The Liberty Gazette
January 10, 2017Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Endless, the view: To the north, under a thick blanket of white, stands Humphreys Peak, the highest natural point in Arizona. Numerous multi-colored ranges intrude in the distance between the peak and me. In the opposite direction the brooding silhouette of the cloud-capped Santa Rita Mountains outline the horizon south of Tucson. In front of me, the Superstition Mountains, my old stomping grounds. They look as if someone dusted their broken spires with powdered sugar. Below me, the Star of the Desert, barren and broken rock thrust upward from the desert floor. These are my Estrella Mountains.
Timeless, the last time I flew a glider I took my friend Mike Johnston for his first sailplane flying experience more than 17 years ago in this same Schweizer 2-33 now, again, keeping me aloft.
A commercial glider license was added to my pilot certifications back in 1998 to inject a different element into my flying skills and enjoyment. Once I became proficient flying from the rear seat, I could share these spectacular views with friends and family members. My career has moved me around so soaring was shelved, pushed down on the priority list, for a while. The years have intervened but periodically the itch returns. With my flight instructor certificate approaching its expiration date and work typically slow this time of year I’d have time to renew by adding a glider instructor rating. Hopefully the years have not eroded my skills.
First flight, I’m strapped into the front seat with instructor Bruce Waddell seated behind me. He is skeptical about my being able to pull this off, becoming current in gliders after such a long layoff period, and being able to teach soaring, all within in a week. I feel the tug as the tow plane pulls us down the runway. A gust of wind catches us from the side; instinctively my brain transmits control inputs to counter the forces. Airborne, everything comes back more quickly than either of us anticipated, requiring little effort on my part to remain in position behind the Piper Pawnee at the leading end of the rope. Once we reach sufficient altitude I detach our end of the tow rope and execute some basic maneuvers followed by a precision landing. On the second flight I fly from the rear seat, this time acting as instructor. I demonstrate to Bruce several flight maneuvers. Smiling and shaking his head he tells me to land, let him out, and make some solo flights.
Alone aloft, the passing air produces a low hiss and it’s as though the glider whispers to me. Though I’m ever vigilant watching for other aircraft and searching for updrafts to keep me flying longer, I have time to absorb the experience through all my senses. I truly love this. I reflect on this aircraft and my friend Mike. Our friendship began when I started training him in a Piper Navajo on a freight run flying between Albuquerque and Phoenix more than 30 years ago. Our flying careers took different courses; he took the airline route as I continued in cargo, then international corporate flying and teaching. He eventually became a captain with a major airline. On one of his layover days in Phoenix I introduced him to soaring. I wish Mike knew I was soaring again but he recently took his final flight. I hold dear the image of his grin as we gracefully circled above God’s creation.
Linda: The day we arrived, instructor Bruce laughed, “It’s been nearly 20 years since you’ve been in a glider, and you think you’re going to earn your glider instructor rating in a week? Well, we’ll see.” I never had a doubt. You know who’s laughing now – the proud wife.