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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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