The Liberty Gazette
January 17, 2017Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Frank Gomez was one of those youngsters who seemed to succeed at everything; good grades, excelling in math and science, and while he won’t admit it, surely a heartthrob. Baseball was his passion. His intentions were to play for a major league team. He wanted to stand out in his large family. Eventually, life’s path took a turn when the opportunity to enter the MLB vanished. As Frank walked out of his college physics class he received the news: cut from the team.
His dream swept away, he awakened to that inner push to pivot, to gear up for the change-up, to slide into Plan B. Only problem was Frank didn’t have a Plan B. “B” had always been for Baseball. But, Frank has this stellar attitude – stellar, as in bright, shining, higher level.
“I had to think of something else. I walked out of class with my friend Randy, looked up, and saw a crop duster,” and that, friends, was his introduction to Plan B – “B”, as in Be-A-Pilot. Bonus: there were no pilots in his family – he would still stand out.
Frank shared the news with Randy, and motioned toward the crop duster, saying, “I want to learn to fly.”
His aviator friend didn’t waste time. “Hey, I’m a pilot, let’s go fly!” The pair ditched class for the next week.
Then Randy got a job at Arizona Soaring near Phoenix. Frank followed, beginning lessons in Schweitzer 2-33 gliders, soloing in three months after only 19 flights.
Learning weather and aerodynamics alongside his engineering studies was a heavy load. His dedication and enthusiasm led the flight school owner to offer him a job on the flight line agreeable with his class schedule. What he didn’t expect was that since the minimum age to fly gliders is lower than it is for powered aircraft, he would be taking direction from 13- and 14-year-olds working the flight line, but difficult circumstances can breed motivation.
100 flights are required to earn a commercial glider license, and thanks to 37 first cousins on his dad’s side Frank racked those up quickly, allowing him to leave the flight line and take customers up for demonstration and scenic rides.
He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and became a glider instructor, but life was waiting in the wings. A great job with Lockheed, marriage, and a growing family put soaring on hold.
Now, returning years later, instructing is about sharing the experience and giving back. With Civil Air Patrol he encourages kids to stay in school and learn math and science.
“Flying keeps them out of trouble, like it did when they kicked me off baseball team. Kids need experience that isn’t sports, isn’t phones and apps and computers, isn’t “virtual reality”, but is the real thing, in nature. You can solo a glider at 14! It takes an effort by parents, but gives their kids a step up. People say, ‘Oh you’re a glider pilot, you are responsible, you did that by age 14.’ That shows maturity.”
While he appreciates the accomplishments possible with computers, relying on the bare minimum instruments and managing energy is exhilarating. “Flying gliders isn’t that far removed from what the Wright Brothers were flying. There’s no go-around. You have to touch down on your point. It’s probably safer, but it’s not that different really. I love the challenge.”