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!

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.

March 21, 2017 Crosswind Landings

The Liberty Gazette
March 21, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Have you seen the videos on YouTube of hairy-scary-looking crosswind landings? If not, you really should check them out. We’re taught in pilot school how to handle crosswinds, but some flyers’ skills are better than others. This is one skill that deserves the respect of practice, you know, just in case a pilot finds herself needing to land on a blustery day.

I recall a windy day a few years ago heading to Fredericksburg, but the winds kept us away. There is only one runway at the Gillespie County Airport and the wind was rushing perpendicular to it. When taking off and landing, it’s really important to be heading into the wind. A pilot who finds herself with a direct (90-degree) crosswind will “crab” the plane as much as necessary to keep the flight path straight, even though the airplane’s nose is at an angle to the runway – like sideways.

Then, just before touchdown, the pilot will “kick” the rudder to point the nose straight, and dip the wing down on the side receiving the wind. Crosswind landings can be… exciting, which is why you should watch those videos.

When airplanes are going through flight testing for FAA certification (testing the airworthiness of the design), all they have is the weather they have on the day of testing. So, the official Operating Handbook for any given airplane will advise the maximum demonstrated crosswind capability. Maybe the airplane could handle more crosswind, but it wasn’t tested beyond the weather available that day. Of course, logic tells us that if it wasn’t a very windy day when an airplane was tested for certification, landing in a crosswind that exceeds that demonstration makes one a test pilot.

Mike: Magnificent demonstrations of these skills can be witnessed at Chek Lap Kok Airport near Hong Kong. Monster winds caused by the mountainous geography around the city rush over the runways almost at right angles.

The airport itself is a man-made island in the middle of the bay which replaced the infamous Kai Tak Airport; its only runway sat amid the city’s skyscrapers. The challenging approach path required flying north, aiming at a giant checkerboard billboard erected on the side of an imposing mountain, then nearly scraping terrain while making a sweeping right and steeply descending turn to land to the south. Landing or taking off to the north wasn’t feasible because of the high wall of rock there. To the south was okay, because there were no obstacles over the harbor south of the airport. Despite strong cross-winds, the newer airport is safer.

Since the introduction of the 747 in 1970, most jumbo jets have cross-wind landing gear. The wheels swivel into the wind as the airplane makes ground contact. This increases the amount of crosswind the airliner can handle. The crews still have to be trained in proper procedures and do so regularly in simulator designed to replicate these demanding conditions.

Having respect and confidence in the flight crews’ experience and training, on rough approaches when I’m riding in the back I am often lulled to sleep. I normally fix my feet up against the rail and mounting of the seats in front of me to brace, even as I doze, for when the aircraft plants its feet on the ground and the reverse thrust from the engine brings the aircraft to a halt.

March 14, 2017 Miller Music

The Liberty Gazette
March 14, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: December 15, 1944 was a cold and dreary day around England. Hardly a surprise. The most accepted theory of the disappearance over the English Channel of the airplane in which Big Band Jazz star Glenn Miller was riding is that ice formed in the engine, carburetor, or intakes. Ice blocks air and fuel from going where it needs to go, choking off the fuel flow, with the same result as though the tanks had run dry. This was a devastating blow to humanity. Glenn, the patriot who volunteered for duty even though he was beyond the age to be drafted for WWII, had livened up America with his record-breaking records, and endeared himself to a worldwide audience with music we could love – and still do.

Thanks to Lee College for hosting the Glenn Miller Orchestra recently – the real thing, still going strong. The band only stopped performing for two brief periods after Glenn’s death, but since 1956 has been playing non-stop, from the original sheet music that was used by Glenn and his orchestra.

Highly skilled trumpet players belt out sounds in rhythm that make it impossible to sit still. The clarinet players duplicate Glenn’s distinctive reed sounds. If you know this sound, these musical memories will produce an unstoppable grin that takes over all available space on one’s face.

Linda: I grew up listening to Glenn Miller’s music, along with others of that era, and from the time I heard they were coming to Baytown I ached for my father to be there with me. Dad passed in 1998, but my memories of him jamming to the sounds of 1940’s Swing are fresh and vivid. Dad loved a great drum solo, and dominating high notes on the trumpets by strong embouchures. He would move wildly with the beat and shout in excitement during the fast-moving parts, just as he and his contemporaries did when they were in high school.

Appreciating the opportunity to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra live, there was another gift waiting in the wings. Seated in the row in front of us, and just a few seats over was a man about the age my dad would be now. My heart swelled to see the sheer happiness of this man, accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law, to watch him bob his head with the beat, and sing along with some of the songs, a fresh, energetic smile on his aged face. His happiness brought me joy. I wanted to hug him and say, “Thank you!” but they got out ahead of us.

