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!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017 Wins and Fails

The Liberty Gazette
August 15, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Another Indy Air Race is in the books – seventh annual – and once again we celebrated. Not just air racing, but the annual airport open house and benefit.

The fastest airplane, a Glasair, completed the one hundred thirty-three mile course at two hundred fifty-six miles an hour. The slowest airplane in the field, competing in a smaller horsepower class against similar airplanes was a vintage 1946 Stinson 108 which flew one hundred and nine miles an hour.

While racing feeds the competitive appetite, the best part of the Indy Air Race is joining in support of Down Syndrome Indiana. In the festive atmosphere families run from bounce house to face painting to candy and games with super heroes and island princesses. Of course, guests are drawn to the uniqueness of airplanes on the ramp, and race pilots happy to talk with them about flying. Every year, this is a winning day for everyone.

It also brings another chance for us to visit with family: Mom, sister, niece and nephew, and our brother-in-law, Mike Lyons, the cyclist.

A few days before the air race there came a dark and stormy night. Mike Lyons had a group ride and when he returned he summed it up with this:

“Wins & Fails from this evening’s ride:
Win: Meeting up with friends for another ride, led by Doug.
Win: Going for it amidst questionable skies.
Fail: Murphy the dog chases us down the road.
Win: Doug turns around to lead him back to owner. 
Fail: Starts to sprinkle.
Win: Because of Murphy, we aren’t far out.
Win: Doug wisely calls off ride, all get back to the church mostly dry.
Fail: I decide to keep riding.
Win: I dodge the obvious ominous storm clouds.
Fail: For ten minutes.
Win: During the monsoon-like torrent my bike gets clean.
Fail: The front drops the temperature to 62.
Win: In an effort to stay warm I bike 20-26 miles an hour.
Fail: At 26 miles an hour, I start to hydroplane, nearly crashing.
Fail: Pretty sure I wet myself.
Win: Rain rinses me clean.
Fail: Lightning strikes extremely close.
Win: I’m not struck.
Win: It jars a ball of wax loose from left ear, I can hear better.
Fail: With wax build-up gone, another close strike leaves ears ringing.
Win: I’m not struck.
Fail: Wet myself again.
Win: Keeps raining and rinsing off.
Fail: Return to truck cold and wet.
Win: Return to truck.
Fail: Phone got wet.
Win: Dried out and works.
Win: Got in 25 miles.
Win: Should smell like a toddler after four sippy cups, but don’t thanks to riding in a hard rain. Takeaway: Despite the Wins, when everyone turns back...I should, too.”

Mike: I admire our brother-in-law’s determination to finish the ride, and to challenge a thunderstorm like a super hero with a light sabre, but we opted to stay clear of those airplane-eaters on our flight back to Texas.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

August 8, 2017 Hanging In, Hanging Out

The Liberty Gazette
August 8, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I’d climbed to seventy-five hundred feet, and would cruise at this altitude over the cliffs below me, all around. This is Cajon Pass, where adventurers are drawn to hang glide through the saddle between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. The pass offers ideal lift and wind to carry a motor-less hang glider to a vantage point above the sculpted earth, alone with the whoosh of the air. From my altitude, they appear suspended, like mud-daubers; like wings with pods dangling beneath them. I call them adventuresome partly because these intrepid souls soaring through the pass initiate their flight by stepping off a cliff, trusting their wings.

On the cliff, they strap into their contraptions, hoist their bulky load and run downhill until the air blows across their wing to create enough lift. At first, the wind catches and holds them aloft and their legs drop momentarily like an eagle’s talons ready to snatch its prey. But the force quickly pushes their bodies horizontal, streamlined with the craft, as they shift their weight to steer.

In this pass, sometimes they swoop down low along the slope, rolling from side to side, twenty feet off the ground. If updrafts are present, they stay in the air longer, soaring along the rising terrain. Once they land, in a field or a parking lot, the flyers free themselves from their people-lifting kites, satisfied by the exuberance of human flight.

