when the plane touched down, which they did not do in the air. When the wheels landed and started moving that white stripe would, too, indicating the landing spot.

As with the other planes before it, the tires’ rubber made a chirp sound when they touched the ground. The spotter marked the distance from the landing point to the target line was their distance score for the spot landing contest. Penalty points could be assessed for landing entirely outside the box, and in this contest, a perfect score is zero.

It all began May 7, 1920 when nine schools competed at Mitchel Field in Long Island, New York for the first contest held by the Intercollegiate Flying Association. Yale University took first place. On their team was a naval aviator who would later found Pan American Airways, Juan Trippe, flying in a Curtis Jenny scrounged up from war surplus.

Today, the top 20 college and university flying teams, totaling about 50 pilots from around the country arrived in their school-owned airplanes. In addition to spot landings, their mettle was tested in precision flying events such as navigation and instrument flying skills, and timed written tests on regulations, flight planning, and aircraft recognition.

With the final contestant on the ground and taxiing to the staging area, we retreated to the heated motorhome where we sipped hot chocolate, coffee or tea and discussed the landings. The winners would be announced at a banquet at the end of the four day safety conference and they would proudly accept the prestigious trophies and titles. These are the best of the best collegiate pilots.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May 9, 2017 CAVU Days, CAVU Nights

The Liberty Gazette
May 9, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Every switch and control I saw clearly as I scooted along under the heavens in the light of the moon, the Milky Way and its neighboring constellations. Our GPS and other position receivers in the instrument panel gave our location in the vast space between Earth and infinity. But on these severe clear nights we also practiced the lost art of celestial navigation, and we used pilotage – that is, finding one’s way by relating one’s own bearing to points of reference on the ground, which are mapped on our aviation charts. By their street patterns and position relative to each other, I could identify Midland and Odessa from over a hundred miles away.

One night on a flight between Atlanta and Dallas, the air was fresh and clear all around except for one wall made up of many thunderstorms standing end to end, a barricade 500 miles long. This was a considerable length, but isolated and in contrast to the absence of weather everywhere else. The storm clouds’ tops reached higher than our cruise altitude of 41,000 feet. In this towering weather front alongside my flight path I witnessed lightning illuminate first one thunder bumper’s entire form, followed by the next and the next. As the connected storm clouds seemed to pass a message down the line they created a sequence of mushroom-shaped strobe lights pointing the way to Dallas. The array of continuous shots of light energy in high definition was crisp live action unfettered by fog, mist, or other cloudy weather around it.

On trips across the pond, hopping from Newfoundland to Spain, or France, we would depart the security of land and spend hours looking out over the expanse of water where ocean merged with sky. Though often cloudless, the distance to the horizon might have been 50 miles or 200, it was difficult to tell until night came. By then we could recognize the lights of the cities that dot the coast of Europe. Santiago, Spain’s runway approach lighting system is one of the brightest I have ever seen, emitting light discernible almost two hundred miles out at sea. When Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited is the order of the day, or night, the gleaming raw firmament is home to the soul of the pilot.

Linda: We call that weather condition by its acronym: CAVU. Indeed, it feels like home to the pilot’s soul.

When clouds are absent from the sky
And view unlimited to the eye
The pilot itching to fly will say
It’s a Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited day
On CAVU days expanse bright blue
Clear and crisp comes every hue
As though painted on canvas new
Outshines the sparkliest, dazzliest few
Of any diamonds known or not
That billionaires have sought and thought
To be the all that brilliance might
While missing out on CAVU flight.
On CAVU nights expanse that glows
Whisper-shares luminaire flows
Shine more than foot light for each step
Exuberance greater than footman’s pep
Say moxie and muscle with zest and zeal
Yet dove-soft showering light to steal
Darkness from its hiding place
Upon the landscape quiet grace
Save airplane noise dear to the heart
Of every pilot whose eve will start
And end with full moon CAVU night
In tumescence of a glorious flight.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May 2, 2017 Levitow's Airplane

The Liberty Gazette
May 2, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: With darkness all around him the exhausted soldier lies in tall grass trying to keep his eyes open. The bayonet affixed to his M-16 is bloodied. The heat from the gun’s barrel isn’t the only thing making him sweat. The drone of twin radial engines lumbering overhead is almost hypnotic as he prepares for yet another wave of the enemy to charge his position. Suddenly a brilliant light makes the night seem like day. Startled enemy soldiers duck for cover in front of him. Taking aim, he hears a blast from above, a different sound than the explosions all around him. He can’t see anything in the blackness beyond the blinding flare that now makes all things visible on the ground. “Thanks for the light, Spooky.”

