formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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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.

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