Mike: What’s not to love? I thought of my mom singing these songs, such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, as I watched the side-to-side swing of the trombones and trumpets while the drum, piano and string bass added depth. When the name of a beloved song was announced by the band’s current leader, Nick Hilsher, outbursts of recognition and youthful enthusiasm from the most elderly in the audience infused the air with a sense of near immortality.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra is on the road about 48 weeks out of the year, traveling all over the world. However, most of their time is spent enticing grins from several generations of folks across this great land of ours. If Glenn knew this, I think he would say he went out on a high note.

March 7, 2017 Patey-built

The Liberty Gazette
March 7, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: As the blip crosses the radar screen displaying an altitude of 21,000’, the Fort Worth air traffic controller radios to the pilot, “What kind of experimental jet is that?”

The pilot presses his mic button to reply, “It’s not a jet. It’s a turboprop.”

Controller: (assuming there must be more than one engine for the speed it is flying at 21,000’): “Oh! Well what kind of twin is it then?”

Pilot: “Well, it’s actually a single engine airplane.”

Long pause.

Controller: “Well, whatever kind of single prop that is, you’re overtaking a Citation Mustang jet in front of you – by more than 50 knots.”

Observers’ reactions like this one are becoming common for Mike Patey when he flies the airplane he built to go fast, both forward and skyward. Like the time he took off behind an airliner with his plane fully loaded and topped off with fuel (heavy). Mike was not only flying 60 knots faster than the jetliner, but climbing twice as fast, causing a surprised controller to scramble to keep the required distance between them.

He built his one-of-a-kind airplane to attack several world records and hopes to do so this summer, but right now he’s a bit busy.

With his identical twin brother Mark they have created nearly two dozen businesses since they were in high school; sometimes starting them individually, sometimes together. They started their first when they were sixteen years old and within a couple years employed nearly 200 people.

Each could create companies on their own but they really like working together. They say it could be luck, or that they have the brains made for business, “Or, each of us has only half a brain shared at birth as twins – I'm not sure, but the model works when we work together,” Mike grins humbly. “We are each other’s greatest fan and support system. We are both dyslexic, have some ADD characteristics, high math and mechanical IQs and are workaholics.”
Their latest project, Best Tugs, started with an idea two years ago. With several flying machines in their stables the brothers were using four different tugs to move them around. Thinking there must be a better way, they designed a tug that could do everything they wanted a tug to do. They’d build it and then maybe make a few for other people, so they thought. But now it’s all the rage. Best Tugs has quickly become one of the fastest growing ground technology companies in a niche market. In the past year they have outgrown three different facilities and expect to expand again this year. They are hustling to keep up with orders.

Find a problem, fix it, and you have a business.

Based in Spanish Fork, Utah, the Patey-built companies are real family businesses and the best “school” for Mike’s two pairs of sons and daughters and Mark’s four sons. Their children learn what it means to build a business from scratch: finance, ordering materials, foresight and planning. Strict workplace policies include no foul language, with emphasis on good morals and no laziness – everything has to be earned.

Besides the integrity instilled in their children, Mike and Mark demonstrate community service daily. As volunteer Sheriff’s deputies, the Patey brothers have for nearly a decade provided search and rescue services above the rugged Utah mountains, flying their helicopter to locate lost hikers, downed aircraft, snow mobile accident victims. They foot the bill, wear the uniforms and don’t accept pay of any sort – “It’s one of the most rewarding things we do.”

Working hard, playing hard, Mike and Mark Patey are an inspiration and we’re thankful to call them friends. 

February 28, 2017 The Graceful Ace

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

Mike: The boy was only six when his mom fell ill. He didn’t know much about her, and his father didn’t speak of her. Perhaps grief, or fear of touching that grief stopped Berkeley Brandt, Jr. from telling the boy about his mother as he grew. Berkeley Brandt III would grow up to be a thoracic surgeon, but first this son of pilots would learn to fly.

Linda: The life of Grace Huntington Brandt was a life too short. Had she not left us so young I am certain you would know her name. I’ve studied her. Grace had grace, and style, and determination. She had guts, patience when she needed it, and impatience when she need that, too.

As a child she would gaze at every passing plane, wishing for a ride. Her book, “Please, Let Me Fly”, published posthumously thanks to her son, reveals a woman who would shatter aviation records at a time when a female form on the flight deck fostered frowns. Grace found other jobs to keep her busy. A student of fine arts – writing, drama, sculpture, piano and violin – her early flying years were supported by her income as a Disney staff writer.

