The Liberty Gazette
August 1, 2017Ely 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.