When I’m in a sailplane I also use thermals – columns of rising air that develop from unevenly heated ground – to stay up in the sky. But the way a sailplane starts its adventure is different from hang gliders. My sailplane is towed into the atmosphere by an airplane. But a hang glider cannot be towed by a powerful airplane because its speed far exceeds what a hang-glider can handle; tow planes cannot fly slowly enough for them. For hang gliders the launch pad is a hill, the launcher, human legs. This has limited the sport of hang gliding to hilly areas. That is, until the Dragonfly.

The Dragonfly started life in 1990 as an ultralight airplane to meet demand. Designer Bob Bailey had one purpose in mind, tow hang-gliders where there are no hills from which to leap. Since that time with the help of these airplanes, people in flat country have been able to enjoy the thrill of soaring flight.

One of the most popular places to get a towed flight is in Florida. Most of the state is flat as a pancake, the highest point being 345 feet, at Britton Hill, near the Alabama line. With a fleet of Dragonflys, Wallaby Ranch near Lakeland, Florida has towed hang gliders nearly every day since 1992, amassing tens of thousands of flights.

Geography and geology no longer limit the hang gliding experience, thanks to the Dragonfly, a classic American success story of finding a need, filling it, and hanging in there.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August 1, 2017 A Calling

The Liberty Gazette
August 1, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Since at least third grade Al has been fascinated by airplanes and flying. There were no home flight simulators then, but his imagination could take him places no simulator can match. He could stretch his nine or ten year old arms straight out and they’d become wings to carry him far above the green grass beneath his feet. The desire to soar would grow, but a 1950’s film captured his heart like nothing else could. In the pivotal scene, a veterinarian resuscitated a horse and as the horse ran off to a field Al felt the satisfaction of healing to his core. This was his calling.

With family members who were doctors there was plenty of support for Al to enter medicine. When he was twelve, the uncle who was a thoracic surgeon let Al watch an operation removing a lung. By way of Baylor, he came to Methodist Hospital, where his neurosurgical practice has been helping people for thirty-seven years.

When he’s not performing brain surgery Dr. Alfonso Aldama can be found at the Soaring Club of Houston, and you’ll get no argument if you claim he’s the hardest worker in the club.

Dr. Aldama was introduced to soaring in the 1980’s by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Vern Frye, who flew F-105s in Vietnam and was in Chuck Yeager’s squadron in Germany. After riding with the colonel in a Schweitzer 233, Dr. Aldama learned about the Soaring Club of Houston and signed right up. He flew for several years after earning his glider license but took a hiatus to raise a family. Now that the children are grown, he splits his time between two activities he loves.

“I love to fly, and it’s very similar to neurosurgery,” he told me. “My flying helps my operating and my operating helps my flying. Both require precision and attention to detail. You have to develop obsessive-compulsive behavior because one tenth of a millimeter can change the outcome of surgery. One mistake in flying can be fatal.”

He’s logged 1200 flights, but not all were perfect. Once while doing spins in a Blanik the canopy opened, ripping off the front hinge. He didn’t want it to hit the tail so he grabbed it with his right hand and radioed Oran Nicks, the club instructor on duty. Nicks had been the director of the wind tunnel lab and designed the space shuttle and “was calm as a cucumber,” saying, “it’ll just create some drag.” Holding tight to the canopy, he juggled the flaps with his left hand, controlled the stick with his knees, and the rudders with his feet, letting go of the canopy when he landed safely.

Another time, the rain cloud he thought was far enough away reached the runway before he did. “It was as though my windshield was covered by a blanket. I peered through a two-inch opening on the side to see the grass runway and hoped I was at the right angle to land.”

He graciously credits more experienced pilots for sharing their passion and expertise. While healing is his lifework that feeds his soul, soaring is the vitamins that enrich.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com