It’s February 24, 1969. The Army post at Long Binh, 12 miles northeast of Saigon is under heavy attack by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Above the battle a heavily armed Douglas AC-47, call sign “Spooky”, offers aid to the ground troops by dropping magnesium flares affixed to parachutes. Its Gatling guns blast three- to four-second devastating bursts.

Inside the plane the scene suddenly becomes as chaotic as in the rice fields below. As it maneuvers for another pass an explosion rips a hole in the right wing sending bits of hot searing metal in all directions. The pilot struggles with the aircraft as loadmaster Airman First Class John Levitow helps severely injured fellow soldiers. He’s been hit by more than 40 pieces of shrapnel piercing the fuselage and lodging in his back and legs.

The plane flies at a slant, wobbling side to side. Airman Levitow drags one of the gunners away from the open door. Moments earlier the gunner was preparing to drop a flare, a three-foot long, 27-pound tube. The flare’s 20-second fuse ignites, the smoldering tube flops about, rolling around on the floor in the back of the aircraft amid thousands of unspent rounds of ammunition.

Trailing blood, no feeling in one leg, Levitow tries to retrieve the flare before it sets off the ammo. He knows the firestorm will shred the aircraft and knock it from the sky. In all three attempts to capture the threatening flare, it slips from his slick, bloody hands. His last chance, Levitow leaps on top of it and flips it out the open door. A second later it illuminates the battlefield below.

This is his 181st mission and Airman Levitow will complete 20 more before his service in Vietnam is complete.

Now it’s January 1998. Out of the doors of Boeing Aircraft Company’s Building 54 at Long Beach Airport rolls a military C-17 Globemaster christened, “The Spirit of Sgt. John L. Levitow”.

An airplane named Levitow. Charles Lindberg’s plane is “Spirit of St. Louis”. Icelandair names their fleet after volcanoes. The U.S. Air Force names theirs after heroes.

John Levitow: the lowest ranking enlisted man to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for the highest act of valor. The citation reads, “He saved the aircraft and the entire crew from certain death and destruction.”

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 25, 2017 That Time I Saved a B-17

The Liberty Gazette
April 25, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Things didn’t go as they should have so I was forced to be a hero.

Members post pictures, often butterflies, fairies, and flowers, to be used as story prompts in the online writing group. We write what comes to mind, taking turns adding a line or two, and see what develops. Like the stalk with small white droopy flowers. Someone started off with a woman in a garden, loving life.

By Writer 5, “She walked around the edge of her garden and hummed a melody befitting the beauty before her,” I knew what this story needed: an airplane.

Thus, my contribution: “Then the B-17, Aluminum Overcast, lumbered overhead, its four radial engines drowning out her beautiful melody, but she didn’t miss a beat and sang even louder.”

Notice my respect for my storytelling mates, acknowledging their character, adding a bomber, but letting her hum louder. No harm done, right? I was horrified then to see the next entry.

Writer 7: “Her sweet song stuck in her throat as she noticed the plane dive toward the lapping blue-green waters of the bay.”

How could they even think of bringing down Aluminum Overcast, a piece of flying history appearing at every major air show in the U.S.? You can’t just nonchalantly toss Aluminum Overcast into the water! I had to save it! I added that the captain was the husband of the garden-humming chick. Surely, now, they would not cast out Aluminum Overcast.

But when the next writer had “Pam” dial 9-1-1, it was clear I had to enter the danger zone. I didn’t want to, but they made me.

Me: “All four engines stopped. No smoke, no indications. They had just filled the tanks – this was either fuel contamination… or sabotage.” (Note: suspenseful music goes here.)