Mike: An interview by Hill Edwards appeared in Flying Magazine in October, 1941, wherein Grace spoke proudly of her brother, a natural flyer whom she helped get into flying school, who made his first solo flight after only eight hours of instruction. His accomplishment likely gave her competitive spirit something to beat. She soloed in seven hours.

Back then, a woman, or any non-Caucasian, would have to learn on her own, as no schools would admit them to flying or mechanic programs. But a few guys did help her. Burleigh Putnam taught her to fly. Jim Barwick, Hollywood stunt pilot and Lockheed test pilot, and Jo Prosser, flight school owner, were also teachers. Paul Mantz, another movie stunt pilot (“Sky King” television series; “The Spirit of St. Louis”, starring Jimmy Stewart) was the first to treat her as a professional pilot, with an actual paying job as a flight instructor. Of all the male students she had, not one, she said, turned away upon seeing her, or after flying with her.

But flying careers were not open to women when Grace took to the spotlight and graciously represented the weaker sex as just as able and confident as male pilots. First, she flew a small plane called a Fairchild to 18,700’ and then an even smaller plane, a Taylorcraft, to 24,311’, breaking altitude records for those classes of airplanes. Grace could have – and wanted to – continue to climb, so her lukewarm reaction to the second altitude record was understandable. There were higher records in bigger planes but no one would lend a bigger plane to a little lady. She had, as she told Edwards, “only scraped the bottom of the top.

Although Hill Edwards accurately described her as very impatient with the prevailing thought that flying jobs are for men, it was also true, she said, that “The main thing in high altitude flying – getting everything you can out of a ship – is to be very patient.”

Linda: Grace took every opportunity to champion women in aviation. “I hope I get a little recognition,” she told Flying Magazine, “ – not for myself but for all women who fly – which will result in jobs which we know we can fill.”

I almost feel as though I miss Grace. That may sound odd, but my research on her, including her son’s writings, has brought me to a place of admiration of someone I missed out on knowing.

February 21, 2017 Flitfire!

The Liberty Gazette
February 21, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A lot of people know what a Piper Cub looks like. It’s a small plane, a two-seater, introduced in 1937. A great training airplane, it’s a high-wing that rests on two main wheels below the pilot’s seat and a small wheel below the tail so when it’s parked on the ground the nose angles up a little. Most Cubs are yellow, and doors are optional. Back-country flyers love Cubs, and especially the openness with doors removed. Popular, even legendary, like the Ford Mustang, many great adventures owe thanks to the Cub.

Shortly before the U.S. entered WWII, Piper Aircraft Company created a special rendition of the Cub, a limited edition which they named the Flitfire. Here’s the story on that special airplane.

The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund had been established to support families of British soldiers after the Battle of Britain left them with 1,420 casualties. That’s when an American aircraft builder piped up with a plan. He would donate one of his Cubs, and departing from the usual yellow paint scheme, this one would be silver with RAF insignia. Whatever proceeds it brought would go to the fund. As generous acts often do, this one encouraged others to rise to the occasion, and William Piper’s sales manager, Bill Strohmeier, proposed 48 more be sponsored by the Piper dealers in every state. Their names, Flitfire Texas, Flitfire Oklahoma, and so on, would be painted on the nose cowls.

The Piper team got to work, building all 48 in just 12 days. Then it was time to deliver them from the plant in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Piper employees flew the 49 airplanes in military formation, seven groups of seven planes: the Flitfire Brigade.

Mike: Imagine yourself on Liberty Island, wrapped warmly, face whipped by blustery winds on that Sunday in the spring of 1941, gazing up at Lady Liberty’s magnificent features occasionally giving a glance over toward the Manhattan skyline as the air fills with a clattering commotion approaching from Staten Island. See yourself witnessing a flock of airplanes so massive it might partially eclipse the sun as 49 silver birds cross overhead and continue up the Hudson to the Washington Bridge and eventually the World’s Fair grounds. You would be joined by thousands of other people feeling the rush of pride in our country, in our people, and if you were a Who’s Who in New York, you would have gone to the gala where anyone who was anyone could be found, where the Champaign and the money poured, and the gala alone raised $12,000 for the benevolent fund.

Linda: After the gala each Flitfire departed La Guardia in the direction of their sponsoring state names, touring the country, raising more money for families whose loved ones had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Eventually, all the Flitfires were sold. Every penny went to the fund; not one penny went for expenses. No telling how much was raised in total, that would be hard to track, but it surely was a pile of money.

Just a month earlier Congress had passed the Land Lease Act, HR1776, a bill allowing the U.S. to provide military aid to other countries before we were even in the war. There aren’t many Flitfires flying today; only four have been fully restored to honor their history, including the first, the one William Piper donated, registration number NC1776.