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 29, 2017

August 29, 2017 Safety in Racing from Aviation

The Liberty Gazette
August 29, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: World War I Ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, was a pilot and race driver. He was president of Eastern Airlines, owned Rickenbacker Motor Company, and raced in the Indianapolis 500 the first four years it existed as such. He even owned the Speedway for a time. But when he went to war he was, like all other pilots, denied a parachute.

Commanding officers refused to allow American fighter pilots to wear parachutes, thinking they’d be less aggressive and bail at the first sign of trouble. Concerning the deaths of two friends, Captain Eddie wrote in his journal, “Cannot help but feel, that it was criminal negligence on the part of those higher up for not having exercised sufficient forethought and seeing that we were equipped with parachutes for just such emergencies.”

Those higher-ups finally realized pilots were more important than airplanes, but it was too late for some.

For decades people talked about what a great idea it would be if not just pilots, but airplanes too had parachutes. Last week we mentioned Boris Popov’s airplane parachute that has resulted in hundreds of successful floating landings when engine trouble prompted pilots to pull the chute.

Many safety enhancements have come from the aviation and auto industries, and speaking of pop-offs, that’s what they call the pressure relief valve that was one of the mandatory changes on Indy race cars in 1974, following the previous year’s horrific fiery crashes. Major changes to Indy car fuel systems also required fuel tank capacity reduction, from seventy-five gallons to forty, and the breakaway gas tank.

Breakaway tank technology wasn’t new, but made its way to Indy because the crashes in ‘73 might have been survivable.

Engineers with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor, had worked with engineers from Bell Helicopter and Goodyear, testing their research on military helicopters. Choppers were dropped, data analyzed, refinements made, and in 1970, after a decade of work, the Crash-Resistant Fuel System was added to Army helicopters used in the Vietnam War.

The technology would be applied next to civilian aircraft, and eventually to automobiles. But after that devastating year at Indy, and the realization that the lives of race drivers Art Pollard and Swede Savage might have been spared, officials mandated changes to fuel systems.

The race was on to adopt aviation innovation. They’d make tanks from different materials, re-position them to be less susceptible to rupture, and install fittings that would break away on impact. This had become an emergency. No one wanted the hell fires of 1973.

It’s a time I still remember with chills. The year after these changes, fan favorite and math-teacher-turned-race-driver Tom Sneva flipped and smashed into the wall in turn two. He climbed out of the broken car, dazed, but okay, the blazing parts yards away. For Mr. Sneva, it meant he’d return to be the first to break two hundred miles an hour at Indy, and today he can play as much golf and gin rummy as he wishes.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22, 2017 But Seriously, Folks

The Liberty Gazette
August 22, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: If you say “cirrus” in the right crowd, any member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, any weather worshiper, will know you’re talking about a non-threatening cloud. Cirrus clouds are those thin wisps you see way up high, but not as high as stars, or even satellites. If we didn’t think Siriusly about it, we might think it sounds like our weather is going to the dogs–like our astronomical humor–but when it comes to cirrus, it’s a good day to be outside.

When strong winds in the troposphere sweep the carefree cirrus, we see long, delicate streamers. Cirrus is a Latin word, meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair. That’s a pretty good description of their appearance from afar, but these fair weather friends are actually made of ice crystals, formed when precipitation falls through colder air, and freezes. To further cloud the issue, although these “mares tails” pose no threat, they sometimes indicate a change in weather is on the horizon.

But what’s in a name? Would that which we call a cirrus, by any other name still draw lines like chalk dust spread by angel wings, or decorate with dainty sky feathers?

What fogs the picture these days is an aircraft company that makes both piston and jet airplanes. The company, Cirrus Aircraft, came up in an internet search ahead of the cloud type when I entered “cirrus.” To say I was blown away is a dramatization of an understatement.

Cirrus Aircraft builds airplanes with ballistic parachutes. These chutes aren’t the kind pilots strap on their backs. These are manufactured into the airplane. While the parachute was engineered into the Cirrus design to meet certain FAA requirements, the marketing opportunity turned out to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Cirrus couldn’t pass FAA tests requiring an airplane to be able to recover from a one-turn spin, so they integrated a parachute and asked the feds to accept it in place of a spin recoverable design.

Orders rained down on happy Cirrus sales representatives when non-pilot spouses agreed to strap the family budget with the perception that their favorite pilot would be safer in an airplane with a parachute.

But cirrusly, folks, it’s true. For almost a century people talked about the whole-airplane parachute idea. But not until 1975 did someone finally do something about it. It was a guy whose hang glider collapsed, who was angry over feeling helpless while in a four hundred-foot plunge. In those falling moments Boris knew, if he’d had a parachute, his odds of surviving would be better. Fortunately, he did survive and what he did in response to that anger was build a product that saves lives.

We’ll have more next week on safety initiatives. I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys the irony that Ballistic Recovery Systems was founded by a man with the last name of Popov.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

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