“Not enough altitude to turn around, no engine power, their ship became a glider. Descending 700 feet a minute only gave them a couple of minutes before a water landing. Starting emergency procedures with his co-pilot, he was thankful today’s flight was with the training captain, Linda, the one who taught him to fly this plane.”

 (See what I did there? Even if they would kill this poor gal’s husband, surely they wouldn’t kill me!)

Writer 9: “Bracing for impact David caught a glimpse of a house – Millie’s house. He imagined her, still in her pj’s, taking her morning garden walk, unaware of the struggle overhead. No, he won’t die, not like this. He would live, he had to – for her! Taking a deep breath he worked fast and determinedly.”

That did me in. Brace for impact? They’re not going to impact, they’re going to ditch! And, Millie? What happened to Pam? She was at the airport, but Millie’s in pj’s? And what pilot qualified to fly a B-17 acts like that during an emergency? Fortunately, at this point someone said, “Linda, you have to write the rest, I don’t know how to save a crashing plane.”

Crashing plane?! It’s! Not! Crashing!

Me: “He shook it off. Strange, with all his training he would have those thoughts. Fortunately only for a split second, then his professional pilot-self returned. Linda began restart procedures even as they prepared to ditch. Number one engine: battery, alternator, mags On. To both pilots’ surprise, it ignited. She continued in sequence, skipping the pre-start checks. By the time number two started David had stopped the descent as waves spit at the belly. Climbing, they turned toward the airport, relieved that they didn't have to ditch Aluminum Overcast. David wondered what went wrong in his head, even if for only a second.”

And that was the time that I saved a B-17.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com 

April 18, 2017 Hot Air

The Liberty Gazette
April 18, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: This summer a lot of hot air will be celebrated during the 40th Great Texas Balloon Race, July 28-30, at the East Texas Regional Airport in Longview.

As far as we can tell, the history of ballooning dates back to sometime between 700 B.C. and 200 A.D. with the Chinese and their unmanned “sky lanterns” developed for military use, or, depending on who you believe, the Nazca Indians of Peru who used manned balloons to aid in making those mysterious line drawings. There’s still some debate about that.

So was it art or was it war? We don’t really know, but we did dig up a few interesting snippets of helium history for you.

The Benihana restaurant founder Rocky Aoki was an avid balloonist. He and three fellow pilots were the first to make a trans-Pacific flight in a balloon when they flew from Nagashimi, Japan to California's Mendocino National Forest. Aoki’s branded air carriage was a great way to get a tax write-off while participating in a sport he loved. I'm sure his boats and motorcycles also carried the company's logo as they carried the flamboyant owner.

One time Rocky was flying with comedian Flip Wilson, who was also a lighter-than-air pilot. Remember his quips from the 1970's, "What you see is what you get" and "When you're hot, you're hot"? Wilson, a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was one of few blacks back then to make it big in entertainment – and hot air balloon racing. According to a very moving piece by Kevin Cook published five years ago in Golf Digest, Flip once told a young, pretty woman that he was the world's first black helium pilot.

Ready for it?

"What's black helium?" she allegedly asked. Rimshot.

Linda: There are other names you'll find familiar in stories full of hot air. Ballooning was the true birth of aviation, and was witnessed by such notables as King Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette, who, together with tens of thousands of their closest friends were awed in September of 1783 by what they believed was the first airship to rise and say aloft with passengers (although they may not have spoken with the Peruvians about that) – a sheep, a duck, and a rooster – who landed safely after an eight minute flight.

That’s not to say that either of the feathered friends nor the woolly mammal were trained pilots. Rather, the fuel to burn probably just ran out, thus ending the presence of hot air (which rises), and bringing the farm basket down.

The taffeta airship, varnished in alum to fire-proof it, was crafted by two brothers who owned a paper manufacturing business and a third guy who made wallpaper. The third guy apparently had a lot of pull. According to Space.com the balloon was royally decorated “with golden flourishes, zodiac signs, and suns”, no doubt to impress the king.

When ballooning came to America in 1793, President George Washington was in the audience, and although I’ve found no documentation that there was any special decorating, I think cherry trees would have been a nice touch.

You should have no trouble finding some interesting designs on the balloons at the big event in Longview this summer, along with activities and attractions for the kiddies, food and drink, arts and crafts, concerts and nighttime balloon glows. To take part, make your way north the last weekend of July to the “Balloon Race Capital of Texas”, and for details go to GreatTexasBalloonRace.com.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April 11, 2017 Erik the Great

The Liberty Gazette
April 11, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The Twentieth Century was still new when Erik Weisz, who had long been fascinated with life on the edge, discovered one of the most exciting new things in the world of science and hi-tech: the magic of flying machines.

Erik had the means to buy the expensive and exotic. $5000 in 1909 would be in the range of $130,000 today, and the most riveting French Voisin biplane was his for a mere five grand. He hired a full-time mechanic to keep the box-kite-looking aircraft in airworthy condition – or, to fix it when it broke, which it did when he crashed it. But successful flight came the day after Thanksgiving that year, just six years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, when the bulky Mr. Weisz flew his ground-breaking aircraft in Hamburg, Germany.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Weisz set out the following year to fly across Australia, or at least part of it. Weather and mechanical problems, the same things that plague aircraft today, caused delays, but finally on March 18, 1910, the determined Hungarian got his craft airborne three times, his longest flight being two miles. He kept it up at 100’above the ground for three and a half minutes. Three days and several more attempts later he broke his own record, skimming above the earth for about six miles, in seven and a half minutes, the most distance and the first powered, controlled flight over the Land Down Under.

He was also the first aviator whose feats were documented on film. Weisz was after all, a celebrity of world renown.

Mike: The beloved illusionist Erik Weisz, better known as Harry Houdini, was quoted in an interview after his record flights. “When I went up for the first time I thought for a minute that I was in a tree, then I knew I was flying. The funny thing was that as soon as I was aloft, all the tension and strain left me. As soon as I was up all my muscles relaxed, and I sat back, feeling a sense of ease. Freedom and exhilaration, that’s what it is.”

Amazing crowds the world over by breaking out of the most impossible confining situations – handcuffs, chains, locked vaults – the famous magician took a full year off from his livelihood on stage and generously, voluntarily taught his secrets to Allied soldiers during WWI, so they could free themselves if enemy troops of the Central Powers caught them.

Ironically, it is said that The Great Houdini believed his fame as an escape artist would be forgotten, but being the first to fly over Australia, now that was the thing people would remember.

“Freedom and exhilaration,” that’s what it was for Houdini when flying was new, and what it still is for hundreds of thousands of pilots today.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April 4, 2017 Leaders serve

The Liberty Gazette
April 4, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The pilot pushes his ship at a deafening speed into a steep climb to keep his adversary, a small silver-grey speck, in sight and to anticipate his next move. In a rolling tumble they scream toward the earth, each trying to gain the advantage. Crossing above low hills both aircraft nearly bottom out in a dry riverbed, losing lift because of the abrupt maneuvers, barely missing a bridge. They cross a Communist air base 35 miles inside China. The pilot of “Ohio Mike”, an F-86, gets the MiG fighter jet in his sights. The race between hangars is on and he shoots down the MiG causing it to crash into airplanes parked on the field.

Rocketing skyward James “Robbie” Risner discovers another problem. His wingman’s F-86 has been struck by anti-aircraft fire over the Chinese base and is now loosing fuel rapidly. Bailing out over North Korea would be bad, but the consequences of doing so over China would be dire.

Ordering Lt. Joseph Logan to shut down his engine, Risner takes up a position behind him, moves forward and inserts the nose of his jet into the tailpipe of the stricken airplane, pushing it toward the China Sea. He needs to reach the U.S. Air Force occupied island of Cho Do off the coast of North Korea where rescuers can reach the pilot once he bails out near the island.

Jet fuel and leaking hydraulic fluid from Logan’s fighter cover Risner’s glass canopy, eclipsing his view. He tries to keep nose-to-tail contact with the crippled jet but because of turbulence the jets separate many times. Airflow blocked by the forward jet’s body causes Risner’s jet engine to starve for air, nearly quitting several times.

Approaching the island and rescue aircraft, the two jets separate for the last time. Lt. Logan signs off with a final radio call, “I’ll see you at the base tonight,” jettisons his canopy and blasts out of the top of his aircraft. Risner watches as the ejection seat falls away and his wingman’s parachute blooms over the blue waters. He turns for home, Kimpo Air Base near Seoul, low on fuel. Eventually his engine flames out; the jet becomes a glider. He’s close enough that his training and experience allow him to use the airplane’s altitude and forward energy to glide safely to the U.S. base runway for a “dead stick landing”.

Lt. Logan’s fate, however, is tragic. After surviving being shot up over China, barely making it out to the small island at sea and bailing out, he got tangled up in his parachute lines when he landed in the water and drowned before help could arrive.

Brigadier General Risner’s military career spanned decades, from World War II to Vietnam and beyond. Pushing his wingman’s fighter out to sea is the first recorded instance of such a feat.

Risner’s leadership shone again during the seven years, four months, and 27 days as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton from 1965 to 1973, three of those years in solitary confinement as punishment for holding religious services in his room. Even while separated from the others he was a leader of the resistance movement using a “tap-code” messaging system in the North Vietnamese prison. Strong faith and character that saw him through that day over the Chinese air base, pushing a damaged airplane to safety, remained the driving forces the rest his life.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 28, 2017 Pajama Pilot

The Liberty Gazette
March 28, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Picture him, a slender, wide-eyed lieutenant, and mischievous grin flashing youthful pearly whites. It’s Saturday night on the island of Oahu and like any 23-year old he has dreams and aspirations. No different than any other person at any other time, this here-and-now is just that, and tomorrow is the next day on the calendar.

Maybe tonight he cruises Hotel Street and dines on Chow Mein at Wo Fat Chinese-American restaurant. Or perhaps our handsome lad is taking a special gal to the Varsity Theatre to see "The Great Lie", starring Bette Davis. If he has two quarters to rub together he could buy a ticket and Jitterbug the night away at the South Seas Club. If he has a bit more he might enjoy a sizzling steak with his buddies at Kemoo Farm - drinks and dancing included. Or perhaps he stays in the barracks there at Wheeler Field, although I have a harder time imagining a young fighter pilot sitting still, playing Bridge. I do have this idea though that on that balmy December night, Phil Rasmussen, the Phil Rasmussen I imagine from photos of the time, it seems more likely is out on the town, as was customary for soldiers on Saturday nights in the Aloha State.

Why do I think these things of someone I've never met, whose descendants I don't even know? It's all speculation, I admit, but when a man that age, a pilot with more testosterone in his body than fuel in his airplane is still asleep at a quarter to eight the next morning, the storyteller in me crafts the circumstances, and right or wrong I him picture sleeping more than an hour past sunrise because he was out late the night before. Also, I was 23 once.

But not at 23 nor at any age as of yet have I awakened to the ferocity of bombs, the threatening roar of a fleet of enemy airplanes dead-set on killing me and my countrymen.

These are the things to which Phil Rasmussen wakes. Reacting to the sight through his barracks window by strapping on his .45 caliber pistol over his purple silk pj's he runs outside to find an airplane the Japanese strafing might have missed. It’s a long shot, but he finds one - a P-36 Hawk.
Taxiing over for a load of ammo for the .30 and .50 caliber mounted guns, in a brief lull in the attack Phil and three others take off to defend America, just them alone, while heavy damage cripples the rest of the air field.

Picture now Mr. and Mrs. Rasmussen’s son, seated in the cockpit in nothing but his jammies – and his .45. He hones in on a Zero. The mounted .30 jams. The .50 is all he's got. Be a fly on his shoulder as he executes with determination and strikes with skill and luck, sending the Zero down.

Still under attack by more Zeros see him now losing control of his damaged P-36 diving toward the cloud layer between him and the mountains. But exhale now and watch this pilot, this fighter, regain control and head back to Wheeler Field. Hold your breath again as he approaches to land, no brakes, no rudder control, no tail wheel, and for all that's been lost on the airplane, the one thing it's gained is about 500 bullet holes. You can't count them all but the number's a good estimate you agree as you watch the lieutenant dismount his Hawk a little older now, and you know that "The Pajama Pilot" is a badge of honor, a story of courage.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com